Saudi crown prince’s visit to Pakistan raises hopes for trade boost

Gwadar Port is expected to widen Pakistan’s trade routes. (File/Getty Images)
Updated 17 February 2019

Saudi crown prince’s visit to Pakistan raises hopes for trade boost

  • Experts say the strong strategic and defense relationship needs to be extended to trade cooperation

ISLAMABAD: The Saudi crown prince’s visit to Pakistan must be utilized to open new avenues of cooperation between the staunch allies, Pakistani analysts said.

Mohammed bin Salman is expected to bring with him a record investment package, including a $10 billion refinery and oil complex in the deepwater Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.

Former Pakistani diplomat Javed Hafeez said bilateral relations have so far mostly revolved around defense and strategic cooperation, but there is a need to “diversify” and focus on trade and economic cooperation.

“Trade between both Islamic countries is minimal, and this needs to be enhanced to the fullest,” Hafeez told Arab News. 

There is huge potential for Pakistan to increase its exports of food items, garments, medicines and sports goods to the Kingdom, he said.

“The crown prince’s visit is good news for Pakistan, as this shows Saudi Arabia’s close association and love for our people,” Hafeez added. 

The crown prince has emerged as “one of the most influential figures in the Muslim world,” and his visit to Pakistan will “definitely open new avenues of cooperation between both countries,” Hafeez said. 

Last year, Saudi Arabia agreed to give Pakistan $3 billion in foreign currency support for a year, and a further loan worth up to $3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports to help stave off a current account crisis. Pakistan has so far received $3 billion in cash.

Rasul Bukhsh Rais, professor of political science, said the crown prince’s visit is a “welcome move at a time when Pakistan is struggling to improve its image as a peaceful country in the international community.”

Rais added that Islamabad should include Saudi Arabia as a third partner in the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which aims to turn Pakistan into a major route linking western China to the world.

“Saudi Arabia can easily connect to China and Central Asian states by using Pakistan’s strategic location in the region,” he said. “Wider economic cooperation between these countries will help the whole region prosper.”

International affairs analyst Zafar Nawaz Jaspal said the crown prince’s visit will help expand bilateral relations and accelerate much-needed trade and economic cooperation.

“The crown prince’s visit … will help materialize numerous investment projects in Pakistan,” Jaspal added. “In today’s world, mutual economic association and bilateral trade … are considered to be a yardstick to determine the depth of the (Saudi-Pakistani) relationship.”


Pakistan extends military chief’s tenure amid Kashmir row

Updated 39 min 36 sec ago

Pakistan extends military chief’s tenure amid Kashmir row

  • The extension, which had been widely expected, was also confirmed by the military’s spokesman
  • The Pakistani military has long played an outsized role in national life

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan extended its military chief’s tenure Monday, ensuring stability in what is arguably the country’s most powerful position as tensions soar with rival India and Washington is expected to announce a withdrawal deal in Afghanistan.
“General Qamar Javed Bajwa is appointed as chief of army staff for another term of three years,” read a statement signed by Prime Minister Imran Khan and released by his office. “The decision has been taken in view of the regional security environment.”
The extension, which had been widely expected, was also confirmed by the military’s spokesman.
The Pakistani military has long played an outsized role in national life, ruling the country for roughly half its 72-year history and offering the muscular reassurance against nuclear arch-rival India that many Pakistanis see as vital to their identity.
Bajwa was appointed to lead the military in 2016, taking over from the hugely popular General Raheel Sharif, who won the hearts of millions with his bruising campaign against Islamic militants.
Bawja’s extension marks the second time in nearly a decade that the country’s top general had their traditional three-year term extended.
It comes as tensions have skyrocketed with New Delhi after Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the disputed Kashmir region of its autonomy earlier this month.
US President Donald Trump urged the nuclear-armed rivals over the weekend to come back to the negotiating table, conveying to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan the importance of “reducing tensions.”
Both India and Pakistan have controlled portions of the former princely state of Kashmir since independence in 1947. The dispute over the Muslim-majority region has been the spark for two major wars and countless clashes between them.
Earlier this year they again came close to all-out conflict, after a militant attack in Indian-held Kashmir in February was claimed by a group based in Pakistan, igniting tit-for-tat air strikes.
The Pakistani military is also believed to be playing a vital role in ongoing peace talks between the US and Taliban that aim to secure a withdrawal of American troops in exchange for insurgent promises that Afghanistan will not be used as a safe haven for groups such as Al Qaeda or Islamic State.
Pakistan was the Taliban’s chief sponsor when it took power in neighboring Afghanistan during the 1990s.
Its influence over the group, which has waged an insurgency since it was ousted from power by US-led forces in 2001, is seen as key in facilitating a political settlement with the government of President Ashraf Ghani.
Talat Masood, a military analyst and retired general, said the need for continuity was at the heart of the decision.
“I don’t think Pakistan would have thought of a change in command in these circumstances,” he told AFP.
The understanding between Premier Khan — branded by his opponents as the army’s “blue-eyed boy” — and Bajwa “has been excellent,” he added.