Saudi-Pakistani relations have always been exceptionally close. So what, then — one may ask — is special about the current visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad?
Deeply rooted ties and mutual interests aside, we should not belittle the importance of the personal bond that was developed between the crown prince and Imran Khan, who emerged as a trustworthy man of his word
when he ensured that Saudi Arabia was the first country he visited as Pakistan’s prime minister. Shortly prior to his election, Khan told this newspaper that Pakistani-Saudi relations will be even closer under his leadership.
In return, the crown prince was quick to provide Khan, whose rise to power came at a time of economic turbulence in Pakistan, with the assurance he needed to hear: Riyadh has never, and will never, turn its back on Islamabad.
Mohammed bin Salman also picked Pakistan to be his first stop on his first ever tour of Asia as crown prince.
To Saudi Arabia, Pakistan is not only the world’s second-largest Muslim country and an important trade and military ally, but a country with which we share much history and many values.
Saudi Arabia hosts a Pakistani expat community of about 2 million, and welcomes nearly 200,000 Pakistani pilgrims every year. There are more expat success stories than can ever fit into one column, but for example, former Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was a highly successful banker in the Kingdom, while Gen. Raheel Sharif now heads the Saudi-based Islamic Military Coalition Against Terrorism.
As such, the crown prince’s visit is expected to elevate the relationship between the two countries to a strategic level. Not only that, but the meeting of the coordination council, which will be headed by the crown prince and Khan, will ensure that this relationship is strengthened over time and managed through institutional means.
A CEO summit will help improve trade and investment ties, while a number of memorandums of understanding worth $20 billion in energy and other sectors have already been signed.
Islamabad will decorate the crown prince with its highest honor, the Nishan-e-Pakistan medal. However, for the man who is next in line to become Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the honor no doubt lies in supporting our Pakistani brothers during their time of hardship, and putting mechanisms in place to ensure that the relationship with Islamabad goes from strength to strength.
“Consider me the ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia,” the crown prince told Khan at the honorary dinner held on the night of his arrival.
Incidentally, the recently appointed — and actual — Pakistani ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Raja Ali Ejaz, was sitting next to me at the dinner. I joked to him that his job seems to have been taken.
“It is an honor actually. Every Pakistani is also an ambassador of Saudi Arabia,” he said.