A special bond: Pakistan PM’s first port of call is Saudi Arabia

A special bond: Pakistan PM’s first port of call is Saudi Arabia

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Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is embarking upon his maiden official visit abroad on Thursday and as expected, he is visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia first. In Pakistan, ties with the Kingdom are seen as a most unique bilateral relationship. Pakistan was established as an independent state in the Muslim majority areas of the South Asian sub-continent while Saudi Arabia is the birth-place of Islam. It is no wonder that repeated surveys have shown the great numbers of Pakistanis who hold the Kingdom and its leadership in the highest esteem-- Saudi Arabia also hosts the largest segment of the Pakistani diaspora.

Historical records show that the people of the Arabian peninsula and Makran coast have had trade relations for thousands of years. The Makran Coast is now part of Pakistan and has the added importance of overlooking the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. This sea has strategic importance for the international economy as energy-laden tankers pass through it on a daily basis. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest oil producers in the world and has crucial importance for the international economy. 

A strong Pakistani naval presence on the Makran Coast and in its territorial waters ensures the safety and security of regional and international seaborne trade.

The Kingdom is a top source of vital foreign exchange remittances to Pakistan and an important trading partner. Pakistan’s exports to the Kingdom were US $402 million in 2021. Last year, Pakistan imported slightly above $2 billion worth of oil from Saudi Arabia, making the Kingdom its foremost energy supplier. 

These time-tested ties have never been negatively impacted by any change of leadership because in essence, this is a people-to-people friendship.

Javed Hafiz 

A huge number of Pakistanis also visit the Kingdom year after year for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. Therefore, in this unique relationship, spiritual and material bonds are intertwined. Skilled and unskilled workers from Pakistan have played a great role in the impressive infrastructural development of Saudi Arabia. Their productive presence in the kingdom also means over a million jobs and the sustenance of their families back home in Pakistan.

PM Shehbaz has previously lived in the Kingdom for years and developed a personal rapport with its leadership. It is therefore expected that bilateral relations will further flourish during his stint. While living there, he also developed a working knowledge of Arabic.

Apart from a detailed discussion about the troubling regional and international security situation, economic co-operation will definitely figure high up in bilateral talks.

Pakistan has voiced repeatedly, its full support for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030. Both countries consider each other’s achievements as their own gains. This was evident when Pakistan tested its nuclear capability in 1997. A sanctioned Pakistan got liberal financial relief from Saudi Arabia in the form of oil on deferred payments. As the Kingdom has always been Pakistan’s trusted partner in multifarious co-operative activities, Pakistan too has been effusive in the expression of its appreciation. Pakistan’s third largest city Faisalabad was named after King Faisel bin Abdul Aziz. The International Islamic University and Faisal Mosque, both located in Islamabad are living testimony to this special relationship.

Co-operation between Muslim countries is not only a sure path to development and harmony but also enhances the weight of the Muslim Ummah in seeking the resolution of pressing issues like Palestine and Kashmir. These festering wounds have promoted despair and extremism, which both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are committed to fighting. Both have watched the growing Islamophobia in the West and in our own region with concern and are working to contain it.

Although bilateral and multilateral co-operation has been multifaceted, defense and security ties have been the center of gravity of this special relationship. From mutual bilateral training to international and bilateral military exercises, participation from both sides has been regular and fruitful. Eternal vigilance is essential to safeguard independence and territorial integrity. Both brotherly nations have regularly calibrated their positions at the UN and the OIC. 

In an era of hybrid wars and a world in disorder, it is essential for friendly countries to exchange views regularly and to remain ever vigilant. The mere fact that Saudi Arabia will be Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s first port of call since assumption of office has great symbolic value and geo-strategic importance. 

These time-tested ties have never been negatively impacted by any change of leadership because in essence, this is a people-to-people friendship. There is no doubt however, that the arrival of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as Pakistan’s will accord fresh impetus to bilateral ties.

- Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.

Twitter: @JavedHafiz8

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