Pak-Saudi relations 2.0
This week, Pakistan rolled out the red carpet for His Highness Muhammad Bin Salman [MBS] with the capital decked out in its glittering best to host the royal guest. Pakistan’s top political and military leadership, including Prime Minister Imran Khan warmly received and feted the Crown Prince who was conferred with the country’s highest national award, the Nishan-e-Pakistan.
This is no ordinary state visit from Riyadh. Four crown princes before MBS who visited Pakistan in the past – including Saud, Faisal, Fahd and Abdullah – went on to become kings. The new crown prince thus follows an illustrious line of royal guests to Pakistan, a country known for its spiritual and religious bond with the kingdom that houses Islam’s holiest sites.
But perhaps the most outstanding outcome of the crown prince’s foray into Pakistan has been the formalization of renewed strategic depth to bilateral ties. A slew of agreements signed for long-term Saudi investment will constitute not just the largest quantum of financial bilateral treaties but also the second largest single-source investment ever made in Pakistan’s history.
The $20 billion pacts signed between Riyadh and Islamabad come on the heels of a Saudi balance of payments rescue package amounting to a total of $6 billion late last year. This helped Pakistan secure crucial additional relief from China and the UAE to keep Pakistan’s economy afloat when it was on the brink of bankruptcy.
This newly found trust between the leaderships and their resonating political rhetoric promises to pave the way for a long term political, economic and strategic partnership between the two countries that will be eventually factored in the regional political and security dynamics.
But loans are one thing and investments are entirely another. The prince has won Pakistanis over by his vote of confidence in Pakistan’s financial and political future by reshaping bilateral ties from an assistance-based relationship to a long-term financial and social development partnership. That changes everything.
At an official reception hosted by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the crown prince said, “We believe Pakistan can be a very, very important country in the future and you can be assured we will be part of it. He told Khan, “I am an ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia.”
The seriousness of Riyadh and Islamabad in cementing an enhanced economic partnership was demonstrated by the co-chairing of the Supreme Coordination Council, created to fast-track projects and investments by the prince within hours of landing in Islamabad and signing agreements worth $20 billion.
“This is Phase 1 [of investments] and will grow,” the Crown Prince declared.
The extraordinarily warm welcome to the crown prince was supplemented by a rare and unmissable chemistry between the two leaders. Both Khan and MBS continued to exhibit the body language of friends and a shared admiration of each other’s visions. With a smile, the crown prince addressed Khan and said, “We were waiting for this kind of leadership to partner with and do a lot of things together.”
Doubtlessly, the crown prince’s visit to Pakistan and its outcomes indicate a strategic shift from what was once a transactional relationship to what is now becoming an economic partnership of the future- one that leads to shared prosperity, regional stability and long-term strategic and social ties between two changing countries.
– Adnan Rehmat is a Pakistan-based journalist, researcher and analyst with interests in politics, media, development and science. Twitter: @adnanrehmat1