- It is time we realise our full potential
The visit by the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to Pakistan has ushered in a new era of international cooperation between the two, and is a significant reorientation in Pakistan’s foreign policy as necessitated by its domestic structures. This was the first leg of his Asia tour – which will be followed by India and China during this week.
This visit has resulted in an investment of USD 20 million (in first phase) and the signing of several Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) between the two states. These agreements are for mineral resource sector, energy projects, petrochemicals, sports and technical cooperation programs which are aimed at bridging the investment gap that has thwarted the economic growth in this country for decades. The visit and what it brings for the country has been lauded as an important stepping stone for Pakistan as it harnesses new ground for leverage. Where the state of Pakistan has successively been unable to determine its own course of action since its inception, it still exercises less control over its resources and land.
The visit by MBS can be interpreted by some as an enlargement of the economic corridor that makes us that much more relevant to the world, but it isn’t necessitated by an ideological overdrive where the Kingdom has bestowed on us its innumerable gifts. This is a transaction. Much like the many we’ve had in the past. The diplomats and other stakeholders should strike a harder bargain. Going into this blindly, without understanding what the alliance can mean for us would be a colossal tragedy that will only undermine the geo-strategic importance of our location. It comes as no surprise that the access point offered by our deep sea port at Gwadar and the sprawling vein-like road structures is what has brought a number of key players to our door. Offering the release of some prisoners and immigration of pilgrims at home is mere ‘peanuts’ to the crossroads and the economic-war theatre that this region is going to become.
Already ahead of the visit, agitation tactics by Indian forces in Pulwama and putting the burden of the blame on Pakistan spread a wave of uncertainty and terror — the two words that have always marred the latter government’s efforts of getting foreign investment. This coupled with the ongoing atrocities in Indian Occupied Kashmir, notice of which has been taken internationally; befell on people as government’s bereavement in taking control of the borders, who took the inaction policy as an indicator of strength which restored their confidence in the security and intelligence establishment.
A cooperative alliance with China will only further solidify the investment route that is to flow from Pakistan
While confidence in the Pakistani state — economy and security establishment — has been restored; this realignment has to be exercised with caution. While analysts, international and domestic, have regarded this as a move away from the subservient cooperation with the US and its led coalition, and view this as a move towards a closer alliance with an ideological god that has given relevance and continues to sustain this domestic cohesion that keeps people together. However, looking at the diplomatic channels through which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) operates in the international arena that gives it relevance, one realises that we’re steering only a little farther from our old alliances.
The KSA is the entry point for the US-led coalition’s engagement in the Middle East. It is because of it that the western powers have been able to exercise their military might and create a global narrative that strongly condemns the ‘rogue’ Islamist states and calls for the liberalisation of the oppressed people. Linking this further, it is no coincidence that the visit has come only weeks after the Taliban Talks held in Qatar, where the Taliban refused to consider the KSA as a potent player and at the negotiation table the two most notable stakeholders were the US and Pakistan. Therefore, the presence of the KSA inside Pakistan, into the very socio-economic fabric of the country will allow it greater leverage even on the other side of the border as well.
Apart from this, no statement from MBS has come signifying this as nothing other than a multilateral economic partnership, and this being the first stop to their greater Asian engagement where the same level, if not more, of alliance will be formed with India and China. A cooperative alliance with China will only further solidify the investment route that is to flow from Pakistan. But both India and China will negotiate in a way that serves their interest more than it does that of the Kingdom. Or at least at par with it.
This is something that the investment-dry state of Pakistan should also exercise. Albeit we stand at a weaker ground to dictate any terms, or it may seem to be the case, and closing off the economy will only worsen the situation at home; understanding the length of this cooperation and what these new players are calculating to gain will actually get us much closer to understanding the plane on which we can maneuver.
It is time we realise our full potential and see how much we can stand to actually gain rather than letting foreign influence, once again rob us off our opportunity to carve a better future and present for our country.