The appointment of Lieutenant-General Bilal Akbar comes as Pakistan seeks to reestablish ties with its Gulf ally.
Karachi, Pakistan – Pakistan has appointed a recently retired army general as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, according to the Foreign Ministry, as the South Asian nation works to restore ties between the two countries.
Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar, who retired from the military last month, will replace career diplomat Raja Ali Ejaz, a brief ministry statement said on Tuesday.
Akbar held several high-ranking positions during his more than 20 years in the Pakistani Army, including as Chief of General Staff, Commander of the X Corps based in Rawalpindi, and Chief of the Pakistan Rangers paramilitary forces in the province of Sindh.
His appointment comes as Pakistan seeks to reestablish ties with its Gulf ally, which have been frayed in recent months, with Saudi Arabia demanding repayment of $ 3 billion in loans and rejecting renewal of a payment facility deferred oil to the cash-strapped nation.
Pakistan repaid $ 1 billion of those loans through Chinese financing last month, $ 1 billion previously repaid in July. Another payment of $ 1 billion is due this month.
the two countries disagree on Saudi Arabia’s perceived inaction on the issue of Kashmir, a Himalayan region divided between Pakistan and India but claimed by both in its entirety.
In August, the conflict between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia peaked when Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi called the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc of 57 members from Islamic countries largely controlled by Saudi Arabia, to do more to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
“If you cannot summon him, then I will be obliged to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to convene a meeting of the Islamic countries which are ready to stand with us on the Kashmir issue and support the oppressed Kashmiris,” said Qureshi at the time.
The declaration was an unprecedented low in Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations, and its aftermath saw Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa quickly fly to Riyadh later in the month for try to ease tensions.
The Pakistani military has ruled the country directly for about half of its 74-year history and, under Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, has further tightened its control over security and foreign policy aspects.
Akbar’s appointment makes him the last former military officer to be appointed to head the Pakistani High Commission in Riyadh, a post often held by retired officers in recent years.
The past few months have seen the rift between the two former allies start to narrow, with Qureshi speaking frequently with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.
A statement by the Pakistani foreign ministry on the last such phone call, Jan. 7, noted in particular that Qureshi thanked Saudi Arabia for “its support during the 47th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of OIC in Niamey, in November 2020, in particular for the adoption of OIC resolutions on the dispute in Kashmir ”.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.