Pakistan names general envoy to Saudi Arabia as military seeks control of ties
Lt Gen Bilal Akbar has been named Pakistan’s new envoy to Saudi Arabia, with the move signalling the military establishment’s desire take control of bilateral ties that have witnessed turbulence in recent months, according to a media report on Wednesday.
Akbar will replace ambassador Raja Ali Ejaz, who is retiring in May. Ejaz, a career diplomat, has been Pakistan’s ambassador in Riyadh since January 2019.
Akbar’s appointment on the “recommendation of the General Headquarters indicates military’s desire to take control of the bilateral ties that have lately been hit by turbulence to prevent them from further deterioration”, the influential Dawn newspaper reported.
Pakistan was perturbed by Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane’s recent visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia – the first by an Indian service chief to both West Asian countries. Experts have said the move by both countries was a signal regarding enhancing defence and security ties with India.
Saudi Arabia has also sought the early repayment of a $3 billion loan, extended in 2018 to Pakistan to help the country tide over its economic problems, amid the Covid-19 crisis. Observers had pointed to this development as an indicator of the dip in ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
The Pakistani ambassador’s position in Riyadh has often been held by retired military officers, reflecting the fact that defence ties form the bedrock of bilateral ties, the Dawn reported.
Riyadh has become “closer to New Delhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was invited to the key financial conference and the two countries launched a Strategic Partnership Council to guide their relations”, the report added.
Retired Pakistani generals are appointed against a 20% quota for political appointees. Besides the mission in Riyadh, Pakistan’s envoys to Brunei, Jordan, Syria, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, the Maldives, Nigeria and Libya are also retired armed forces officers.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has rarely made political appointments to ambassadorial posts, and most of the quota for non-careerists is being taken up by retired military officials, the report said.
Akbar had retired from the army last December, and his final appointment was chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factory at Wah. He also served as chief of general staff and commander of the Rawalpindi-based 10 Corps.
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