A Royal Visit of Far-Reaching Impact

While there has been good news on the economic front, officials say cooperation between militaries of Pakistan and Saudia Arabia will also increase in the wake of Crown Prince’s visit.

ISLAMABAD - The visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to Islamabad is unprecedented in its scale and hugely significant in its geopolitical implications. Prime Minister Imran Khan got a strong endorsement from the heir to the Saudi throne. The Crown Prince Mohammad said at a reception Sunday evening that Pakistan now had great leadership, and he envisions a great future for the country. Such a compelling characterization of the Pakistani leadership, especially of Prime Minister Imran Khan, will have a substantial impact, not only internationally but also on the domestic political calculus. The morale of the political opposition will be dampened as it was publicly shunned and sidelined during the visit. The display of effusive warmth and bonhomie between the Saudi and Pakistani leadership during the visit was indeed remarkable. 

While both countries have been traditionally close allies, the bilateral relationship went through a brief chill during the last political government’s tenure. The dithering of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to send Pakistan army troops to Saudi Arab during the Yemen conflict upset the Saudis. The Kingdom has always stood by Pakistan and provided financial support whenever the Pakistani leadership sought it to tackle the lingering economic woes. An apparent reluctance to stand alongside the Saudis during the Yemen conflict, therefore, came as a shock and disappointment for the Kingdom. However, that hitch seems to be water under the bridge. “I think Saudi Arabia and Pakistan need to look beyond the relationship they had in the past. We trade, we invest with each other, we do joint ventures, and I think it will raise the standard of living in both countries,” Prime Minister Khan told an Arab news media outlet before the arrival of the Saudi Crown Prince. 

The Pakistani officials are viewing the Saudi investment pledges of $20 billion as a major success as the government tries to stabilize a debt-ridden, crippled economy. Pakistani officials are pleased with the fact that the Saudis plan to invest in the country heavily and the relationship has moved on from that of loans and aid packages. The proposed oil refinery in Gwadar means that Saudis will have more significant economic stakes in the country. 

While there has been good news on the economic front, officials say that the cooperation between the military of both countries will also increase in the wake of the Crown Prince visit. India had been offering to give military training to Saudi Arabia, and some other Gulf countries and officials say that move has been scuttled. The Saudis are looking to increase and diversify their military inventory and Pakistani military, with its advanced technology and innovation, can cater to Saudi needs. 

The visit came at a time when tensions with India have again been on the rise. The warmongering hysteria from across the border is being closely watched, officials said. There is a high alert on the border with India and across the Line of Control. The Modi government was always expected to ratchet up anti-Pakistan sentiment and create a crisis like situation as Indian general elections draw nearer. But a military escalation benefits neither of the two archrival neighbours and Pakistani security officials are hopeful that the situation would improve in the coming weeks. The Crown Prince is also expected to play a role in defusing the tensions as he travels to India.