RIYADH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will arrive in Pakistan on Sunday to begin his official visit to a country that is widely considered to be “Saudi Arabia’s closest Muslim ally.”
Given this close relationship, it is little surprise that Raja Ali Ejaz, Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, considers it such a privilege and honor to be the envoy to a country he considers a “second home” for Pakistanis.
“Saudi Arabia is an important country for Pakistan,” he told Arab News.
“The Kingdom hosts one of the largest expatriate communities of Pakistanis. Under the present leadership in both countries, the role of the Pakistan Embassy has become more challenging and more significant.”
According to the Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at least 2.7 million Pakistani expats live in Saudi Arabia, 1.6 million of whom moved there to work between 2011 and 2015.
The ambassador was keen to highlight the strong relationship between the countries, and the ways in which the crown prince’s visit will further strengthen the bonds. The nations have long enjoyed a close, mutually beneficial relationship and Pakistan has benefited from Saudi resources in many ways, not least because the Kingdom is the country’s biggest supplier of oil.
“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have always stood by each other in times of need,” he said.
“The leadership of the two countries has a vision of taking the relationship to new levels in the days ahead, and the bilateral visits by the highest leadership are the manifestations of this.
“The upcoming visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be historic and elevate relations to an unprecedented height. The government and people of Pakistan appreciate (his) visionary policies, which will lead to the prosperity and development of Saudi Arabia and stability in the region.”
The total volume of trade between the two countries is currently worth about $3.4 billion. Pakistani exports to Saudi Arabia include food and textiles.
“We are looking forward to enhanced cooperation between two brotherly countries in areas including culture and media, energy, trade and investment, mining and tourism and so on,” said Ejaz.
“These agreements will create enormous opportunities for both sides, as well as for people-to-people contact.”
The ambassador also suggested that cultural exchanges could become increasingly important, creating eye-opening experiences for citizens of both countries.
“The people of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were united in an everlasting bond of faith and culture even before the creation of the two countries,” he said. “This spiritual bond has gradually transformed into a strategic political alliance.
“The people of Pakistan consider Saudi Arabia their second home and a visit to the Two Holy Mosques is the lifelong desire of every Pakistani. On the other hand, Pakistan is blessed with regions of historical heritage, unmatched natural scenery and excellent climate.”
Obtaining a visa to visit Pakistan is a difficult task; the application process is one of the lengthiest of its kind. Ejaz said, however, that steps were being taken to make the process easier and more accessible for Saudi citizens.
“Pakistan is working to simplify the visa process and improve infrastructure to facilitate tourists,” he said. “Hopefully these steps will attract more tourists from the Kingdom. In addition, both governments under different frameworks, particularly Vision 2030, are actively working on increasing cultural exchanges.”
The ambassador also had encouraging words for Saudi investors interested in the potential offered by Pakistan.
“Pakistan would like to diversify and see its economic relations expanding,” he said. “One of the important factors in improving economic relations is bilateral investment. Pakistan needs a refinery, gas pipelines and fuel storage, and I feel Saudi Arabia can invest profitably. Other areas of investment could be the agriculture and mining sectors, especially copper and gypsum.
“Pakistan has an investment-friendly legal framework in place. We are also endowed with enterprising human resources, particularly in services and the IT sector, which can be utilized in development projects in the Kingdom under Vision 2030.”