While headlines focused on the Kashmir-related aspects of recent talks between the leadership of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the more significant and tangible development may well be the agreement on forming the Saudi-Pakistani Supreme Coordination Council. The body would focus on enhancing bilateral cooperation and removing hurdles to investment, especially the deals already signed when Saudi Crown Prince Moham¬med bin Salman visited Pakistan in February 2019. The council was actually first announced during that 2019 visit, but operationalising it has taken far too long. Apart from drawing investment, the council could also evolve into a tool to help avoid blips in the relationship.
Meanwhile, the two governments also agreed to a host of other deals, including one relating to fighting drug trafficking and another deal relating to financing for energy, infrastructure, transportation, water, and communications projects through the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD). There were also reports of positives on the defence cooperation front, although few details on this were initially provided. Other agreements related to crime and punishment, which has significance given the huge Pakistani population in the country. Over 2.5 million Pakistanis live and work in Saudi Arabia. In fact, Pakistanis account for about seven per cent of the total population of Saudi Arabia, making them the third-largest population group overall, behind native Saudi citizens and Indian expats.
The agreement on Kashmir was technically a statement of support for a peaceful resolution to one of the world’s longest and most dangerous territorial disputes. Although a significant bilateral outcome, it should not be seen as the catalyst for peace. Rather, it was more of a gentle nudge for India to participate in talks with Pakistan in good faith. However, Saudi acknowledgment of Pakistan’s role in helping move the Afghan peace process forward was welcome and genuine. At the same time, talks of efforts to push for peace in war-torn Muslim countries such as Libya and Syria were also welcome. Perhaps more concrete details will emerge in the coming days about the finer points of the meetings, but what we can already gauge is that the tour was, all in all, a success.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2021.