CROWN Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced China-Pakistan Economic Corridor-like investment to give the much-needed fillip to Pakistan’s economy. Soon after his arrival to a historic welcome, the two countries signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) worth $20 billion with the Crown Prince declaring at the banquet speech that this was just first phase of Saudi investment in Pakistan and that the Kingdom would invest more in future.
The volume of the investment is not just important because it would help develop key sectors of energy, petro-chemicals, mineral resources and sports but is also indicative of the confidence that the brotherly country has in the future of Pakistan. MBS loudly expressed his feelings about this when he expressed optimism about the economic future of Pakistan, saying his country had been waiting for a leadership like that of Prime Minister Imran Khan to partner with Islamabad in various areas. This is also a tribute to the leadership qualities of PM Imran and foreign policy direction of the PTI Government, which successfully accomplished the task of resetting relations with Saudi Arabia in a few months, taking them to new heights. The focus on Pak-Saudi relations began when Prime Minister Imran Khan chose the Kingdom as his first destination abroad after his electoral victory and assumption of the office of the chief executive. Saudi leadership reciprocated his goodwill gestures and offered generous support as per requirements of the difficult times that Pakistan was passing through. It is to be noted that $20 billion investment was over and above the financial assistance offered by the Kingdom to Pakistan in the shape of deposits in State Bank of Pakistan and provision of oil on deferred payment facility, which would go a long way in helping the country to bridge over its financial crisis.
In fact, Saudi Arabia always proved to be a true and genuine friend of Pakistan and Riyadh proved this on a number of occasions in the past as well. We have been pleading in these columns that sky was the limit to Pak-Saudi relations and there exists enormous goodwill for Pakistan in KSA and it was for policy-makers in Islamabad to exploit these sentiments and opportunities for mutual progress and development. The sectors that Saudi Arabia has chosen for investment in Pakistan would not only create huge economic activities, generate employment opportunities and help shore up tax collection but are also attractive profitable ventures for Saudis, who would be using Gwadar port for aggressive regional trade and business contacts. The Prime Minister also referred to this in his speech and invited Riyadh to avail opportunities that can arise from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Pakistan’s close links with Beijing. The prospects are there but what we need is aggressive follow up to translate MoUs into projects on ground and demonstrate complete unity in welcoming the Saudi investment. Some unscrupulous elements tried hard but in vain to create doubts about CPEC and similar attempt was made when Balochistan Assembly passed a resolution asking the Federal Government to protect rights and interests of the province while finalizing MoUs for investment in Balochistan, as if the province was going to be colonized. Investment should be seen as investment and a golden opportunity to take the masses and backward regions from the vicious cycle of poverty and ignorance. The tendency of doing politics over prospects of development and growth must be curbed as we harmed ourselves on several occasions in the past by adopting unrealistic attitude. One such example was a comprehensive package announced by the Sultanate of Oman to develop Gwadar, which was politicized by vested interests.
Pakistan itself has not enough resources to develop all regions and areas at an accelerated pace, therefore, we must be thankful to our foreign friends and brothers for their huge investment in different sectors of the economy. As the Crown Prince has pledged to make more investment in Pakistan, it is now for the Government and the policy-makers to have follow up discussions with their Saudi counterparts to give this commitment a concrete shape. The Prime Minister has done well by raising the problems being faced by Pakistani pilgrims and work force in Saudi Arabia and here again the Crown Prince readily agreed to respond positively in resolving their issues. We wish the PM should have also taken up the issue of increased Hajj charges by the Kingdom and sought some concessions for Pakistani pilgrims as Hajj expenditure has gone up to unbearable limits. Similarly, Saudi Arabia is building two new cities and there was greater scope for increase in manpower export to the Kingdom. Discussions should be held for this purpose and also for export of technical and professional manpower to KSA that could help increase the remittances meaningfully. We would also propose that Pakistan should also convince Saudis to make investment in construction of water reservoirs and hydel-power generation for the mutual benefit of the two countries. Crown Prince MBS visited Pakistan at a time when important diplomatic initiatives were underway in the two regions and the visit afforded an opportunity to harmonize their strategies. Already there is remarkable similarity in the view of the two brotherly countries on a host of issues of bilateral and regional interest especially those concerning the Muslim Ummah. Attempts were being made and threats were being hurled for isolating Pakistan and Saudi Arabia but the visit proved beyond any doubt the popularity of the Crown Prince in Pakistan and the visit was also a rebuke to PM Modi’s threat of isolating Pakistan diplomatically.
It is hoped that Pakistan side would have briefed the Saudi side on the latest situation on Kashmir front, which would be helpful to the Crown Prince while putting across his point of view during his talks with Indian leaders. It is also worth mentioning that like China-Pakistan cooperation, the relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is firmly grounded on sincerity and sovereign equality and their ties are not against the interest of any other country. The ties have dominant economic dimension and therefore no one needs to be threatened and instead they should become partner in development. The high profile and productive visit of the Crown Prince is also a message that Pakistan can play a vital role in regional and global affairs and can become an attractive destination for investors provided we sort out our domestic problems amicably. Differences of opinion or political interests notwithstanding, all parties, leaders and institutions should stand united when it comes to safeguarding fundamental and core interests of the country. All parties should demonstrate maturity when it comes to building fruitful and cooperative ties with other countries. Hand of the Government in power should be strengthened on each and every move that is aimed at progress of the country and welfare of the people. As for Crown Prince MBS and King Salman, their stature stands further elevated in the eyes and hearts of Pakistani people for the sentiments they have expressed for Pakistan and backed by concrete actions.