The dawn of a new relationship
Since the start of Pakistan’s formal diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, which opened just a month after the country was born in August 1947, Islamabad has had a unique relationship with the Kingdom.
A treaty of friendship signed between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in Jeddah in November 1951 laid the foundations of bilateral cooperation, and Pakistan’s efforts to further the relationship were reciprocated by the Saudi leadership each time. These ties have historical, religious, economic, political and strategic dimensions and transcend the limits of known bilateral measures of cooperation.
Without a doubt, the people of Pakistan have a natural reverence for the land where Islam was born and which hosts its two holiest cities. Ordinary Pakistanis also respect the leadership of Saudi Arabia, particularly King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for their generosity in assisting Pakistan at a crucial time in its economic history.
The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan imposes an obligation on the government to develop closer relations with Islamic countries. Saudi Arabia’s security and territorial integrity has always been sacrosanct to every Pakistani, and the people have pledged to defend the holy cities from any external threats.
In 1967, a mutual cooperation program was signed between the armed forces of the two countries. Under this program, the Saudi armed forces are trained by Pakistan’s military, and a large number of Saudi defense personnel have been equipped with modern defense techniques. Various other protocol agreements regulate the security and defense relationship between the two countries. A former Pakistani army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, heads the 41-country Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, which speaks volumes for the trust the Saudi leadership has in Pakistan’s armed forces.
However, there is much still to be done in the field of economic cooperation. Having had exemplary political understanding of regional and international issues for decades, both countries need to add an economic dimension to existing areas of their cooperation portfolio. Pakistan’s exports to Saudi Arabia need diversification. At this time, the balance of trade lies heavily in favor of the Kingdom due to costly oil imports.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have constituted a joint ministerial commission, which held its 11th session earlier this month and focused on the entire gamut of bilateral relations. It discussed upscaling cooperation in various fields and agreed to establish a joint working group on trade and investment.
Saudi Arabia is home to the largest segment of any Pakistani diaspora abroad. Between 2016 and 2017, they provided a whopping $5.4 billion in remittances, the largest source of remittances for Pakistan.
The two recent visits by Prime Minister Imran Khan to meet Saudi leaders, along with the foreign ministers’ meeting in New York, the exchange of parliamentary delegations, the prime minister’s participation in the Saudi investment conference, and the Pakistani president’s visit to Saudi Arabia late last year, are ample proof of continued consultations and the unanimity of views among the leaders of the two countries.
The current visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Pakistan is another landmark in bilateral relations and deepens the existing ties. The crown prince will go down in our history as a generous savior during deeply troubled times. The visit will lead to a new dawn in trade and economic cooperation.
• Rizwan Ul Haq Mahmood is a former Pakistani diplomat. He served in many Arab and Islamic countries as a member of Pakistan Foreign Service. He was consul general of Pakistan in Jeddah from 1999 to 2001. He also served as ambassador to Morocco and Spain.