As Donald Trump heads off to Saudi Arabia this weekend, for his first official foreign adventure, he will be pretty sure that all eyes will be on him. Yet also in attendance will be Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This will be a much needed boost for PM Sharif’s embattled political career with his Saudi patrons and the US President giving him a proverbial pat on the back.
Much has been said about the resetting of the US-Saudi bilateral relationship, even if that was not much in evidence on the election campaign. Though to be fair, Trump more than made up for his petulance over the inflated Saudi defence bill with his unilateral strike against Syria once in the White House hot seat. Even more has been made of Trump’s anticipated speech on Islam. Though presumably he will have the common sense not to do his version of a Marine Le Pen and plagiarise one he made earlier, notably on how “Islam hates us”. Nevertheless, much of the peace loving world will likely be watching with bated breath as to what transpires in the holy lands.
Not only will the US president be rubbing shoulders with his Sudanese counterpart who faces being hauled before the International Criminal Court on genocide charges. He will also be hobnobbing with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional alliance that is militarily committed to toppling the Syrian regime. But, perhaps, most exciting of all, Trump will meet around 37 heads of states — with more than a few of them fully signed up to the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance. This includes Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who is still standing after having been hit with the ‘mother’ of all bombs.
For the apprentice-president is due to formally unveil the blueprint of the so-called Muslim NATO this weekend. Cue for much smugness from Nawaz. Indeed, the latter’s words of welcome to Trump may go something like this: Saudi Arabia is my home. And my home is your home. After all, the Pakistani PM will be feeling more than a little magnanimous. Not because of Trump currently being in hot water with the Israelis over everything from classified leaks — to wanting to make a dramatic helicopter landing on a UNESCO heritage site — to misspeaking by locating the Western Wall in the West Bank, not Jerusalem. But all because of a certain man in uniform who is charged with leading the Islamic Alliance into battle wherever NATO may push it. Perhaps Nawaz may even feel so bold as to say a big thank you to Gen Raheel. Without the formality of a hashtag, even. For providing a welcome boost to Pakistan’s image on the international stage as a fighter of terrorism rather than a state-sponsor.
Yet, sadly, even Nawaz may have to admit that President Trump could just be smarter than the average bear. For this latest Muslim grouping is said to serve the new US administration well. Not only does it transfer the picking up of the counter-terrorism tab to its allies. It will help boost the economy at home through job creation paid for by massive arm sales. Most notably to the Saudi kingdom. This is expected to come in at somewhere between $99-128 billion, or $350 billion over a decade.
Maybe it is Trump who should be rolling out the red carpet for his more than generous Saudi hosts.