ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is blessed not only with natural resources and a talented national pool but also with time tested brothers and friends like China, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Iran, and many others.
However, amongst all, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has emerged as one of the most distinctive partners, friends and brothers. It has always remained a source of comfort and peace, and assured assistance in all weathers. Since Pakistan’s creation, Saudi Arabia has been a country we could depend on.
Both countries believe in hard cooperation and readily extending assistance, whenever it is needed. They take each other’s problem or issues as their own and also celebrate the success of the other. Pakistan’s atomic tests were equally celebrated in Saudi Arabia as it was in Pakistan. The kingdom also assured and delivered on its promises after the sanction was imposed by western countries on Pakistan for its atomic tests.
It was not the first nor the last time, when the kingdom helped Pakistan in hard times. Its generosity for Pakistan goes back to the 1971 war, in which it put a lot of hard money to give support to the deteriorating economic situation of Pakistan. It also generously helped the country tackle the volume of Muhajireen from Afghanistan.
Apart from that, a huge number of Pakistanis are working in Saudi Arabia. It is estimated that around 2.6 million Pakistanis are working in the country and contributing around $5 billion to national remittances. Low volume of remittances against the number of people reflects that the country is also helping Pakistan’s unskilled labour. However, now, Pakistan should work on reversing the situation and also send skilled labour to benefit from different sectors of the economy.
Pakistan too has always remained vocal about the security and extended its help and assurance to the kingdom that Pakistan will leave no stone unturned to secure the geographical integrity of it.
Despite the cordial relation, both countries could not build investment and trade relations, accordingly. Pakistan has a huge potential and a good number of commodities, including vegetables, fruits and textile products, which can be exported to Saudi Arabia. However, it is fortunate that both countries have now identified and started to work on this shortcoming.
After the recent visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan, both countries are working to find new ways of investment and enhancing trade. Saudis have shown keen interest in investing in different sectors of Pakistan, like oil, minerals, agriculture etc. Both countries are on the advance stages of formalising investment, especially in the refinery sector. It is being quoted from both sides that there would be signing of contracts between $10-15 billion, during the visit of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman.
The first stage of investment would be focused on establishing the refinery setup in Gwadar. The initiative also has a huge symbolic value, as it is close to the Gwadar port, being constructed by China. It would be a practical step towards inclusion of third country in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) related activities. China and Pakistan are already offering other countries to be a part of the corridor project and benefit from the fruits of it.
It will also usher a new era of development in Balochistan, especially for poor communities. Moreover, it will help Pakistan save money and earn through exporting oil products in the future. The venture would also encourage the exploration of oil in Pakistan.
Investment in agriculture
The second stage would be investment in agriculture, mineral and other sectors. Pakistan badly needs finances in these sectors, as agriculture is the backbone of its economy.
Free trade agreement
However, there are two other areas where Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will have to work more dedicatedly. First is the free trade agreement (FTA) and the second one is Saudi Vision 2030. It is noteworthy that both countries have already agreed, in principle, to negotiate an FTA, but the pace is slow. Both should put more focus on it and speed up the process. It will help boost trade relations between them and, in particular, Pakistani exports, especially from agriculture and textile sectors.
Saudi Vision 2030
The Saudi Vision 2030 is a lesser known and discussed subject in Pakistan. Islamabad should try to explore the vision and identify the areas of joint interests. There is a good number of areas especially, health, education and tourism, along with the economy, through which both countries can benefit.
Moreover, Pakistan can also venture into opportunities from the financial markets of Saudi Arabia and the sports industry. The kingdom, under the Vision 2030, is committed to promote the culture of sports and introduce it for healthy and active human capital. As Pakistan already has a very good experience in sports, it can forge partnership with Saudi Arabia on multiple games.
Pakistan has progressed in the entertainment industry; however, we lack resources to promote it. Under the Vision 2030, Pakistan can also benefit from Saudi Arabia by extending a hand of cooperation in this sector. Cooperation with the kingdom will help address some investment issues in the sector.
There are other areas, which require more research and policy attention in Pakistan for joining hands with Saudi Arabia and assist in implementing the Vision 2030. More, importantly the vision is very close to the heart of King Salman and Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. But Saudi Arabia needs support in many areas, where Pakistan can be a good source of help, especially in areas including banking, IT, education, expertise in economic field and other sectors.
Therefore, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia must establish a ‘working group’ to discuss and formulate a policy and action plan around the “Vision 2030 of Saudi Arabia”.
However, both countries must remain vigilant to criticism and uncalled opposition from the regional and international countries and experts. There are people and countries that started to compare and analyse Pakistan and KSA by bringing in Iran and sectarian elements. But both countries have clarified many times that the relationship is beyond the factor of sectarian ideologies.
Pakistan always maintained that it is a sovereign country and does not need any dictation from any one. Secondly, Pakistan also enjoys close relations with Iran, which were established right after the independence of Pakistan as the Shah of Iran was the first head of state who visited Pakistan.
Thirdly, Pakistan does not create objections on other countries’ foreign relations, as Iran has very close ties with India and Pakistan never commented on it. The reason is simple; Pakistan believes in sovereignty of others and expects the same from others. The most interesting thing is that Iran also wants to avoid this notion, but some experts put all their efforts to bring in sectarian element. It is quite unfortunate.
Therefore, Pakistan and Saudi relations should not be analysed by bringing in a third country or sectarian element. The best way for both the countries would be to keep the relation as transparent as possible to avoid uncalled confusion and criticism. In the end, this relationship must be translated now into an economic and strategic relationship on the basis of mutual interests, values and respect.