The MbS visit

  • Some things override all other considerations

The Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia His Highness Muhammad bin Salman is due in Pakistan on February 16th on a two-day visit. Pakistan will pull out all stops and roll out the red carpet with the prime minister receiving the honoured guest on the tarmac. Expectations are high that besides reaffirming the strong enduring Saudi-Pakistan relationship the visit will lead to some high value mutually beneficial agreements for which the groundwork has been done by visiting Saudi delegations and personal interaction between MbS as the Crown Prince is known and Imran Khan who visited Saudi Arabia to participate in a Saudi sponsored conference at a time when the world’s spotlight was on MbS following the Kashoggi murder. The prime minister’s visit underscored the fact that the importance of the Saudi-Pakistan relationship overrode all other considerations.

For years’ Pakistani manpower and expertise has been at the forefront of the nation building process in Saudi Arabia. Besides the multitudes of workers doing labour, Pakistani doctors, engineers, IT specialists, technicians and defense personnel have served across the country in a variety of positions and roles and continue to do so. For more than six years a Pakistani Heavy Armored Brigade group was stationed at a base in Saudi Arabia on a training mission. Pakistan’s former Army Chief General Jehangir Karamat was the commander of the force and the present Army Chief General Bajwa was a part of the force as a captain. Pakistan support helped during the siege of the Holy Kaabah and Pakistani troops were sent for the defense of Saudi borders during the 1991 war. Pakistan has repeatedly confirmed its commitment to defend the holy sites if required to do so. A retired former Pakistan army chief is serving as the head of the Islamic Coalition Forces in Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister has undoubtedly worked hard to project his vision of a new Pakistan and his policies that will steer the country out of its transient problems and in new directions

Saudi Arabia has always been at the forefront to help Pakistan whenever such help was needed. Oil at deferred payments has helped more than once. Right now the Kingdom has extended a support package of $3 billion to Pakistan besides oil at deferred payment. Saudi interest in Pakistan has always been high and there has been convergence in strategic thinking on all issues including the long drawn out struggle in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s defense training institutions are all open for Saudi personnel. In multilateral fora there is always common ground between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Within Pakistan Saudi Arabia, its monarchy, its people and armed forces are held in high esteem with very large numbers going on visits and pilgrimages to the Kingdom. More than anything else both countries understand each other’s’ security concerns and the constraints these impose on policies.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister has undoubtedly worked hard to project his vision of a new Pakistan and his policies that will steer the country out of its transient problems and in new directions. His credentials for leading the country, the political mandate that he has earned and the institutional support he enjoys have all helped to establish rapport with and gain the confidence of the Crown Prince. The visit of MbS comes at a time when Pakistan’s stabilisation measures are starting to pay off and the country is poised to take strategic steps towards structural reforms, governance and foreign relations. The expected Saudi investment that includes a refinery at Gwadar the terminus of the CPEC will boost the country towards growth and make the CPEC far more inclusive and strategically important. There is no doubt in Pakistan that the Crown Prince shares Pakistan’s march to a new future and that he will help Pakistan to achieve its strategic goal.