SAUDI Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) is expected to arrive in Pakistan on the government’s invitation.. The dates for the upcoming visit have not been finalised yet, but it is expected to take place close to the middle of this month. It has been reported that the Crown Prince will announce investment worth almost $15 billion in Pakistan in addition to other economic and diplomatic initiatives. The visit was announced by Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who spoke to his Saudi counterpart on the telephone during which both discussed close relationship between the two countries. Fawad Chaudhry informed his Saudi counterpart Turki Bin Abdullah Al-Shabanah that Pakistan is awaiting the Saudi crown prince’s visit to the country. He felicitated the Saudi Minister of Media on assuming new responsibilities. Mr. Chaudhry said Islamabad and Riyadh enjoyed ties based on mutual respect, cooperation and trust. He hoped that new vistas of cooperation will open in diverse fields, including media, in future with the Crown Prince’s visit.
Earlier on 12 January 2019, Saudi Minister for Energy and Industry, Prince Engineer Khalid Abdulaziz Al-Falih said that Saudi Arabia will make historic investment in Pakistan. He expressed these views during a meeting with Minister for Petroleum Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Minister for Maritime Affairs, Syed Ali Haider Zaidi in Gwadar, according to state-owned Radio Pakistan. Both the sides reviewed possibilities of expanding exports and discussed the prospects of active cooperation to realize the existing potential of the Gwadar Port. They also discussed possibilities of financial cooperation to enable Pakistan exploit energy, sanitation and mineral resources. The Saudi Minister said cooperation of Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia on Gwadar Port, which is in an important region, as exemplary. Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan informed that the state of art oil refinery in Gwadar will be launched with the Saudi investment; while the project will be the biggest investment by Saudi Arabia in Pakistan. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding the project will be signed during the upcoming visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in February, he added.
Sources relayed that officials in Islamabad and Riyadh are likely to sign additional MoUs pertaining to cooperation in mineral resources. The kingdom is interested in investment in oil refinery, petrochemicals, renewable energy and mining apart from the $10bn plus Saudi investment which is expected to be signed. The $10bn investment will be in addition to the Saudi package of $6bn approved by the Kingdom to Pakistan during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia in October last year. Unfortunately, whenever Pakistan makes overtures to its traditional friend Saudi Arabia, vested interests try and drive a wedge in the close ties. Pakistan is also a neighbour of Iran and both countries have very close ties. Saudi and Iranian rivalry has nothing to do with Pakistan, which cannot afford either a zero-sum game or “either/or relationship.” Similarly, relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia are strained. Pakistan, which is close to both brotherly Muslim nations, cannot take sides or abandon ties with one at the behest of the other. Similarly, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are at war, which is sad but again instead of taking sides, Pakistan has offered its good offices to act as a mediator to restore peace.
The brutal murder of renowned journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey at the Saudi Consulate is cited as reason for Pakistan to distance itself from Saudi Arabia. It must be understood that all rational democracies in the world protect their own interests without indulging into politics of the other countries or becoming party to it. The relationship of Saudi Arabia with Iran, Qatar and Yemen and the issue of Khashoggi are the internal matters of Saudi Arabia and do not have any bearing on Pakistan. Saudi Arabia enjoys its relationship with the West despite various points of contention. Notwithstanding the fact that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is being ruled by a conservative autocratic monarchy with human rights concerns which are contrary to the standards of the West, the Kingdom has never really had to deal with pressure from the Western Governments or media to change its ways.
Lobbies which are close to Iran, rake up the Saudi-Iranian rivalry and quote Iran as another issue that is put on fire whenever some initiatives with Saudi Arabia are on their way. Pro-Iranian lobby in Pakistan, their sympathizers and other spoilers play this card whenever our relationship with Saudi Arabia takes fresh initiatives. After nearly a decade of hibernation, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has put its act together under the Imran Khan government and is making overtures to various states, which are bearing fruit. The economic crunch currently being faced by Pakistan is being resolved with the help of its traditional friends, China, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. This is remarkable because in the absence of the financial support of its allies, Pakistan would be at the mercy of IMF and would be seeking bailout packages at stringent conditions. Detractors of Pakistan will seek to create impediments in the renewed Pak-Saudi ties. Any efforts to discolour the Pak-Saudi and Pak-Iran relationship before the visit would be nothing but to damage the Pakistan Government’s efforts of building better diplomatic and economic ties with the brotherly countries which is considered “uncalled-for” by patriotic section of the Pakistani society. We need to shun such negative attitudes and proceed with the policy of “charity for all and malice towards none.”
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.