Prime Minister Imran Khan embarked upon a three-day trip to Saudi Arabia on October 23 when he is facing trouble at home as inflation is soaring due to a hike in petrol prices, protests by opposition against the phenomenon, and a religious outfit against the arrest of its leader.
The premier has all the positive indicators on his side. Then, what is he expecting from the tour; analysts say he is in search of financial aid to fill the coffer with forex which is depleting due to a growing trade deficit as imports have overtaken exports, or trying to become more influential in the region.
He is in Riyadh now where Pakistani and Saudi businessmen and entrepreneurs hope that Saudi-Pak Investment Forum being held on Monday will help achieve goals. Prime Minister Imran will also participate in the Forum and interact with investors to encourage trade and investment at the bilateral level.
A delegation of leading Pakistani entrepreneurs and investors, including from the housing and construction sector, reached the Saudi capital on Sunday to attend the Investment Forum being organised in cooperation with the Saudi Ministry of Investment.
Arif Habib, a renowned Pakistani businessman and Chairman Arif Habib Group, told the official Pakistani news agency APP that with more than two million Pakistani expatriates working in the Kingdom and contributing to its economic development, there was a need to enhance business to business relations between the two brotherly countries.
He said that as Saudi Arabia’s vision 2030 provided ample employment and investment opportunities, Prime Minister Imran Khan also desired the Pakistani businessmen, entrepreneurs and investors especially from the construction sector to exploit the opportunity for a win-win situation.
Similarly, he said, during their B2B level interaction with Saudi businessmen and entrepreneurs at B2B, they will apprise them of the potential of investment in different sectors of Pakistan including, housing, construction, real estate, oil and gas, etc.
Sohail Tabba, another leading businessman and Chairman of ICI Pakistan said that the 2030 vision of Saudi Arabia had opened a gate for increased trade and investment relations between the two countries.
He said that enhanced employment opportunities in Saudi Arabia due to vision 2030 in diverse areas, including Information Technology, will also help Pakistani skilled and educated youth in getting jobs.
Tabba said that as Pakistan had already registered a significant increase in workers’ remittances, which had reached around $31 billion, Saudi Arabia was one of the major contributors.
He credited the present government’s policies and enhanced facilitation to Overseas Pakistanis for increased inflow of remittances and said the remittances could increase to the US $ 40 billion.
Deferred oil payments
It may be recalled that Saudi Arabia has already agreed to a $3.6 billion facility for purchasing oil on deferred payments over a period of two years.
Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin had on October 1 said that Riyadh would provide $150 million credit a month that would amount to $3.6 in two years.
Salah Sheikh, a Saudi Industrialist dealing in sports and leather goods, stressed joint ventures for mutual benefit.
He appreciated the high quality of Pakistani sports goods, especially football, and said it was used worldwide and in the World Cup.
Sabah Sheikh said that as Prime Minister Imran Khan was a sportsman and sports-lovers, his government will encourage bilateral cooperation and joint ventures in the manufacturing of sports and leather products.
“Instead of looking towards other countries brands, we can develop our own brands for mutual benefit”, he said adding that the Saudi-Pak Investment Forum on Monday will provide an opportunity to the businessmen and entrepreneurs from both countries to discuss such joint ventures.
The geopolitical diplomacy
Prime Minister’s visit has added significance on the diplomatic front as both countries discussed the Taliban-led Afghan situation.
The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul seemed to have made the kingdom isolated as they are deemed as the proxy of its rival GCC country, Qatar. In the present scenario, Riyadh seeks Pakistan’s help. As the kingdom thinks it has a role to play in this part of the world, the advent of the Taliban tilted the balance to Doha.
Riyadh was one of the backers of the Taliban in the 1990s besides Pakistan and the UAE. But its engagement is not relevant today as the Taliban are no longer the old Taliban and they are less prone to influence from Saudi Arabia.
The Taliban are more aligned with Qatar’s interests now as it pulled them away from the orbit of the Saudi-led axis, incentivising the Taliban enough to pick sides between Qatar and the KSA. The Taliban’s ties with extremist allies of Qatar have only mushroomed to the detriment of Riyadh’s geopolitical interests.
Saudi Arabia has taken geopolitical positions more or less opposite to Qatar in Palestine, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, North Africa, Israel and now Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Imran and Saudi leadership also discussed Iran, which has recently developed an understanding with the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan. The deposed Ashraf Ghani’s government was opposed to Iran and publicly condemned Tehran for supporting the Taliban.
Whatever the outcome of Prime Minister Imran’s tour will be, there is one thing for sure; both the Islamic countries will only see an increase in their interdependence on each other.