In the still-chilly days of an uncommonly cold February in Pakistan, the last few days were non-stop news coverage of the first-ever official two-day visit of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
The February 17-18 visit that in governmental and diplomatic concordance has been rated as highly successful is being seen as a new chapter in Pakistan-Saudi Arabia’s very old and very strong relationship.
Building on areas of mutual interests, strengthening of old ties and re-evaluating the old dynamic on terms of mutual respect, the meeting of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prince Mohammad bin Salman will be of assistance to Pakistan on its journey of forging a new regional and international identity.
Much has been said, written and tweeted about the visit that was great, the bonhomie that was visibly warm, smiles that were huge, and the $12-billion expectation that turned into $20-billion worth of promises.
To me the most remarkable thing about the visit was that tiny interaction between the prime minister and the prince that changed, literally, the fate of thousands of Pakistanis and their families.
After his speech, on February 17, during the reception for Prince Mohammad, Prime Minister Khan re-addressed him highlighting the issue of immigration for Pakistani hajjis.
It was the second part of his short speech that was clearly unscripted, and evidently something that was unexpected for the assembly of the distinguished guests in that room: “I just want to say, Your Highness, these are people very close to my heart.
"They’re very special people who leave their families, who take all the trouble just to go away, to earn a livelihood for their families. For us they’re very special people. And we’d just request you, that it’s something that will please the Almighty...
“There’re some 3,000 prisoners, and we’d like you to bear in mind that they’re poor people who have left their families behind, so just a request that these are very special people for us, who go abroad for work, leaving their family and children behind, who work hard, send their money back.
"A special request from them that sometimes, they face hardships, and we’d like you to look upon them as your own people. We feel there is a close affinity with Saudi Arabia; we feel your people are our brothers. And we’d like you to have the same feeling for them.”
Very special people, repeated thrice.
That empathy of Imran Khan for the invisible, the forgotten, the never-talked-about Pakistani, his lifelong trait that has become his trademark in his work as the prime minister of Pakistan. That one of those little big things that make him the leader of people who have never been more than a vote for most of those who seek power, Khan remembers them always and everywhere.
And then came the immediate response of Prince Mohammad bin Salman that instantly endeared him to millions of Pakistanis: “Mr Prime Minister, rest assured that in Saudi Arabia I am the ambassador of Pakistan. And we cannot say no to Pakistan. Whatever we can do we will do that.”
In a world where diplomatic and state power is measured in the billions in deals, geostrategic decisions made on vested interests, and the bigger picture of hegemony, the tiny interaction between the leaders of two of the most important Muslim countries brought into focus the big message of humanity, and some of the best Islamic values: empathy, compassion and forgiveness for those who cannot do anything for you in return.
The selflessness of goodness.
On February 18, Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi tweeted: “HRH Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has graciously agreed to free 2,107 Pakistani prisoners in Saudi Arabia with immediate effect. Cases of the remaining will be reviewed. People of Pakistan thank HRH for responding immediately to Prime Minister Imran Khan's request.”
Thank you, Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Pakistan is indebted to you. On the request of Prime Minister Imran Khan, you took notice of those who had been forgotten.
Before the visit of the Saudi prince, amidst the relentless outrage from India against Pakistan after the horrific tragedy of the killing of 45 Indian CRPF personnel in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, in a suicide attack, Pakistan under Prime Minister Khan remaining resolute in its condemnation of terrorism had given its categorical denouncement of all Indian accusations.
In a televised statement on February 19, Prime Minister Khan, addressing the Indian government stated: “First you accuse Pakistan government. There is no evidence, nor was there any thought that what benefit is there for Pakistan [in the attack]. If Pakistan was hosting such an important conference, and the visit of the Crown Prince that had been planned for a long time, would even an idiot carry out such an attack to sabotage his own conference?
"Even without his visit, what does Pakistan have to gain by the attack? Why would Pakistan at this stage moving towards stability do it? We’ve waged a 15-year long war against terrorism. Terrorism is going down, peace is being established, there’s stability. What do we have to gain?
“I also want to ask the Hindustan government another question: if you are going to remain stuck in the past, and each time a tragedy takes place in Kashmir, are you going to hold Pakistan responsible? Instead of resolving the Kashmir issue, and starting a dialogue and moving forward, you will, again and again, make Pakistan the whipping boy.
“I am saying this to you unambiguously: this is the naya Pakistan. This is the new mindset, new thinking. We think it is in our interest that neither anyone from our land carry out terrorism anywhere nor anyone from outside carry out terrorism in Pakistan. We want stability.
“Today, I offer the Hindustan government: If you wish to have any kind of investigation in this incident that there was any Pakistani involved, we are ready. If you have any actionable intelligence that a Pakistani is involved, give it to us.
"I am giving you the guarantee that we will take action. And we won’t take action because there is any pressure on us. We will take action because it is enmity to Pakistan if the land of Pakistan is being used. It is against our interests.
“Secondly, whenever we approach India for dialogue, Hindustan’s precondition is that we first talk about terrorism. I am saying to you that we are ready to talk about terrorism.
"Terrorism is the issue of the entire region, and we are absolutely ready that there is end of terrorism in the region. Pakistan is the country that has suffered the most because of terrorism. 70,000 lives, 100-billion monetary loss. We are ready to talk to you [Indian government].”
India’s tragedy of losing 45 CRPF jawans is huge, and I, along with my country, am categorical in condemnation of the heinous act.
What is hugely significant to me is Prime Minister Khan’s speech. I cannot think of any prime minister of Pakistan who amidst incessant hawkishness of Indian media and people, boycotting of everything Pakistani, and even refusal to shake hands with Pakistan at the ICJ at The Hague, has ever addressed the Indian government in a televised address.
Which other Pakistani prime minister has ever, while addressing the nation and Indian government, stated in categorical terms that in this new Pakistan, he gives the guarantee that if the Indian government provides actionable intelligence or evidence, he will definitely take action?
To India, words of a Pakistani prime minister may be nothing more than rhetoric and an empty promise.
To me, it is the word of Prime Minister Imran Khan who, having been a relentless endorser of peace within and outside Pakistan, and whose denouncement of violence for any end is categorical, has my vote of confidence.
He will do what he has promised. Period.
Be it a forgotten Pakistani prisoner, a suffering Kashmiri, or an Indian victim of terrorism, Imran Khan’s fundamental characteristic is always his empathy.
There is never a dull moment in Pakistan.
And there is always a speech of Prime Minister Imran Khan that is an unexpected reminder of why I voted for him, and why he as the prime minister of Pakistan is my constant hope that the Pakistan of my dreams and ideals is fast becoming a reality.