The world is watching with interest the reforms taking place in Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 strategy, Pakistani President Dr. Arif Alvi said on Monday.
Speaking exclusively to Arab News during a wide-ranging interview in Islamabad, Alvi described Saudi Arabia’s new direction toward moderation and modernization as extremely important.
“I think the opening up of Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been very important. It’s being watched. It’s being appreciated throughout the world,” Alvi said.
He praised the Kingdom’s fight against extremism, and said the campaign is aligned with Pakistan’s own war on extremism and obscurantism.
“It’s important to let the people know, who sometimes are misinformed regarding Islamic tenets and take the wrong direction,” he added.
“There is a commonality between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (on the issue of fighting extremism),” he said.
“Modernization in Saudi Arabia is weaning people away from extremism and giving them opportunities to work for a better living. These goals are very similar to those of Pakistan.”
Alvi said as part of Vision 2030, the Kingdom needs to diversify its economy. “This needs good places for investment. Pakistan fits in exactly,” he said, adding that both countries are pursuing similar policies in terms of openness.
He assured global and, more specifically, Saudi investors about the iron-clad guarantees that Pakistan’s new government has announced to protect foreign investment.
Pakistan is taking a leaf out of the crown prince’s book regarding fighting corruption, Alvi said.
“Since the creation of our party (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) in 1996, our primary objective has been to fight corruption because we believe that corruption is related to almost everything in Pakistan. The decreasing standard of living, increasing poverty ... all of them are related to corruption,” he added.
“I must draw a parallel between what has been done in Saudi Arabia. His Majesty King Salman and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came out strongly against corruption.”
Alvi said something similar is taking place in his country under Prime Minister Imran Khan, adding: “Today, the Supreme Court and the high courts of Pakistan are in alignment with the vision of this new government against corruption. There’s a real battle, and I think we’ll overcome it.”
Alvi referred to Beijing’s successful fight against corruption, saying: “We have good relations with China, and it has had a good battle on its hands and has tried to overcome corruption.”
Pakistan’s drive against corruption has instilled a sense of security among global investors, he added.
“New investors who are coming into Pakistan have made strong investment commitments, based on the fact that corruption is getting less and the government is very strong against corruption,” he said.
“In the past, investors didn’t know how much they should earmark for corruption, and what bureaucratic hurdles they would face, for the project to become profitable,” Alvi added.
“If you read the newspapers of the last six months, the government of Pakistan, the independent anti-corruption organization — the National Accountability Bureau — and the judiciary are all battling corruption.”
He cited the following important developments: “Number one, security for foreign investors and their investments; number two, the battle against corruption; number three, opening up of visas, inviting people to invest; number four, as a result of these measures we’ve become one of the best places in the world for good investment.”
Alvi thanked Saudi Arabia for its investment package worth $20 billion and the signing of a number of memorandums of understanding.
“We’ve had a very long friendship with the people and government of Saudi Arabia … We’ve always had love for our brothers in Saudi Arabia. We’ve always had concerns for their wellbeing,” he said.
“We’re always concerned about the security of our brother and friendly country Saudi Arabia,” he added.
“We consider any danger to the Two Holy Mosques, or to the people of Saudi Arabia, as a danger to us as a people and as a country,” Alvi said.
“When Saudi Arabia comes forward at a time of investment, and when Pakistan is looking for investment, I think it’s a very good opportunity for Saudi investment to come here.”
He listed a number of areas where investment would prove mutually beneficial. “I believe very strongly that the industrial sector, for example the refinery project that’s coming InshAllah in Gwadar with Saudi investment, is very important,” he said.
“Minerals is another important sector in Pakistan. We have an abundance of minerals in Balochistan and Hunza,” he added.
“The third area is tourism. I believe Pakistan is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but because of a lack of security it didn’t take off,” Alvi said.
“The fourth sector is what I’m looking at. I’ve launched a presidential initiative on artificial intelligence and computing because the new change in the world is going to happen in data, analyzing data,” he added.
“Data accumulation is there, but the prospects of analyzing data and the industry to analyze data have been relatively lagging behind,” he said.
“Billions and billions of data points will be analyzed by the new artificial intelligence project coming up. I think that’s the major area of training our people,” he added.
“In Saudi Arabia, training people in artificial intelligence and computing in blockchain technology and robotics is taking place. This is going to have a very significant impact in the Middle East and in the Gulf,” Alvi said.
Pakistan is in “a good position with its educated youth to be able to learn these. I’ve started the presidential initiative, and we intend to produce 100,000 people by the end of this year. So the opportunities are tremendous, opportunities are everywhere,” he added.
“As Pakistan comes out of its despondency because of lack of security and corruption … it will become a very golden sector for investment.”
Alvi explained the benefits of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). “China and Pakistan have been friends since their formation … We’ve been very close friends, and our history goes back to the 1950s, 1960s,” he said.
“In fact, the Chinese opening up to the Western world was on the encouragement of Pakistan. And if you remember the trip of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger from Islamabad to Beijing … Pakistan was a window of China to the world. So our friendship is very deep.”
Alvi described Pakistan’s relationships with Saudi Arabia and China as a “bond of friendship” rather than “transactional.”
He said: “Geopolitical forces … exploit the region for their own intent. For example, the closeness of India with other powers aligning … against China is a matter of concern for us.”
He added: “China has opened up this CPEC corridor, which is a good opportunity for Saudi investment … China has started its One Belt, One Road initiative starting from the Far East and going all the way to Europe.”
Given the size of China’s population and “its increasing presence in world trade, this friendship between Pakistan and China is important,” he said.
“It isn’t against any country. That’s a very important thing that I must point out … It’s pro the people of Pakistan and China … Our own developments are linked together.”
Alvi, who comes from a family of dentists, explained what it would take to put a smile on Pakistan forever
“Prosperity, happiness and friendship in the region and with other people. These things come from the heart,” he said.
“The friendship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia comes from the heart. You can’t put a value on that,” he added.
If people “have food, if they have relative prosperity, if they have education and if they have health, I believe this is the foundation of putting a smile on everybody’s face,” he said.
“When governments and people don’t value the lives of other people at the same level, they are bound to create misunderstandings, miseries of war.
“I think friendship and love will bring happiness to a lot of faces.”