A special visit
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have over the decades, developed a multifarious co-operation that demands regular consultation. To begin with, these ties were based on an age old spiritual bond. As both nations were located in sensitive geo-strategic areas, their perpetual search for security was a natural consequence. Cooperation in the fields of defence and security started visibly flourishing in the 1980s. Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, political changes in Iran, defence of precious energy resources and ensuring their safe exports, were common concerns. Both countries and their leaderships realized that eternal vigilance was necessary to preserve freedom in order to harness resources for the prosperity of their people.
The next phase was economic development through the building of infrastructure. For a large country like Saudi Arabia, building roads to remote areas, providing quality education and building state-of-the-art hospitals with modern facilities is a challenge. Pakistan was the country in the immediate region with both skilled and unskilled labor in addition to health, engineering and management experts. It was one of the friendly nations that actively participated in this gigantic developmental effort that lasted for over two decades. Even today, two million Pakistanis are working in the Kingdom in diverse fields.
Fast forward to this important visit which was essentially a follow-up of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the Kingdom last May. During that visit, Khan’s meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was seminal. Important decisions about the future course of bilateral decisions were taken. Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan came with a large delegation to discuss vital decisions taken during that visit. Most important of these was the decision to set up the Pak-Saudi Consultative Council, as a standing body to oversee all bilateral projects and remove hurdles when necessary. This has been finalized now and both sides have nominated their focal points. Peace in Afghanistan, Saudi investments in energy related projects, the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) were some of the topics discussed during this bilateral visit.
In a fast changing world, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have to keep close vigil and regularly consult each other on emerging threats to their security.
A peaceful and mutually agreed upon transition is essential in Afghanistan. A volatile and chaotic Afghanistan could become home to non-state actors once again. This prospect is worrisome not only to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia but also to the world at large. This time, if the Taliban capture Kabul again with the use of force, Pakistan will not be among the first batch of countries to grant them recognition. Pakistan believes that only an inclusive setup, constituted through negotiations, can endure in Kabul. Pakistan will benefit tremendously from peace in Afghanistan through trade with Central Asia. Conversely, it will suffer if chaos and instability in Afghanistan are to continue. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can proceed in concert to achieve peace in Afghanistan.
Some months ago, Saudi Arabia announced a long term concessional loan for Pakistan to construct the Mohmand Dam on the Swat River. With CPEC being the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China-GCC trade will benefit in a major way. The project is of interest to Saudi Arabia as China is a major importer of its oil. As developmental activity in Xinjiang picks up speed, Chinese energy needs will grow. CPEC also includes economic zones along its route. These will be manufacturing units producing goods for Pakistan’s domestic needs and for exports. Pakistan will welcome Saudi investments in these economic zones.
Pak-Saudi relations are undergoing a process of substantial change. Environment, cultural cooperation and information technology are new fields being explored. In a fast changing world, the two nations have to keep close vigil and regularly consult each other on emerging threats to their security.
Pakistanis are generally quite curious to know details of Vision 2030 and of NEOM city. The high-tech city offers new vistas of cooperation and will be of special interest to urban development experts in Pakistan. The developed world is fast shifting to renewable sources of energy for environmental protection. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are fully cognizant of this monumental change and are contemplating suitable changes in their energy strategies.
Peace in the Gulf and beyond is of abiding interest to Pakistan. This region keeps the wheels of the world economy moving. Both Pakistan and the Kingdom play vital role in co-operation amongst Muslim countries. It is essential that they continue their mutual consultations for their security, regional peace and bilateral projects for the prosperity of their people.
– 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.