By Mohammed Al-Sulami
An understanding of political realities and historical analysis clearly confirms that the approach adopted in Saudi-Pakistan bilateral relations has always been of a cooperative nature since the two countries have common historical, religious, cultural and human relationships, which continue to embody the true principles of solidarity and brotherhood, as well as both countries standing shoulder to shoulder in the face of domestic and mutual global challenges. The official positions adopted by the two countries, highlight the significant and extensive coordination between the two countries whenever crises have occurred. There is a joint desire by both countries to advance their cooperation in all fields leading to a comprehensive partnership, which could help the two countries realize their common interests.
Relations between the two pivotal regional countries have grown deeper over time in light of their shared mutual visions and their commitment to moderate political systems, as well as their desire to promote peaceful coexistence and tolerance instead of narrow intellectual prejudices and sectarian fanaticism. The two countries share similar views on encouraging greater openness to the world based on common norms, laws, and cooperating closely in international forums and sharing concordant positions on regional and international issues.
Saudi-Pakistani strategic cooperation can be found in the religious, political, military, economic and cultural spheres. This cooperation is currently at a pivotal stage preceded by diplomatic cooperation, with the two countries expected to forge an ever closer strategic partnership to enhance joint coordination in addressing regional and global issues. This will help both countries to attain their mutual interests and improve their standing as heavyweights in their respective geographic spheres of influence: the Middle East for Saudi Arabia and South Asia for Pakistan. The scope of cooperation and bilateral relations between the two countries has been highlighted by their participation in a number of conferences and other events.
Economically, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hosts about 2.7 million Pakistani nationals (according to statistics issued by the Pakistani Consul General to the Kingdom, Shahriar Akbar Khan, in March 2018). These expatriates have formed a bridge between the two brotherly countries, playing a positive role in helping to advance the tremendous progress and development witnessed by both countries. The two countries jointly launched the Saudi-Pakistan Trade Mission on January 14, 2019, with some 116 Saudi-Pakistani companies participating. This comes at a time when the two countries have revived the Saudi-Pakistani Business Council to develop bilateral trade and investment relations. Meanwhile, April 2019 will see the Pakistani Investment Forum in Riyadh with around 300 Pakistani investors participating in the event, promoting greater interaction between the Saudi and Pakistani private sectors.
When Pakistan experienced financial turbulence recently, the Kingdom was the first country to help Islamabad, offering the country a $ 3 billion bailout package to re-stabilize the country’s financial situation and boost Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves.
Besides, Saudi Arabia offered other facilities by granting Pakistan a one-year grace period on payment for oil imports worth $ 3 billion. Saudi Arabia also intends to set up a $ 10 billion oil refinery at Pakistan’s Gwadar port overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Strategic relations between the two countries date back to Pakistan’s independence in 1947 when military cooperation and joint defence agreements were signed. This alliance advanced further when Islamabad joined the Riyadh led Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism, which was announced in December 2015. It is headed by one of the former best leaders of the Pakistani army Gen. Raheel Sharif. This alliance aims to fight all forms of terrorism and to support moderation, laying a foundation for deep-rooted ties between Riyadh and Islamabad in the face of regional and international challenges especially in light of Gen. Sharif ’s statement in 2016 that any threat to Saudi Arabia would provoke a strong response from Pakistan. The two countries also hold joint military drills, most notably the Samsam manoeuvres held in February 2018.
The deep-rooted bilateral ties resulted in the newly appointed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan making Saudi Arabia his first point of call on his international tour in September 2018 shortly after he took office. The visit opened the door for further diplomatic exchanges between the two countries’ senior officials, which resulted in signing deals and protocols of cooperation in all fields. During one of these visits, on September 5, 2018, the Pakistani Information Minister, Fawwad Choudhary, announced, that Pakistan will never allow any party whatsoever to pose a threat to the Two Holy Mosques and to the Kingdom, adding that any attack on the Kingdom would be viewed as an attack on Pakistan itself.
Similarly, the expected visit by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to Pakistan will see the two sides signing a host of commercial and investment agreements worth billions of dollars. The aim of signing these deals will be to strengthen bilateral ties and open up more horizons between the two countries. The visit will come at a time when the Kingdom is adopting a reformist vision to strengthen the key pillars of state and society. Pakistan is taking similar steps in introducing reforms to build a new state and society. The Saudi vision is based on promoting a moderate Islamic identity, which rejects extremism and radicalism. This vision is enhanced by Saudi society’s pride in its Arab and Islamic identity, which it strives tirelessly to preserve.
Saudi Arabia seeks to boost ties with Pakistan based on all the aforementioned factors and to jointly strengthen regional peace and security in a way that ensures the territorial integrity of the countries in the volatile Middle East. The region is restive due to the reckless actions of some regional countries which aspire to revive their imperial past at the expense of regional states and their territorial integrity. These forces target regional nations and their resources, turning these countries into failed states plagued by corruption and terror.
The Kingdom also seeks to achieve regional integration based on reciprocal respect for a nation’s sovereignty, non-intervention in the affairs of other nations, and forming bridges with regional countries and the world. This could be achieved by forging cross-border partnerships that advance development, promote security and stability, and combat all forms of terror and extremism.
The Kingdom, which has never had imperial ambitions or a colonial legacy, either historically or ideologically, does not seek to annex lands. Nor is it covetous of others’ wealth, being one of the world’s largest holders of foreign exchange reserves and ranking first in the Arab world and fourteenth globally in terms of gold reserves. It certainly does not need any more oil, having the second-largest reserves globally. The point is not to boast by pointing out these facts, but to underline that Saudi Arabia’s foremost priority is to bring stability to the region.
The Kingdom’s desire to attain regional security impels it to provide near-limitless support to numerous Arab and Islamic countries in the political, economic and humanitarian spheres, with Pakistan receiving a considerable share of Saudi Arabia’s direct and indirect support. The Kingdom also sends humanitarian aid to friendly countries regionally and globally when tragedies and crises strike. The Kingdom also works tirelessly to help resolve crises and restore security and stability wherever possible, regionally and globally; among other successes, Saudi Arabia contributed to ending the bloody 10-year military conflict between Djibouti and Eritrea, as well as coordinating with Pakistan and other friendly countries to resolve the Afghan crisis by encouraging direct dialogue between the warring parties in the hope of restoring peace to Afghanistan. Indeed, the Kingdom and Pakistan regularly work together to combat terror and extremism across the Middle East and South Asia.
In conclusion, Saudi and Pakistani citizens look forward to a new era of deep-rooted cooperation between the two brotherly countries that will boost political harmony, economic cooperation and security coordination as well as unifying their positions on regional and international issues. The upcoming visit of MbS will mark a quantum leap in the relationship between Riyadh and Islamabad.
The writer is the founder and president of Rasanah, International Institute for Iranian Studies.