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Employing global best practices in Pakistan-Saudi ties

By Nasim Zehra

April 29, 2024 11:52 PM


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Even for two close allies and old friends, the current speed at which trips between Riyadh and Islamabad are taking place points to a renewed Pak-Saudi keenness to develop special bilateral ties. As the Pakistani Prime Minister left for Riyadh with his key cabinet ministers, foreign policy observers in both countries remained mindful of the fact that only last week, the Saudi foreign minister with a huge delegation of Saudi businessmen and the deputy defense minister, were in Pakistan. And before that, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, his finance minister, defense minister and indeed the army chief too, were in Saudi Arabia.

While the decades old bilateral relationship has been generally on an even keel with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia broadly sharing common diplomatic and strategic approaches, in the last few years the two have sought to develop structures for closer economic and business ties.

Pakistan has been forthcoming in responding to Saudi Arabia’s requirements for Pakistan setting up quick processing structures for KSA investment. Hence the visiting FM acknowledged that Pakistan’s presentations showed a definite path forward for KSA investment.

A significantly changing economic relationship with Pakistan has been a consequence of global, regional and national economic conditions for both countries.

The key engagement between the two countries has been largely defined by the security relationship. Pakistan has been providing training to Saudi troops including commandos for several decades. For example, Pakistan has been providing the Saudis with a long-standing arrangement for security against threats within and outside the kingdom. Other dimensions of security have included shared concerns over the Israeli threat to the Palestinians and to the Kashmiri people, as well as cross-border militant threats from multiple sources, including Daesh.

Exchanges between top level security officials from the army chief to the defense minister take place on a regular basis. For example, in the last six weeks, the Pakistan chief and defense minister have visited Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi defense minister and army chief have been in Pakistan.

Both have several institutional structures in place to promote bilateral security cooperation. Also, trilateral structures for example including Turkiye, another major Asian Muslim power, are also now in place.

On Iran, both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia generally share a broad security outlook including threat perceptions, the need for developing robust and responsive security architectures and on the significance of remaining engaged with global powers including China and the United States, as well as remaining active OIC members.

There is a dependable relationship of trust between the two countries. It is within this frame that the Pakistan-KSA relationship is proceeding on the economic front as well. This trend may be surfacing in recent weeks but has been in the works for almost half a decade. For different reasons, both Pakistan and KSA have been keen to transform their previous economic ties from one of Pakistan seeking debt rollovers, bank deposits and oil on deferred payments. At present, both are looking to enter into genuine business ties with KSA making major investments.

Significantly, Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s leadership is seeking to embrace global best practice standards along professional lines, embracing for trade, development and investment. It accordingly looks toward Pakistan for efficient and profitable trade and investment partnerships. There are plans to invest several billions in Pakistani assets and businesses but with a hardcore business outlook.

Significantly during his visit, the Saudi foreign minister publicly acknowledged that this has been an encouraging visit where the road map seems to be clear, and from where Saudi Arabia can move ahead with Pakistan on investment matters. There is also in Pakistan, the important realization that only initial steps have so far been taken and that the road to specific Saudi investment will follow once satisfactory terms and systems have been put in place by Pakistan based on its own assessment of financial and strategic viability.

All of this is still a work in progress. To attract the world’s leading investors, Pakistan must fully embrace global best practices. While the Pakistan-KSA special relationship remains firmly intact, it is now to be advanced and guided by the facts of the future; by block chain technology, supply chain disruptions, shrinking resources and multiplying climate calamities. –Courtesy Arab News


Nasim Zehra


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