- A positive dimension in relations
The Pak-Saudi summit has given a new dimension to relations between the two countries. For the Saudi royalty military ties with Pakistan had so far constituted the most vital aspect of mutual relations. For Islamabad on the other hand, Saudi financial assistance was the most important component of the ties. Saudi investments amounting to $20b have brought in mutually beneficial economic transactions as a new factor.
Professions of mutual amity and exchange of diplomatic pleasantries on both sides apart, what was agreed upon on paper is the most important part of Imran-MBS interaction. The promised investment mostly revolves around minerals, tourism, petrochemicals, agriculture and food processing. Does the PTI administration have the required capacity to implement investments of this magnitude? The performance of the party’s economic and financial team so far does not provide much confidence to one. The BOI has made some belated though much needed movement on removing bureaucratic hurdles faced by potential investors. But much more needs to be done. Pakistan still ranks 136th on World Bank ease of doing business index.
More than half of the Saudi investment is directed towards petrochemicals and minerals in Balochistan. If properly implemented this could have a highly positive impact on a federal unit that has been badly neglected so far. But mishandling the development could add to the province’s miseries. On Saturday Balochistan Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling upon the federal government to ensure that the interests and rights of the people of the province are adequately protected while reaching any agreement with Saudi Arabia. Some of the suggestions were quite reasonable. Will Imran Khan, who has otherwise a centrist mindset, be able to address the sensitivities of the people of Balochistan?
While welcoming Saudi investment, the government will have to undertake a tight rope walk, keeping in view the polarisation in the Gulf region. Pakistan still continues to suffer from the Zia era policy of letting the Gulf countries fight out their battles in Pakistan through deadly proxies like Sipahe Sahaba, renamed Lashkare Jhangvi. The Saudi foreign minister’s remarks in Islamabad about Iran indicate this could happen again if Islamabad is not extra careful.