Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are back on track

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are back on track

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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting Saudi Arabia at the personal invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa arrived in Riyadh ahead of this high-profile visit to lay the groundwork for what is being described by the media as a major boost in Saudi-Pakistan ties, especially in terms of economic, trade and environmental cooperation.

This augurs well for the two brotherly countries, as their historic friendship faced an unfortunate rupture last year.

Luckily the leadership on both sides was resilient enough to see through the challenge and bring Saudi-Pakistan ties back on track.

To be sure, this resilience is rooted in the people-to-people relationship, which eventually helps them overcome temporary glitches and sustain cooperation on issues of mutual concern and interest. This time is no different — and here is why.

Soon after his election as prime minister in August 2018, Khan was able to develop a personal relationship with the crown prince.

He traveled to Saudi Arabia twice in the next two months, the second time at the personal invitation of the crown prince to attend the Future Investment Initiative conference as part of Saudi Vision 2030.

Khan had inherited a serious balance of payments crisis. So Saudi Arabia took the lead in offering a financial relief package of $6.2 billion, including $3 billion in loans and a $3.2 billion deferred oil payment facility.

Taking a cue from Riyadh, the UAE followed suit by offering $6 billion in additional support to Pakistan.

When the Saudi crown prince visited Pakistan in February 2019, he was personally driven by Khan to the prime minister’s house in Islamabad, up on the hill in Islamabad.

In another example that symbolized the personal chemistry between the two charismatic leaders, the crown prince cheerfully told the Pakistani premier: “I am your ambassador in Saudi Arabia.” (Later in the year, the crown prince would offer his personal plane to Khan to fly to New York for the UN summit. And even while Saudi-Pakistan ties briefly experienced a bad spell in 2020, Khan declared: “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will always remain close friends.”)

That historic visit to Pakistan by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2019 witnessed a major transition in Saudi-Pakistan strategic relations in the economic sphere, with the announcement of $20 billion of Saudi investments in Pakistan, including a $10 billion Aramco oil refinery and petrochemical complex in the strategic port city of Gwadar.

The rest of the investments were in the mining and renewable energy sectors.

This was in parallel with the efforts to sign the Free Trade Agreement to increase the volume of bilateral trade, which was worth $2 billion.

In the past, the two nations cooperated closely in security and geopolitical matters, and Saudi economic help was confined to oil concessions. Now, for the first time, the Kingdom was interested in the long-term economic development of Pakistan.

This promising moment in Saudi-Pakistan ties is occurring amid a favorable turnaround in regional geopolitics, marked by breakthroughs on different fronts.

Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri

In particular, the choice of Gwadar for such an investment stake indicated the Saudi inclination to join the wider regional integration network: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

In the natural order of things, the next logical step would have been to jointly work out the development plans for the proposed Saudi economic projects in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, international forces inimical to Saudi Arabia’s exceptional position in the Muslim world, and the historic Saudi-Pakistan alliance, could not digest the fact that the two brotherly nations were taking their relationship to a different level, where their interests could be geo-economically intertwined in future.

What happened next is a sad part of our current history, which is not worth recalling.

What is worth stating, however, is that Saudi Arabia is, and will remain, the heart of Islam for the Muslims of the world, and no other country can claim such a right: That the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the sole representative body of 57 Muslim countries and no attempt to create an alternative Muslim bloc will ever succeed; and, of course, the fact that Saudi-Pakistan ties are well-rooted in the love and affection that their people have for each other, and hence no conspiracy can hamper their organic evolution as historic partners.

That is why the false narrative regarding the OIC’s role in Kashmir did not take hold for long. That is why the dismal portrayal of Saudi economic support for Pakistan finally failed the test of times.

Fortunately, both nations have formal and informal channels of communication to overcome any instance of grave misunderstanding or deliberate misinformation impacting their relationship.

Their bond is unbreakable as it is founded on the will of the two peoples.

Hence, the two brotherly nations have always stood shoulder to shoulder with each other in difficult times. From defending the sanctity of the two holy mosques to defeating the scourge of terrorism, Pakistan has always been a key Saudi partner.

Likewise, Saudi Arabia has never disappointed Pakistan when it is faced with hard times, be it the wave of terrorism post-9/11 or the devastating earthquake of 2005.

The two countries also closely cooperate to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan. The current or emerging Saudi engagement in Pakistan reflects the same spirit of camaraderie with Islamic roots.

In retrospect, what the visit of Prime Minister Khan to Jeddah shows is that the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is back to the level it was at when the crown prince visited Islamabad more than two years ago.

The decision by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to roll over $2 billion loans to next year implies the resumption of their respective financial relief packages, which Pakistan desperately needs to ward off the devastating effects of the third wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The visit is expected to kick-start work on the $20 billion Saudi development projects in Pakistan, especially the Aramco oil refinery and petrochemical complex in Gwadar.

To boost bilateral trade, a comprehensive customs cooperation accord is also reportedly on the agenda.

Moreover, General Bajwa’s almost week-long interaction with his Saudi counterparts, and the recent appointment of retired Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar as Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, will ensure enhanced coordination in defense and the strategic relationship between the two countries.

In fact, this time the relationship is expected to deliver deeper cooperation beyond defense and the economy, on issues of climate change in particular.

Khan shares the vision of the crown prince as set out in the recently announced Saudi Green and Green Middle East initiatives, which align with his government’s Clean and Green Pakistan initiative.

And, luckily, this promising moment in Saudi-Pakistan ties is occurring amid a favorable turnaround in regional geopolitics, marked by the Saudi olive branch to Iran, the end of the Qatar crisis, and the India-Pakistan cease-fire in Kashmir.

These developments surely open up the diplomatic space for Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to concentrate their joint efforts for economic development and regional stability.

Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri served as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Pakistan from 2001 to 2009 and received Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Hilal-e-Pakistan, for his services in promoting the Saudi-Pakistan relationship. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Beirut Arab University and authored the book ‘Combating Terrorism: Saudi Arabia’s Role in the War on Terror’ (Oxford, 2009).

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Opportunities for mutual benefit beckon as Pakistan PM Imran Khan begins Saudi Arabia visit

Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan is received by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah on Friday. (Photo by Bandar Algaloud)
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Updated 08 May 2021

Opportunities for mutual benefit beckon as Pakistan PM Imran Khan begins Saudi Arabia visit

  • Energy, economy and welfare of overseas Pakistanis expected to top the agenda of meetings
  • Remittances sent home from the Kingdom are an important source of foreign capital for Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has long enjoyed warm relations with Saudi Arabia, deeply rooted in their common faith, shared history and mutual support in times of crisis. More than 2 million Pakistanis work in the Kingdom, contributing to its prosperity and sending home billions in remittances. Trade, meanwhile, continues to blossom between the two nations.

With an eye to boosting their mutual cooperation, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday at the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to begin a three-day official visit, with energy, economy and the welfare of overseas Pakistanis expected to top the diplomatic agenda.

“We believe this is a very important visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Saudi Arabia with respect to our historic bilateral relationship, trade and economic ties,” Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, a spokesman for the Pakistani foreign office, told Arab News.

Pakistan's PM Imran Khan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman riding in a carriage during a welcome ceremony in Islamabad on Feb. 18, 2019.  (Photo by Bandar Al-Jaloud / file photo)

“The two sides will discuss economy, trade, investment and job opportunities for the Pakistani workforce in Saudi Arabia, besides signing a number of agreements on energy and infrastructure related projects.”

Indeed, the Kingdom is an extremely important trade destination for Pakistan and both countries have been searching for ways to boost their partnership along with the volume of imports and exports.

At present, the trade volume between both countries stands at $3.6 billion, with imports from Saudi Arabia worth $3.2 billion and exports to the Kingdom worth $316.3 million, according to the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

“Our exports to Saudi Arabia have increased this year after our companies were allowed to export halal meat and livestock, and we are trying to further boost it,” Shahid Ahmed Leghari, chairman of the Pak-Saudi Business Council, told Arab News.

Pakistani companies had also started exporting spices and garments to the Kingdom, he said, but there is room for improvement. “We can boost our bilateral trade to $20 billion per annum if we are allowed to export rice, fruits, vegetables, wheat flour and dairy products to the Kingdom,” Leghari said.

Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia will help “open new business opportunities” for Pakistani businessmen and exporters, he added.

Ahead of the visit, Pakistan’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved the establishment of the Supreme Coordination Council between the country and Saudi Arabia to “remove hurdles” to investment deals signed during the crown prince’s visit to Pakistan in February 2019. 

During the crown prince’s 2019 visit, officials of both countries signed key memorandums of understanding worth $20 billion in the fields of energy, petrochemicals, minerals, agriculture and food processing. 

Khan will be accompanied on his Saudi visit by a high-level delegation, including the foreign minister and other members of the Cabinet.

Pakistan's PM Imran Khan walk along with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Nur Khan Pakistan Air Force (PAF) base in Islamabad on Feb. 18, 2018. (Photo by Bandar Al-Jaloud / file photo)

He will also meet Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; Mohammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary general of the World Muslim League; and the imams of the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah.

Khan will also meet with members of Pakistan’s diaspora community in Jeddah during his stay in the port city. The Kingdom remains the largest source of overseas remittances to Pakistan, with Pakistani workers sending home $6.6 billion in the last fiscal year and $5.7 billion from July to March this fiscal year, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.

These remittances are an important source of foreign capital for Pakistan as it fights to stabilize its economy, crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.

“This visit is important because Pakistan is facing real financial challenges where we have to maintain our foreign exchange reserves,” Qamar Cheema, a Pakistani foreign-relations analyst, told Arab News.

“Pakistan is also facing challenges since the UAE visa (for Pakistanis) has not been resumed and at the same time the Pakistani diaspora is very much important. So, Pakistan wants its strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia to remain the same.”

Just weeks after Khan assumed office in August 2018, Saudi Arabia helped Pakistan stave off its looming balance of payments crisis by extending a $3 billion interest-free loan and another $3 billion deferred payment facility for the import of oil.

In exchange, “Pakistan wants to share its experiences with Saudi Arabia, making Saudi Arabia green. And Pakistan also wants to share its (military) experience to protect the security of Saudi Arabia,” said Cheema.

“We are going to nudge forward from where we left off back in 2019 when the crown prince came here.”


The Kingdom has often stood by Pakistan during difficult times, extending financial support during wars and natural disasters.

“Pakistan cannot forget the extensive Saudi financial support in the form of oil supply and cash during our difficult times, such as the earthquake in 2005 and flash floods in 2010 and 2011,” Javed Hafeez, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.

The presence of Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa in the Kingdom ahead of the prime minister’s visit indicates both countries are interested in “enhancing defense cooperation” and economic ties, he said.

“Saudi Arabia is a time-tested and trusted friend of Pakistan, and the prime minister’s visit will definitely help open new vistas of economic cooperation,” Hafeez said.


Arab coalition destroys Houthi drone targeting southern Saudi Arabia

Updated 19 June 2021

Arab coalition destroys Houthi drone targeting southern Saudi Arabia

  • Iran-backed Houthi militia have consistently launched attacks against the Kingdom

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said it had intercepted a Houthi drone targeting Saudi Arabia’s Khamis Mushait, Al Ekhbariya TV reported early Saturday.
The coalition, which is fighting to restore the legitimacy of the internationally recognized government in Yemen, said it will take all measures to protect civilians in accordance with international law.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia have consistently launched attacks against the Kingdom.

Experts predict growing number of ‘digital pilgrims’ as COVID-19 pandemic persists

Updated 19 June 2021

Experts predict growing number of ‘digital pilgrims’ as COVID-19 pandemic persists

Experts predict growing number of 'digital pilgrims' as COVID-19 pandemic persists

JEDDAH: The growing role of digitization in media, advertising and services was the focus of a dialogue session held on Friday as part of the Makkah Region Digital Projects Exhibition.

Abdulfattah bin Sulaiman Mashat, Saudi deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah; Esam Al-Wagait, director of Saudi Arabia’s National Information Center; and Tony Chan, president of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, were among speakers during the session.

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, governor of Makkah, also attended the session.

Mashat said that this year’s Hajj will witness a qualitative leap in the use of smart cards, with pilgrims’ journeys digitized from start to finish.

So far more than 450,000 requests have made through the electronic portal launched a few days ago, he said.

Saudi Arabia’s communications commission has worked to serve the pilgrims through digital systems before their arrival in the Kingdom.

Mashat said that the Ministry of Hajj is using smart cards and surveillance cameras to serve pilgrims, while artificial intelligence will increase surveillance camera efficiency and enhance security operations.

Chan said that the digital revolution will lead the economy and contribute to the operation of smart cities.

To achieve this, digital infrastructure must be flexible, secure and focused on people since sustainability is a necessity for future smart cities, he added.




Who’s Who: Ahmad Ghazi Darwish, chief administrative officer at The Red Sea Development Co. and Amaala

Updated 18 June 2021

Who’s Who: Ahmad Ghazi Darwish, chief administrative officer at The Red Sea Development Co. and Amaala

Ahmad Ghazi Darwish is the chief administrative officer at The Red Sea Development Co. (TRSDC) and Amaala.

He joined the Red Sea project in November 2016 as executive director of PMO. He worked on achieving approval of the project vision and strategy, interfacing with the board, incorporating the company, deploying key executive positions, administrating the master plan competition and obtaining approval of the concept master plan.

Darwish became chief of staff to the CEO in April 2018. In this role, he was responsible for TRSDC’s corporate services, human resources, government and external affairs, special projects and social development, corporate performance, EPMO, smart destination, strategy and cybersecurity functions.

He fulfilled these tasks by providing guidance and support, and cultivating relationships, whether external and internal, ensuring the alignment of efforts across the company through efficient business objectives.

In December 2020, he was promoted to chief administrative officer to reflect his broadened role, following three years in the role of chief of staff.

Darwish is the official Arabic spokesperson for TRSDC with the Saudi national media and has conducted several media interviews and gatherings.

Before joining TRSDC, Darwish served 20 years with Saudi Aramco, where he managed multiple projects in information technology and additional projects with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), including the infrastructure project of KAUST’s Research and Technology Park, and the Aramco research center at KAUST. He is a certified member of the Project Management Institute and the Saudi Council of Engineers, and holds a BSc in electric engineering from the University of Portland, US, and an MSc in electronic and electrical engineering from the University of Glasgow, UK.

Saudi Arabia announces 15 more COVID-19 deaths

Updated 18 June 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 15 more COVID-19 deaths

  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 453,259
  • A total of 7,650 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 15 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,236 new infections on Friday.
Of the new cases, 372 were recorded in Makkah, 240 in Riyadh, 213 in the Eastern Province, 115 in Asir, 89 in Jazan, 65 in Madinah, 24 in Najran, 21 in Al-Baha, 18 in Hail, 18 in Tabuk, nine in the Northern Borders region, and four in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 453,259 after 1,050 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 7,650 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 16.3 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.

Hajj won't be allowed without smart card, official permit — ministry

Updated 18 June 2021

Hajj won't be allowed without smart card, official permit — ministry

JEDDAH: In an effort to ensure compliance with coronavirus (COVID-19) safety measures, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah confirmed that no one will be allowed to perform Hajj without a smart card and a documented official permit.

Dr. Abdulfattah Mashat, deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah, said that the permit will be matched with the electronic card and the pilgrim’s ID, noting that there is no platform to apply for Hajj except the official website of the ministry.

“Any company that offers service packages outside the ministry’s platform is violating the system,” he said. 

“At the first stages of the ‘Eatmarna’ application, we noticed some violations by some entities and individuals, but with the passage of time, community awareness began to increase.”

Mashat said this year’s Hajj will use permits through the “Absher” platform only. Information for those who purchased their Hajj packages on the ministry’s platform will be linked to Absher and their ID.

According to the deputy minister, more than 470,000 applications have been received as of Wednesday at 5 p.m. as all met the conditions of immunization and have never performed Hajj before.



More than 470,000 applications have been received as of Wednesday at 5 p.m. as all met the conditions of immunization and have never performed Hajj before.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah called on all domestic pilgrims connected with the ministry to adhere to health instructions to enable those wishing to perform Hajj.

The ministry said resident locations will apply visual and thermal screening procedures upon pilgrims’ entrance and movement.

The allocated hotels in Makkah and Madinah must conform to the requirements listed by the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, and other bodies concerned with monitoring the accommodation of pilgrims.

The hotels must take into account the application of precautionary measures to prevent crowding inside rooms. The hotels also have to provide catering services for each pilgrim in his room as open buffets are banned.

A health guide (or health leader) from the concerned authority will be available during the pilgrims’ presence in the Hajj areas and during their movements.

This step comes to ensure the preventive measures. Pilgrims must consult a doctor if they suspect COVID-19 symptoms to ensure his safety and the safety of others.

Regarding the procedures in the holy sites, the Two Holy Mosques, and the central area in Makkah and Madinah, social distancing will be enforced throughout the grouping of pilgrims in all Hajj stages. This is in accordance with health requirements in residential buildings and tents. Pilgrims’ bags and baggage carts will be disinfected periodically.

Security guards will facilitate the exit of pilgrims from holy sites according to the time allotted to them and will ensure adherence to the number of pilgrims allowed in one space (no more than 50 people). Seat numbers on buses will be assigned to each pilgrim during the entire Hajj trip and standing inside busses will not be allowed. There will be an empty seat assigned between each pilgrim and carrying personal carry-on baggage will be prohibited.

In the case that a passenger suspects COVID-19 symptoms, the bus will be stopped and disinfected.

The ministries of health and hajj announced Saturday that a total of 60,000 pilgrims will be allowed to perform the pilgrimage this year, which will begin mid-July.