Saudi Arabia gives Pakistan $1.5bn 'gift' for Syria support

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Saudi Arabia has paid Pakistan $1.5bn to ensure the country will not sell arms to Syria, an adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has revealed.

Adviser on national security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz told the Pakistani Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday that Pakistan had accepted the Saudi gift on the condition it not send arms to any country in civil war, particularly Syria, English newspaper Daily Times reported.

Senior officials at the Pakistani finance ministry and central bank had said last week that the money was to boost the country’s falling foreign currency reserves and help cement security ties between the two countries.

In February a senior Pakistani intelligence official told the Financial Times that Saudi Arabia was seeking “a large number of [Pakistan] troops to support its campaign along the Yemeni border and for internal security”.

The official also said the $1.5bn agreement, reached during a visit by Saudi Prince Salman last month, involved Pakistan’s support for establishing a “transitional governing body” in Syria. Islamabad had previously remained neutral in the Syrian crisis.

Aziz told the Senate the $1.5bn was “gifted money”.

The Senate committee was unsatisfied with the adviser’s explanation and also called for maintaining relations with Iran, a traditional foe of Saudi Arabia, saying ties with one should not be at the cost of the other. Pakistan has traditionally had a balanced relationship with both the Sunni majority Saudi Arabia and the Shia majority Iran.

Saudi Arabia is staunchly opposed to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and is believed to be funding some opposition groups.

Earlier this month the kingdom withdrew its ambassador to Qatar – a fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member – for reasons including differing views on Syria, with the countries backing different opposition groups.

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