KARACHI: If friendship is tested in times of adversity, then Saudi Arabia is Pakistan’s best ally. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always stood by the nation whenever the situation called for it; be this in the form of financial assistance or political and diplomatic support. This fact has always been acknowledged by the Pakistani leadership, which has always held the kingdom, home to two holiest places of Islam, in the highest esteem. The royal family has been most benevolent towards Pakistan and its people.
Our relations with the Saudis date back to the day Pakistan was created, but the spiritual connection has been around even longer. United by religion, Muslims have always felt deep respect and connection to the place where Islam began. In subsequent years, this common ground and our political, economic and cultural affinities consolidated the bond between the two brotherly nations.
As Pakistan, newly-emerged on the world map, was struggling to survive, Saudi Arabia became one of the first countries to accord diplomatic recognition to Pakistan. The two nations signed a Treaty of Friendship in 1951, which laid the foundation for a lasting friendship which has endured the test of time and emerged stronger than ever.
During the spats with India over the years, and the wars of 1965 and 1971 it was Saudi Arabia who lent us a helping hand. When Pakistan carried out its nuclear tests and the West imposed sanctions on the country, it was Riyadh that stood by us. The kingdom provided 50,000 barrels of crude oil per day on a deferred payment basis for a year.
Pakistan has also reciprocated the gesture by providing military expertise to Saudi Arabia. The two countries signed an agreement in 1982, under which Pakistan will provide training and defence assistance to the kingdom. Currently, about 1,680 Pakistan Army troops are in Saudi Arabia providing training assistance.
When Pakistan was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2005, the Saudi government provided $10 million in humanitarian aid. The 2010 floods ravaged one-fifth of Pakistan as nearly 14 million people were affected. In those difficult times, Riyadh came to Pakistan’s rescue as it became the largest donor, pledging over $100 million.
Apart from direct financial assistance, the Saudi kingdom has also funded numerous health, education and infrastructure projects.
Globally, the two countries are a part of various bilateral and global organisations, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and have supported each other on various issues at international forums.
Former ambassador of Pakistan Zamir Akram said the relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is going through a positive phase currently. “We have always had good bilateral relations with the Saudis. Saudi Arabia holds a special place for all Muslims due to the two holy sites. It has always come to our rescue in difficult times, even when we carried out nuclear tests and had to face sanctions, Saudis have been good to us throughout,” he told The Express Tribune.
“Our relations are entering a new dimension with the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince, which will further cement our ties. Saudi Arabia is a part of the OIC and it has supported Pakistan on all the forums.”
Saudi Arabia has also been a hotspot for Pakistanis seeking work outside the country. It hosts around two million Pakistanis who support the economy by sending vital remittances, which is a valuable source of foreign exchange.
Defence analyst Talat Masood said Pakistan and Saudi Arabia share a deep and strategic relationship, which covers several aspects. Previously it was more focused on defence and the strategic side, however, now they are trying to cover the economic aspect as well.
“Saudi Arabia has always been generous towards Pakistan, giving us grants and financial aid. Now, it is moving towards investment in Pakistan. The visit of the Saudi Crown Prince will cultivate a strong bond between the two nations,” he told The Express Tribune.
There is enough evidence throughout history to signify the importance of Saudi Arabia for Pakistan. The fact that Imran Khan’s first visit as Pakistan’s prime minister was to Saudi Arabia also highlights the importance of the ally. Even today, as Pakistan is faced by a severe financial crisis Saudi Arabia has stepped up to lend support to the crippling economy.
At the request of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Saudi Arabia has deposited $3 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). The kingdom has also agreed to provide a one-year deferred payment facility for oil imports up to $3 billion.
Saudi assistance in the shape of loans and grants is vital for turning around Pakistan’s economy. However as long term measure the Saudi investment must be sought and encouraged in the exploration and exploitation of Pakistan’s mineral resources .Our future lies in utilisation of the proven mineral reserves.
Former diplomat Rustom Shah said, “The visit of the crown prince is an important development that would lay the foundations for a sustainable economic engagement between the two countries.
“Further this growing relation should become more multi-dimensional as time passes.”
Now, in a move to further cement brotherly relations, the kingdom is also looking to boost investment in Pakistan.