Saudi FM’s visit`

Although a lot of the discussions on the prince’s day-long trip remain under wraps, a few positives have become public

July 29, 2021

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud’s visit to Pakistan holds great significance, given the bumpy time Riyadh and Islamabad’s otherwise strong relationship has been through in recent months. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May was believed to have helped mend ties, but clearly, some major issues still remain. Although a lot of the discussions on the prince’s day-long trip remain under wraps, a few positives have become public, including a reported $500 million in investments through the Saudi Development Fund.

However, an agreement on the roughly 400,000 Pakistanis who work in the kingdom but are stranded in Pakistan was not reached. The workers are stranded due to travel restrictions imposed by the kingdom on Pakistan, which it has put on its Covid-19 ‘red list’ and also requires anyone entering the country to quarantine and have gotten any of the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. However, none of these are easily available or affordable in Pakistan, where Chinese vaccines have been prioritised. The delay is costing these workers their livelihoods and Pakistan billions in remittances.

Expansion of the Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council, co-chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Prime Minister Imran, was discussed. The visiting dignitary said they want the council to be a “more effective tool” to enhance bilateral cooperation and economic ties. However, most of the economic discussions appear to have been on expanding previous agreements and creating job opportunities in Saudi Arabia for Pakistani expat workers. At the same time, though no deal was reached, Pakistan has invited the Saudis to invest in special economic zones being set up under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

On the regional policy front, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Yemen were all discussed, though few concrete details were shared with the public. Unfortunately, details were sparse. Considering that both countries’ regional policies were among the major points of contention that led to the recent rocky patch in the relationship, it would have been reassuring to learn if, at least on security issues, we are on the same page again.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2021.

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