Trade ties must be an important part of crown prince’s visit
The visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Pakistan is a landmark event in bilateral ties. The two nations have a natural empathy toward each other: A spiritual bond, a common pursuit of regional security, a shared interest in peace in Afghanistan and Syria, and a mutually beneficial economic relationship.
Soon after taking oath last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke about the special nature of this bilateral relationship. On the occasion of the Kingdom’s National Day, Khan reiterated that Saudi Arabia had always stood with Pakistan in difficult times.
It is no wonder then that Khan’s first official visit abroad was to the Kingdom, and he returned with the assurance of substantial balance of payments support, in addition to oil supplies on deferred payments. This $6 billion bailout package has been critical in keeping Pakistan afloat during a looming economic crisis.
On the subject of defense cooperation, the arrival of the crown prince, who is also Saudi Arabia’s Defense Minister, merited a fifth meeting of the Joint Military Cooperation Committee in Islamabad to prepare for the visit. It was co-chaired by the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Kingdom’s Chief of General Staff. The high-level meeting involved discussions on bilateral defense cooperation, and both sides pledged to intensify defense ties.
Vision 2030, spearheaded by the crown prince, envisages 50 percent self-sufficiency in Saudi defense production, in which Pakistan can play an active role. Last year, contingents of all three Pakistan armed forces took part in a month-long international military exercise in the northern part of the Kingdom with close to perfect coordination.
Additionally, both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan occupy important strategic locations in South and West Asia. Next door to Pakistan, Afghanistan might finally see peace after 17 years of war following the US invasion in 2001. Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have lent their full support to peace efforts, which have assumed new urgency after the US hinted at a pullout of half of its 14,000 deployed troops.
Near-perfect political understanding and defense training cooperation have been the hallmark of the special relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The need of the hour now is to diversify bilateral ties further for the benefit of both sides — a move that would fit in well with Vision 2030. There are reports that a substantial Saudi investment in a Gwadar oil refinery is already on the cards. Bilateral trade now stands at $2.5 billion and has ample scope for expansion. Pakistan also has vast tracts of land that can be cultivated through the judicious use of available water, while investments in Pakistan’s agricultural sector will benefit both countries in terms of increased food security.
Vision 2030 is Saudi Arabia’s road map to self-sufficiency and economic diversification. It aims to leverage the unique position of the Kingdom in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its location at the center of three continents, its huge trade and investment potential and the improved skills and ambitions of Saudi nationals. Pakistan, on the other hand, has a vast pool of experienced manpower and a strategically important geopolitical location and holds huge trade possibilities with Gulf and African countries once the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is completed. With possible investment into an oil refinery in Gwadar and other CPEC-related activities, the Kingdom could become the third partner in this important trade and connectivity-related international project.
Near-perfect political understanding and defense training cooperation have been the hallmark of the special relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Though turbulence still continues in Afghanistan, Yemen and the Horn of Africa, the two countries are jointly working to bring regional peace — a critical requisite in the promotion of international trade. Both also understand that the waters of the Arabian Gulf must remain tranquil for trade to flourish, and the mutually assured security of the Arabian Sea facilitates the export of oil and other goods to the entire world.
This enhanced trade and economic cooperation is poised to be the next pivot of this bilateral relationship in the coming years, and an important part of discussions during the crown prince’s tour of Pakistan.
– Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.