In a recent interview, Abdul Aziz bin Ibrahim Al Ghadeer, the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan, answered a range of questions regarding Pakistani-Saudi relations, the Arab uprisings, the role of the Organizations of Islamic Conference (OIC), and Saudi Arabia's relief measures for the Pakistani people affected by the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods.
Ambassador Al Ghadeer was interviewed by the editors of the Urdu-language Pakistani daily Roznama Ummat. During the interview he also rejected questions regarding the need for a NATO-style military alliance for Muslims, stating: "We should practice our religion and Sharia sincerely. If we follow our religion with sincerity, then we wouldn't need such an alliance [like NATO]. If you follow Sharia, then you would give respect to other people and would get respect in return."
The Saudi ambassador also rejected the Pakistani journalists' questions that foreign powers may be behind the Arab uprisings, stating: "Every country's problems are different. The nature of the problems varies from country to country. We cannot describe it as only the conspiracy of foreign powers, nor can it be said that it's due to pressure from somewhere else. The factor of mass anger is present in some places."
While discussing Pakistani-Saudi relations, Ambassador Al Ghadeer also brushed aside media reports that CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who was arrested in Pakistan over double murder charges, was released following mediation of the Saudi rulers.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
"I Welcome You as Brothers at Our Embassy…; Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have Brotherly Relations Which Started in 1947 with the Creation of Pakistan"
Roznama Ummat: "Respected Ambassador, first of all we thank you on behalf of Ummat Group of Publications for giving us time to share your thoughts with us. Pakistanis view Saudi brethren in great esteem. We shall start our discussion from this point. A large number of Pakistanis are working in various fields in Saudi Arabia. How do you look at their role in Saudi society?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "First of all I thank you people for visiting our embassy. I welcome you as brothers at our embassy. As you said, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have brotherly relations which started in 1947 with the creation of Pakistan. Since the establishment of relations between the two countries, Saudi Arabia has supported Pakistanis in every critical time.
"In the last five or six years Pakistanis faced difficult situations twice, which included the devastating earthquake in 2005 and the recent floods [in August 2010]. On both these occasions, Saudi Arabia extended support to Pakistan. During the recent floods we sent teams to [the worst affected province of] Sindh for rescue and later rehabilitation. There is no need to tell that our relationship is bilateral. Both countries have good feelings for each other, which is very important."
Roznama Ummat: "Pakistanis are very grateful to Saudi Arabia and Shah Abdullah, the custodian of the Holy mosques, for extending unconditional support during the floods and the earthquake. During the recent floods, Saudi Arabia topped the list of the countries providing support to Pakistan. Would you give a brief description of your country's projects in Pakistan?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "When the floods hit most parts of Pakistan, we rushed to the support of the affected people because we believe that being Muslims, we are one nation. The Saudi embassy became active on the directive of Shah Abdullah. I personally visited flood-hit areas in August to assure that assistance is being given to every affected person. Shah Abdullah ordered construction of air bridges in all affected parts of the country. We constructed a mobile field hospital in Thatta [town in Sindh province], where relief activities were started immediately. We sent more than 100 rescue teams to Sindh and published booklets for creating awareness about our relief activities.
"The second phase of our strategy was to help the government of Pakistan in rehabilitation, and we started projects in all affected parts of the country. At some point, we held talks with the government of Pakistan through the Saudi Development Fund. We finished the relief assistance's phase which we named as phase-I, and now we are working on phase-II, that is, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
"Last year Saudi Arabia announced $300 million in assistance for Pakistan at a forum arranged for this purpose in Islamabad. This fund will be utilized for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the affected people and areas, and will be spent through the Saudi Development Fund. We are waiting for the response of the government of Pakistan in this regard. If you refer to the Tokyo Conference in 2008, we then contributed $700 million, while for the internally displaced persons [as a result of military operation] of Swat district we gave $100 million assistance in 2009."
"Let Me Make It Clear that What We Gave [as Flood Relief] to Pakistanis, that We Think of It as Giving to Ourselves; If We Assist Pakistanis, It is Aid to Ourselves"
Roznama Ummat: "Do you think that the Pakistani media gave due coverage to the Saudi assistance? And what do you say about the sarcastic remarks of U.S. officials who said – where are the Muslim friends of Pakistan [during floods]; we [the U.S.] are the number one in providing aid to Pakistan?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "Look, brother - this assistance was from the Saudi government and people for the people of Pakistan. We have brotherly relations and that is the difference between others and us. We often don't give details of our assistance. You know very well how much are the daily expenditure of field hospitals, but we don't disclose it as it is against our traditions and taste.
"When you support your father, brother, sister, daughter or any other family, you don't tell the world that 'Look! I have given so much money to this member of my family because you assist your family considering it as your responsibility.' Our religion teaches us to help each other. We are a family; therefore, during floods and earthquake we extended support to Pakistanis and they will find Saudi Arabia on their side in every trouble."
Roznama Ummat: "So you don't have any complaint against the media?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "No. It's up to them. What we did was our duty. We did not need any appreciation for that. We performed our duty by supporting our brethren and will do so in the future. If the media gives coverage to such activities, that is good as it will create awareness among Pakistanis about Saudi Arabia's assistance programs to Pakistan.
"But let me make it clear that what we gave to Pakistanis, that we think of it as giving to ourselves. If we assist Pakistanis, it is aid to ourselves. Let me tell you an interesting story about my daughter during the last Eid al-Fitr, which portrays our love for the people of Pakistan. When I was visiting flood affectees, my daughter asked me whether I would celebrate Eid with the flood affectees and when I nodded she gave me some gifts for distributing among them. This was the feeling of our children for Pakistanis. How could such feelings be compared with others?"
"[High-Ranking] Saudi Officials have had Many Visits to Pakistan; Recently, Our Armed Forces Commander Visited..."
Roznama Ummat: "We have not seen a high-profile visit from Saudi Arabia since the present government in Pakistan came into power [in early 2008]. Do you see any such visit in the near future?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "Saudi officials have had many visits to Pakistan. Recently, our armed forces commander visited Pakistan and held meetings with senior officials. He also visited the military exercises in Karachi. This week a high level mission is visiting Pakistan, which affirms that we have normal relations with the government of Pakistan."
Roznama Ummat: "We are pointing to the Saudi government's officials and political leadership's visits?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "Those who visited Pakistan, their missions were political too. Our commander met the political leadership and the coming mission would meet with president and other political leaders [in Pakistan]."
Roznama Ummat: "The Saudi government played a very good role in the Hajj scandal [involving financial corruption in Pakistani religious affairs ministry]. Our nation is ashamed on this issue, and our nation is grateful to Saudi Arabia for their good gesture [by pointing out the financial irregularities]. What kind of measures should be taken to avoid such scandals in the future and what steps is the Saudi government taking to avoid such incidents?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "Our embassy and consulates are busy in serving the [Hajj] pilgrims... We are doing our best with the support of the government of Pakistan in serving all pilgrims... As far as the matter of the Hajj scandal is concerned, we would not interfere in it, as it is the internal affair of Pakistan."
Roznama Ummat: "An accused of the Hajj scandal, Ahmed Faiz, is still at large and is believed to be in Saudi Arabia... What steps are being taken to this effect?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "Our embassy does not know any thing about Ahmed Faiz. If there is any development on this issue, then both the governments would know about it. But I assure you that we [embassy staff] are unaware of it."
"[King Abdullah] Thinks that We as the Muslim Ummah must Unite in All Situations; Therefore, He Speaks for the Unity of Muslim Ummah at Every Forum and Every Opportunity"
Roznama Ummat: "What are the reasons behind the divisions in the Muslim Ummah? What role is Saudi Arabia playing for creating unity and harmony in the Ummah?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "Our unity and success are in following Sharia and Sunnah [sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad]. Insofar as Saudi Arabia's role is concerned, Shah Abdullah has suggested talks and negotiations as the path to solving issues that need resolution. He has raised this point in Mecca, Madrid, New York, the conference of ambassadors, because he thinks that we as the Muslim ummah must unite in all situations. Therefore, he speaks for the unity of the Muslim ummah at every forum and opportunity.
"Our stand is that by uniting hands, the Muslim ummah must work for the benefit of each other. We have to demonstrate a practical example of unity by following the Sharia and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him."
Roznama Ummat: "How do you see the role of OIC [Organization of Islamic Conference] in resolving the problems of the Muslim ummah?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "Certainly, the OIC is playing its role within its capabilities for the benefit of Muslim Ummah... The OIC is striving to protect the interests of the Muslim ummah. At this forum, Muslim countries share their problems, discuss them, and suggest solutions."
"The [Palestinian] Issue Should Be Resolved According to the UN Resolutions"
Roznama Ummat: "Do you see any development on the issue of Palestine in near future; and do you think that the role of Muslims countries is satisfactory in this connection?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "Our stance on Palestine is that the issue should be resolved according to the UN resolutions. It is the responsibility of all Islamic countries to work for the interest of the Muslim ummah and become one nation. If we follow Sharia, then unity would surely be forged among Muslims."
Roznama Ummat: "What is your opinion about the role of the U.S. over the Palestine issue, which always vetoed every resolution passed against Israeli actions? The U.S. vetoed a resolution recently too."
Ambassador Ibrahim: "I will repeat my stand that all countries should respect the UN resolutions; and I think that the Palestinian issue will be resolved very soon, and Israel will have to give them their right."
"[On Arab Uprisings:] The Nature of the Problems Varies from Country to Country; We Can Not Describe It as Only the Conspiracy of Foreign Powers"
Roznama Ummat: "Let's discuss the Afghan issue. What, in your opinion, is the solution of the Afghan issue? The U.S. on the one hand is holding talks with the Taliban while on the other hand it is using force. Does Saudi Arabia play any role in the U.S.-Taliban talks? Do you think that by keeping Pakistan out of the process, the U.S. could achieve results?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "First, I pray before Allah that he may keep the entire Muslim ummah in His protection and their lands safe too. The U.S. and its allies would surely sit on the negotiation table with the other party [i.e. the Taliban] for resolving the Afghan issue. This is also essential in the interests of Afghanistan, and our prayer is for this problem to be resolved soon.
"Unity among the Muslim ummah is also needed for resolving the Afghan problem. Afghans are faced with difficulties and miseries, and we have to help them for the restoration of peace to their country..."
Roznama Ummat: "You consider unity among the Muslim ummah very important. Do you think that a NATO-style military alliance is needed for Muslims?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "We should practice our religion and Sharia sincerely. If we follow our religion with sincerity, then we wouldn't need such an alliance [like NATO]. If you follow Sharia, then you would give respect to other people and would get respect in return."
Roznama Ummat: "How do you perceive the uprisings in the Arab world? Are these real mass movements, or are their strings being pulled from somewhere outside?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "Every country's problems are different. The nature of the problems varies from country to country. We cannot describe it as only the conspiracy of foreign powers, nor can it be said that it's due to pressure from somewhere else. The factor of mass anger is present in some places. So, we have to examine the situation of every country in the backdrop of its problems."
Roznama Ummat: "It is reported that the personnel of the Saudi force are being attacked in Bahrain. How long would it take to control the situation there?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "The Gulf nations' troops rather than Saudi forces are deployed in Bahrain. The member nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] have sent their troops under an agreement to Bahrain for protecting oil and sensitive installations, not for killing anyone."
Roznama Ummat: The G-8 has opposed the deployment of Gulf forces in Bahrain. The U.S. is of the same opinion. How do you see the U.S. and Europe's role on this issue?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "It is their opinion. We have sent the troops at the request of Bahrain's government. And all member countries [of GCC] have clarified that our troops would not participate in actions against people in these countries, but would protect sensitive installations."
"I Assure You that... [Saudi Arabia] has not Played Any Role in This [Raymond Davis] Case, Because It was the Internal Affair of Pakistan"
Roznama Ummat: "What is your government's role in Raymond Davis case? A leader of a political party in Pakistan has claimed that Umra [Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca] for the victim family members were arranged and then they were paid blood money in Saudi Arabia. How would you comment on it?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "I assure you that my country has not played any role in this case, because it was the internal affair of Pakistan. Second, the case was in the courts of Pakistan. I have read in Pakistani papers and watched stories on TV channels alleging that our country played a role in the issue, which is regrettable.
"We reject such baseless allegations. Our embassy has issued a statement about it, rejecting any role in the whole issue... A TV program has shown Davis's written statement, which stated that he paid the blood money..."
Roznama Ummat: "How would you comment on the double standards of the U.S., about criticizing the Sharia law on the one hand and using it for its interest, as in the case of diyat [blood money over Raymond Davis] on the other hand?
Ambassador Ibrahim: "It is purely an issue of Fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence], and a religious scholar could give a good comment on it."
Roznama Ummat: "The U.S. Congress, through a resolution, has asked the Obama administration and the UN to compel Pakistan to abolish the blasphemy law. Don't you think it is interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan, which exposes American intentions against Islam?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "The most important thing is that we are Muslims. Regardless of what other people think and do and what their intentions are, we have to see that we are Muslims. We ourselves have to protect our objectives, our religious norms, and Sharia laws."
"Pakistanis and Saudis have Religious, Cultural, and Historic Relationships, and Its Example Can Not be Found Anywhere in the World"
Roznama Ummat: "In the recent past we see an increase in the Indian workers in the Saudi labor market, though more than one million Pakistani workers are in your country. Pakistanis' concerns grow when they discuss India's relation with Saudi Arabia. If the issue is related to Saudi Arabia and India, then our concern reaches its peak because we consider this as a loss of our right that Pakistanis be given preference over Indians in Saudi Arabia. What is the Saudi Arabia's policy on this issue?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "I thank you for this question because this point merits some explanation. The most important thing is that our businessmen and employers bring labor force form those countries, which have speciality in a specific field. Indians have expertise in information technology. So, they are employed in the information technology sector of Saudi Arabia, but in other sectors it is not the case."
Roznama Ummat: "What is the policy [on employing Indians] in the government sector?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "Most of the foreigners employed in the government sector are Pakistanis, especially in the health sector. I think comparing the Pakistani-Saudi relations with other countries would be an injustice. The answer to your question is that more than one million Pakistanis are playing their role in the Saudi economy... Pakistanis and Saudis have religious, cultural, and historic relationships and its example can not be found anywhere in the world. Also, a large numbers of Pakistani doctors got employment in Saudi Arabia last year..."
Roznama Ummat: "Some Pakistani doctors allege that people from the U.S. and other developed countries get preferential treatment in Saudi Arabi,a and are paid more than the Pakistanis get despite the fact that duty hours for the Pakistani doctors are more than those from the West."
Ambassador Ibrahim: "This is a baseless allegation that the Saudi government discriminates in any way... I repeat that we put Pakistanis in great esteem and do not discriminate..."
"If Someone Feels that There is No Warmth in [Saudi-Pakistani] Relations, Then This Question Should be Better Raised Before Pakistani Officials"
Roznama Ummat: "It is also believed that the Pakistani-Saudi relationship does not have the warmth of the previous decades, and its negative effects can be seen for Pakistanis when finding jobs in Saudi Arabia."
Ambassador Ibrahim: "We do not have any difficulty with the present government [of Pakistan]. But if someone feels that there is no warmth in relations [between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia], then this question should be better raised before Pakistani officials."
Roznama Ummat: "It is alleged that the aid for flood victims from Saudi Arabia coming through Pakistan Army was transparently distributed, but there were corruptions and relief goods being sold in markets when they came through other organizations. What is your stand on this?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "We provided the assistance to the National Disaster Management Authority, which is a [Pakistani] government institution... Other countries also handed over their funds and goods to this institution. We provided assistance to Pakistan and did not differentiate between military and non-military.
"If its distribution was not fair, then it was not our problem. Our job was to provide assistance and we did that. The most important point is that we sent 500 members in various teams to the affected areas and provided most of the assistance through these teams. So, there is no question of embezzlement in our assistance program..."
Roznama Ummat: "What is your message for Muslim ummah?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "If we follow the injunction of Sharia and Sunnah of the prophet, we will get rid of all kinds of problems, Allah willing."
Roznama Ummat: "And what is your message for Pakistanis?"
Ambassador Ibrahim: "I pray to Allah to save Pakistan from all miseries and bring peace to the country..."
 Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), March 27, 2011.