Successful visit

February 19,2019

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The two-day visit by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman went well for Pakistan in terms of both the economy and relief in the humanitarian sector. During his high-profile visit, the crown prince ordered the immediate release of 2107 Pakistani prisoners held in Saudi jails. Some of these prisoners, most of whom are labourers travelling to Saudi Arabia to seek work, have remained for over five years in prison in the kingdom. Their release will come as an enormous relief to their families. Since taking power, the PTI has announced that Pakistan is now open for business. The previous PML-N government had measured its economic success via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor agreement and the bringing in of Chinese investment in Pakistan. The PTI will now likely be able to point to the $20 billion in Saudi investment agreements that were inked on Sunday as one of its most significant achievements in its first few months in power. Having managed to secure an oil deferral payment facility as well as cash reserves from the Saudis, the question was what the Saudis would want in return. The visit of the Saudi delegation has confirmed that their intention is to invest in Pakistan. A separate body, much like the Joint Coordination Committee for CPEC, has been created for coordinating the Saudi investment ventures. The council will coordinate over three issues: politics and security, economy, society and culture.

With the focus of the current government being the economy, the coming Saudi investment should mean a boost for Pakistan’s economic growth and its foreign currency reserves. Clarity will be anticipated over whether the investments will be marked as loan, aid or purely investments. The last two will be better for Pakistan in the long term. The agreements in minerals, tourism, petrochemicals, renewal energy agriculture and food processing are ways to consolidate Pakistan’s long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia. The two country-led foreign investment plans, CPEC and the Saudi Arabia investment, now make for an interesting future. The foreign minister has already announced that the government is relaxing visa requirements for Saudi businessmen. Overall, the deals signed with Saudi Arabia are important. So is the announcement by Crown Prince Muhammad on the freeing of prisoners, something that has already been welcomed from various quarters in Pakistan and will help build greater friendship between the two nations. It is expected the visit will be followed up by a more detailed working out of the terms of the draft MoUs agreed upon and signed by the relevant ministers. Such cooperation is important to Pakistan and the government will hope to build on the base provided by Saudi Arabia to generate more cooperation in the future.


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