Pakistani soldiers patrol
Pakistani soldiers patrol on a street next to welcoming posters of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in Islamabad on Sunday. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Describing the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to Pakistan as a manifestation of the strength of their relationship, Prime Minister Imran Khan has stated that it would go a long way in laying a foundation of strategic and economic relations that has been the hallmark of two brotherly countries.

“The generous deposit of $3 billion [Dh11 billion] and supply of oil on deferred payment is reflective of the desire of the kingdom to see a strong, vibrant and prosperous Pakistan,” he said in an interview published in the Saudi Gazette on Sunday.

The prime minister said as the long-standing, firm and close relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia extended to all spheres — political, economic, and diplomatic — the Saudi crown prince’s visit would strengthen the diplomatic support of Saudi Arabia for Pakistan and reinforce relations.

He was confident that the economic relations of the two countries would be further expanded through the identification of new avenues of investment and as well as joint ventures between the two countries. “It would further our mutual trust and strong historical relations,” he said.

The prime minister said Mohammad Bin Salman would also interact with key Pakistan government officials, besides himself, thus getting to know Pakistan better.

“Pakistan is eagerly looking forward to this historic visit of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to Pakistan,” he added.

Imran said all aspects of bilateral, regional and global issues, ranging from cooperation in the economic, diplomatic and political arenas to collaboration in regional peace and stability, especially of relevance to the Muslim Ummah, would be discussed.

“Pakistan is a highly attractive investment destination for Saudi Arabia. So the possibilities of Saudi investment in sectors like energy, petroleum, and agriculture and infrastructure development will come under discussion,” he added.

In the diplomatic sphere, the prime minister said the two nations could join hands to effectively mobilise the international community for an amicable resolution of festering disputes such as Kashmir and Palestine.

“Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have similar stances on regional and global security and this visit will be an opportunity to discuss key regional and global security issues,” he said, adding that both countries could also exert their energies and influence in facilitating the peace process in Afghanistan.

According to Imran, the two countries could utilise the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) platform to strengthen Muslim Ummah and close cooperation among Muslim countries.

Leveraging energy expertise

To a question about Saudi Arabia’s decision to establish an oil refinery in Gwadar, the prime minister said the kingdom, as one of the leading producers of oil, had tremendous experience in the energy market, something that could help Pakistan in its quest for developing much needed energy resources.

“The investment in Gwadar alone would be the most important contributor towards making Pakistan self-reliant in this sector,” he added.

The prime minister said Pakistan would like to develop an economic and cultural corridor with Saudi Arabia to further expand bilateral relations.

“Our relations with Saudi Arabia are not based on the exigencies of time but are time-tested,” he said. “We hope that Saudi Arabia would invest in other sectors as well to bring the economic and trade relations at par with our political relations.”

The prime minister said Pakistan would like to increase its agricultural exports not only to Saudi Arabia but also to other regional countries.

“Pakistan looks forward to enhanced cooperation in the banking sector, education sector, science and technology, trade and investment, [the] construction sector and cultural cooperation especially, in the field of films and cinemas, and tourism. On KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] becoming a member of CPEC, it will bolster CPEC as an engine of growth for the region,” he maintained.

To another query, the prime minister said CPEC [the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor] would not just be a corridor, as was indicated by his government’s focus on the next phase of CPEC where it is going to focus on the Special Economic Zones.

“We will focus on the indigenous production and industrialisation.”

He said the government had initiated a broader and multi-dimensional reform process to improve Pakistan’s investment climate and to make it attractive for potential investors.

“This will complement the projects initiated under CPEC. The main thrust, among other factors, is to promote [an] enabling environment for business and commercial activities in the country,” he added.

Reducing bottlenecks

The prime minister said their priority was to make Pakistan easier for business and friendly for tourism. In that regard, Islamabad is focusing on automation in each sector to reduce costs, save time and minimise administrative procedures or bottlenecks, he added.

The government, he said, was also encouraging the relocation of industry not only from China but also from other countries. It was focusing on measures aimed at restoring confidence of both local and foreign businessmen in Pakistan, he added.

“We make no differentiation between local and foreign investors. Foreign investors can have full ownership, as well as repatriate their capital or profit without any hindrance. All of this would help boost economic productivity and will make CPEC not just a corridor but also the engine of economic growth, prosperity, trade cooperation and investment.”

Imran also said the Saudi oil refinery planned in Gwadar would help boost local production and the local energy market. The exchange of skills and transfer of technology and best practice is expected to enhance competition and increase the productivity of local refineries, he added.

“It would also complement the projects under the CPEC. This, of course, is just the beginning of our cooperation and we would like to build upon the successes of this project to further expand cooperation in other areas as well,” he added.

To a question, the prime minister said multiple contracts were expected to be signed between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia during the Saudi crown prince’s visit.

“The main highlight of the visit will be the signing of the MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] in respect of the oil refinery, which is Saudi Arabia’s largest investment in Pakistan’s history,” he added.

The prime minister said his administration would ensure Saudi investors, including those in the oil refinery project, did not face any procedural delays.

“We will put in place an investment-friendly environment as has been indicated in World Bank’s ‘Doing Business Index’ where Pakistan has improved its score from previous years.”

He said Pakistan offered a bundle of investment opportunities to the world, through its vast untapped resources and a shortest gateway to central Asian countries via the CPEC.

He noted that Saudi investments reflected the kingdom’s diversification programme envisioned in its Vision 2030.

“We expect Saudi Arabia to invest in petrochemical industries, solar-powered electricity projects and [the] mining sector. Keeping in view, the proximity of Gwadar Port to the Middle East and its regional geo-strategic position, there [is] huge potential for the countries of the region to reap economic benefits,” he added.

Iron hand approach to terrorism

To a question about terrorism, the prime minister said terrorism was a big menace that had to be countered with an iron hand.

“Being the biggest victim of terrorism, Pakistan knows its ugliness and [that terrorism] costs more than any other country in the world.”

He recalled that the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, and the loss of interest by the US in the region, had left Pakistan dealing with the mess that ensued.

“We are determined not to become a partner in any proxy war anywhere in the world. Rather we will be a partner in peace. Islamabad believes that extremism in most parts of the world, which leads to terrorism, is brought about by many factors,” he added.

Respecting sovereignty

The prime minister said that Pakistan was against interference of regional powers in the internal affairs of any country.

Noting that Saudi Arabia had enormously contributed to the uplifting of its own people, as well as citizens of other Muslim countries, Imran said that needed to be appreciated and discouraged.

Imran said the Islamic Military Alliance against terrorism or IMCTC was a joint initiative of Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world to protect Muslim countries from growing security and terror threats.

“It is imperative that regional platforms like IMCTC work for the collective good of nations by countering evils of terrorism and instability that threatens the very social fabric of our societies. [The] Islamic Military Alliance works for the stability of its member countries by helping sustain the political stability of the region.

“The notion created by some that [the] IMCTC is a coalition of vested interests against a particular country, region or sect, is a rustic mockery and far from any logic and reality. We hope this alliance will evolve into an alliance of all Muslim states to collectively fight the common menace of terrorism,” he added.

To another question, the prime minister said Pakistan rejected military solutions and believed that every conflict had a political solution and the conflicts could be resolved through peaceful means.