‘Saudi Arabia very close to our heart’ says Imran

Pakistan will always stand with Saudi Arabia, won’t allow anyone to threaten its sovereignty

February 16, 2019

Saudi oil refinery planned in Gwadar to help boost local production, energy market

Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan is a manifestation of the strength of bilateral ties, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told Jameel Altheyabi, Editor-in-Chief of Okaz & General Supervisor of Saudi Gazette Editorial, in an exclusive interview. All aspects of bilateral, regional and global issues, ranging from bilateral cooperation in the economic, diplomatic and political arenas to collaboration in regional peace and stability, especially of relevance to the Muslim Ummah will be discussed during the high-profile visit, the Pakistani premier said. Excerpts from the interview:

Q: How do you see the importance of the visit of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince to Pakistan and what difference will it make to Pakistan?

A: This longstanding, firm and close relationship extends to all spheres; political, economic, and diplomatic.

The visit of the Crown Prince is a manifestation of the strength of this relationship. First, Crown Prince’s visit will strengthen the diplomatic support of Saudi Arabia to Pakistan and will reinforce our relations. Second, I am confident that the economic relations of the two countries will be further expanded by identifying new avenues of investment and as well as Joint Ventures between the two countries. Third, it would further our mutual trust and strong historical relations.

The Crown Prince will also interact with key senior government officials of Pakistan, besides myself, and will get to know Pakistan and its government better.

Pakistan is eagerly looking forward to this historic visit of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman to Pakistan.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are two brotherly countries. This visit will go a long way in laying a foundation of strategic and economic relations that has been the hallmark of our two brotherly countries. The generous deposit of $3 billion and supply of oil on deferred payment is reflective of the desire of the Kingdom to see a strong, vibrant and prosperous Pakistan.

Q: In the first ever visit of the Crown Prince to Pakistan, what issues will be discussed? How can Saudi Arabia and Pakistan join hands to work together for enhancing peace and security in the region and find solutions to issues facing the Muslim Ummah?

A: All aspects of bilateral, regional and global issues, ranging from bilateral cooperation in the economic, diplomatic, political arenas to collaboration in regional peace and stability, especially of relevance to the Muslim Ummah will be discussed.

Pakistan is a highly attractive investment destination for Saudi Arabia. So the possibilities of Saudi investment in sectors like energy, petroleum, and agriculture and infrastructure development will come under discussion.

In the diplomatic sphere, the two nations can join hands to effectively to mobilize the international community for amicable resolution of festering disputes such as Kashmir and Palestine.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have similar stances on regional and global security and this visit will be an opportunity to discuss key regional and global security issues. The two brotherly countries can also exert their energies and influence in facilitating peace process in Afghanistan. For the strengthening of Muslim Ummah and close cooperation among Muslim countries, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia can effectively utilize the platform of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Q: Saudi Arabia has decided to establish an oil refinery in Gwadar, how do you see the future of KSA being part of the CPEC project and what will be the impact on fostering investment in Gwadar to Pakistan?

A: Saudi Arabia as one of the leading producers of oil, has tremendous experience in the energy market, which could benefit Pakistan in our quest for developing much needed resources of energy.

The investment in Gwadar alone would be the most important contributor towards making Pakistan self-reliant in this sector.

Pakistan would like to develop an economic and cultural corridor with Saudi Arabia to further expand the bilateral relations. Our relations with Saudi Arabia are not based on the exigencies of time but are time-tested.

We hope that Saudi Arabia would invest in other sectors as well to bring the economic and trade relations at par with our political relations.

Pakistan would like to increase its agricultural exports to not only Saudi Arabia but also to other regional countries as well, given the range, fertility and productivity of Pakistan’s agricultural sector.

Pakistan looks forward to enhanced cooperation in the banking sector, education sector, science and technology, trade and investment, construction sector and cultural cooperation especially, in the field of films and cinemas, and tourism. On KSA becoming a member of CPEC, it will bolster CPEC as an engine of growth for the region.

Q: What do you think of the Pakistan-China Gwadar project in terms of whether Pakistan will benefit from it or will it only play the role of a corridor?

A: CPEC will not just be a corridor, as is indicated by our government’s focus on the next phase of CPEC where we are going to focus on the Special Economic Zones. We will focus on the indigenous production and industrialization. The government of Pakistan has initiated a broader and multi-dimensional reforms process to improve the investment climate in Pakistan and to make it an attractive destination for potential investors. This will complement the projects initiated under CPEC. The main thrust, among other factors, is to promote enabling environment for business and commercial activities in the country.

Our priority is to make Pakistan easier for business and friendly for tourism, In this regard, the government is focusing on automation in each sector to reduce the cost, time and administrative procedures/bottlenecks to facilitate the investors.

The government is also encouraging the relocation of industry not only from China but also from other countries. The government is focusing on measures aimed at restoring confidence of both local and foreign businessmen in Pakistan. We make no differentiation between local and foreign investors. Foreign investors can have full ownership as well as repatriate their capital or profit without any hindrance. All of this would help boost economic productivity and will make CPEC not just a corridor but also the engine of economic growth, prosperity, trade cooperation and investment.

Q: A high level Saudi delegation visited Gwadar recently and there were several plans for investing in Gwadar under review. To what extent can it prove to be in the interest of Pakistan?

A: The Saudi oil refinery planned in Gwadar would help boost local production and local energy market. The exchange of skills and transfer of technology and best practices would enhance competition and increase the productivity of our local refineries. It would also complement the projects under the CPEC. This, of course, is just the beginning of our cooperation and we would like to build upon the successes of this project to further expand cooperation in other areas as well.

Q: What are the guarantees from your government’s end to secure Saudi investment in Pakistan in general and Gwadar in particular? What incentives will the Pakistani government offer to Saudi investors interested to invest in Pakistan?

A: Multiple contracts are expected to be signed between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia during the upcoming visit of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. The main highlight of the visit will be the signing of the MoU in respect of the oil refinery, which is Saudi Arabia’s largest investment in Pakistan’s history. It will be ensured that investment of Saudi investors including the oil refinery project do not face any procedural delays. We will put in place an investment-friendly environment as has been indicated in World Bank’s ‘Doing Business Index’ where Pakistan has improved its score from previous years.

Pakistan offers a bundle of investment opportunities to the world, through its vast untapped resources and a shortest gateway to Central Asian Countries via the CPEC. Saudi investments reflect the Kingdom’s diversification program envisioned in its Vision 2030. We expect Saudi Arabia to invest in petro-chemical industries, solar-powered electricity projects and mining sector. Keeping in view, the proximity of Gwadar Port to the Middle East and its regional geo-strategic position, there are huge potentials for the countries of the region to reap economic benefits.

Q: How is your government dealing with terrorism? What would be your government’s road map to eliminate cross border terrorism?

A: Terrorism is a big menace that has to be countered with an iron hand. Being the biggest victim of terrorism, Pakistan knows its ugliness and costs more than any other country in the world. After withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, and the loss of interest by the US in the region, Pakistan was left to deal with this mess, and for the next decade, Pakistan was plagued by this menace. We are determined not to become a partner in any proxy war anywhere in the world. Rather we will be a partner in peace. Islamabad believes that extremism in most parts of the world, which leads to terrorism, is brought about by many factors.

Pakistan is against interference of regional powers in the internal affairs of any country. Saudi Arabia has enormously contributed to the uplift of its own people as well as other Muslim countries, and that needs to be appreciated and encouraged. The Islamic Military alliance against terrorism or IMCTC is a pioneering initiative of Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world to protect Muslim countries from growing security and terrorism threats.

It is imperative that regional platforms like IMCTC work for the collective good of nations by countering evils of terrorism and instability that threatens the very social fabric of our societies. Islamic Military Alliance works for the stability of its member countries by helping sustain the political stability of the region. The notion created by some that IMCTC is a coalition of vested interests against a particular country, region or sect, is a rustic mockery and far from any logic and reality. We hope this alliance will evolve into an alliance of all Muslim states to collectively fight the common menace of terrorism.

Q: What would be your government position if Saudi Arabia were attacked?

A: Pakistan rejects military solutions and believes that every conflict has a political solution and the conflicts could be resolved through peaceful means. Saudi Arabia is very close to our heart in every respect. It is only natural that Pakistan would always like to see it prosper in the most peaceful environment within and around its boundaries. We have always said if the Holy Cities of Islam are threatened, Pakistan would go all out to defend the Holy Cities.

Q: The Houthis from Yemen keep firing missiles against Saudi Arabia, some of them have reached near Makkah. How do you see this aggression against Saudi Arabia?

A: This is Pakistan’s stated position that it will not allow anyone to attack Saudi Arabia. Pakistan will always stand with Saudi Arabia whenever it faces a threat in any form to its security and sovereignty. We want Saudi Arabia as safe and secure as we want Pakistan to be.

Q: What is your message to the Pakistani community in Saudi Arabia?

A: Saudi Arabia is home to more than two million Pakistanis. I would urge all of them to take it as their second home in the true sense of the word. They must fully contribute their energies to the development of this second home. I would also urge them to play their role in strengthening our brotherly relations at whatever level they are working.

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