There are two places on the globe that are revered focal points of every Muslim in the world – the Kaaba Baitullah in the City of Mecca and the Masjid e Nabvi in Medina, from where Islam’s message of enlightenment radiated far and wide and which is the last resting place of the Holy Prophet (May Peace be upon Him). Both these places lie in the oil rich Desert Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where the ruling monarch is aptly referred to as the ‘Servant of the House of God’. It is therefore natural that the Kingdom and its Royal Family are accorded a special significance by the Islamic World. It is within this relationship that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan bears a very special status, because of its spontaneous readiness to defend the two Holy Cities and the Kingdom from hostile acts. This spontaneity is not one sided, for Saudi Arabia has stood by us in times of crises and need. It comes as no surprise then that our mutual relationship has, since our birth, been the corner stone of foreign policy. To this end the two states have developed extensive commercial, cultural, religious, political and strategic ties that transcend diplomacy. According to an old survey report, “Pakistanis hold the most favourable perception of the Desert Kingdom in the world, with 95 percent of respondents viewing Saudi Arabia favourably”.

Saudi support to Pakistan bilaterally and in World Forums has been amply manifested during our armed conflicts with India, creation of Bangladesh in 1971 and the Pakistani stance on the Kashmir Conflict. It was during the Gulf War that Pakistan sent troops to protect the Holy Sites, while in an unprecedented show of solidarity, the Saudis promised to supply 50,000 barrels per day of free oil to help us cope with likely sanctions in the aftermath of our nuclear test explosions.

With one of the largest armies in the world and as the only declared nuclear power among the comity of Muslim States, we have always been committed to assist Saudi Arabia in protection of the Holy Cities, whenever the need to do so arises. Pakistan has therefore maintained close military ties with the Saudis in terms of military assets, advice and training. In the 1970s and 1980s, approximately 15,000 Pakistani troops were stationed in the Kingdom, which increased to around 20,000 between 1982 and 1987 (this number was later substantially reduced corresponding to need). A true reflection of Pak – Saudi friendship lies in the fact that a retired Pakistani four star general is in command of a multi-national anti-terror coalition spear headed by Riyadh.

The largest expatriate work force on Saudi projects comes from Pakistan. Surveys indicate this to be up to one million and this figure may have risen in the past decade. Saudi Arabia is also one of our largest sources of petroleum, financial aid and remittances. While both countries developed plans to expand bilateral cooperation in trade, education, real estate, tourism, information technology, communications and agriculture, directly and through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The most significant proof of Saudi – Pak brotherhood however, was manifested in the most recent financial package to help Pakistan’s economy, which had been left desolate by inept pre 2018 political dispensations.

The visit of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Pakistan is being viewed as the beginning of a new and prosperous era in Saudi – Pak relations. It is believed that the Crown Prince’s delegation will sign a number of trade and investment agreements including one where Saudi Arabia will set up an oil refinery in Gwadar with a proposed capacity of more than 500,000 barrels per day. This investment is likely to be around US $ 10 billion and the facility will rank amongst the largest oil processing plants in the region. The long term effects of this investment will more than likely be the long awaited turning point that the nation has yearned for during the last few decades, while its immediate benefits in terms of boosting businesses and employment opportunities will begin appearing soon after the deal is signed.

The aforementioned agreements will be a clear message to global investors that things have changed in Pakistan and investments as large as the one being made by the Saudis are secure and profitable. So it is with joy in my heart that I look forward to this royal visit and it’s after effects with the greetings “Ahlan wa Sahlan Marhaba”.

 

The writer is a freelance columnist.