Saudi Arabia and Pakistan's friendship has stood the test of time
In December last year, after weeks of negotiations and two trips to Riyadh, Prime Minister Imran Khan worked out an arrangement with Saudi Arabia for a $6 billion loan to bail Pakistan out of its precarious economic situation.
This was decisive in helping both China and the UAE reach similar deals with Islamabad. Thanks to Riyadh, suddenly, cash-starved Pakistan has access to nearly $15 billion in liquidity when it needed just $12 billion to stave off a possible bankruptcy and at a time when its traditional donor, the International Monetary Fund, had placed impossible conditions to become eligible for a $8 billion loan.
Saudi Arabia has rescued Pakistan by providing it with a financial breather for one year — to get its tanking economy back in order — by providing a cash deposit of $3 billion and deferred oil payments worth another $3 billion for one year.
However, this is not the first time that Riyadh has helped Islamabad. Over the decades, it extended similar deals of varying values to Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s, President General Ziaul Haq in the 1980s, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the 1990s, President General Pervaiz Musharraf in 2000 and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2010. Furthermore, Riyadh even gifted the Sharif administration a grant of $1.5 billion.
How does this relationship work? Despite Pakistan’s close diplomatic ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia’s equally close bilateral relationship with India, the historical Islamabad-Riyadh association is characterized by their leaders as a ‘special relationship’.
Astonishingly, this relationship dates back to even before Pakistan was founded in 1947. In 1940, a delegation visited Karachi led by the-then Crown Prince and future King Saud Bin Abdul Aziz who was accompanied by a team comprising future kings ofSaudi Arabia including King Faisal, King Fahd and King Abdullah.
They were hosted by Pakistan's Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s All India Muslim League, laying the foundation of what would eventually become the official Saudi-Pakistan relationship.
These ties were formalized when, in 1947, Saudi Arabia became one of the very first countries to recognize Pakistan as an independent state.
Over the years, both states — with a shared sense of religious identity and destiny — have successfully developed extensive and enduring commercial, religious, political, and strategic ties.
Pakistan is one of Saudi Arabia’s oldest and most consistent consumers of hydrocarbons and one of the largest suppliers of its workforce for the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia is the most consistent supplier of Pakistan’s fossil energy needs and the single largest employer of Pakistanis abroad who remit the largest source of income into the country.
Saudi Arabia has rescued Pakistan by providing it a financial breather for one year to get its tanking economy back in order through a cash deposit of $3 billion and deferred oil payments worth another $3 billion for one year.
In 2018, Pakistan was the world’s seventh-largest receiver of remittances from its overseas nationals which stood at nearly $21 billion and constituted nearly nine percent toward its GDP. In short, in economic terms, Saudi Arabia is central to Pakistan’s balance sheet.
The deep bilateral ties are not restricted to simply mutual financial benefits but extend to the social realms too.
According to the Pew Research Centre, a whopping 95 percent of Pakistani respondents, who took part in the survey, said they viewed Saudi Arabia favorably.
Riyadh has fondly reciprocated the sentiment by expanding Pakistan’s annual quota of Hajj pilgrims. What are the other measures which Pakistanis adopted to immortalize their affinity with Saudi Arabia?
Pakistan’s longest and busiest city road is the Shahrah-e-Faisal in Karachi, its third-largest city is called Faisalabad and Islamabad’s most important landmark is the iconic Faisal Mosque — all three named after King Faisal.
The older generation in Pakistan also remembers the Kings of Saudi Arabia very fondly – whether it was King Faisal who attended the second Islamic Summit in Lahore in 1974, or King Khalid who was hosted for a record six days by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1976, and King Abdullah in 2006. Since 1970, there has not been a single Pakistani head of government who has not been an official guest of the Kingdom, something which is unprecedented.
In 2014, Pakistan inked a deal to sell a crop of its stellar, top-of-the-line J-17 Thunder fighter jets — co-produced with China — to Saudi Arabia.
In the 1980s, nearly 20,000 Pakistani servicemen were stationed in Saudi Arabia, part of a military cooperation deal between Islamabad and Riyadh. Even today, thousands of Pakistanis serve in Saudi's armed forces. The Islamic Military Alliance, currently stationed in Saudi Arabia, is led by former Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif, one of only a handful of generals of the world in this century who have commanded a nuclear arsenal and who holds the rare experience of winning in a war against terror in modern-day Pakistan.
• Adnan Rehmat is a Pakistan-based journalist, researcher and analyst with interests in politics, media, development and science. Twitter: @adnanrehmat1