The bilateral relations between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are historically close and extremely friendly, frequently described by analysts as constituting a special relationship, as Pakistan has been called “Saudi Arabia’s closest Muslim ally.
Prime Minister Imran Khan took fourth visits to Saudi Arabia since May 2019, reflecting the importance attached by Pakistan to this strategic partnership. The leadership on both sides remains determined to take Pakistan-Saudi relations to a new level.
In February last year, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman visited Pakistan for the first time in a much-celebrated tour, with Prime Minister Khan personally receiving and driving him from the airport after his arrival.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have sought to develop extensive commercial, cultural, religious, political, and strategic relations since the establishment of Pakistan in 1947. Pakistan affirms its relationship with Saudi Arabia as their most “important and bilateral partnership” in the current foreign policy of Pakistan, working and seeking to develop closer bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia, the largest country on the Arabian peninsula and host to the two holiest cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina and the destination of Muslim pilgrims from across the world.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, Pakistanis hold the most favorable perception of Saudi Arabians in the world, with 9 of 10 respondents viewing Saudi Arabia favorably. The kingdom has often tried to further enhance its relations with Pakistan by giving it gifts and loans. Often these are gifts with symbolic religious value. For example, in 2014 Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan 200 tonnes of dates as a gesture of friendship.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are leading members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Saudi Arabia is one of the strongest supporters of Pakistan during Pakistan’s wars with India, especially opposing the creation of Bangladesh from Pakistan’s eastern wing in 1971.
Saudi Arabia supports Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir conflict, and endorses the Pakistani position in the Indo-Pakistani peace process. During the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf War, Pakistan sent troops to protect the Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia also supplies extensive financial aid to Pakistan and remittance from Pakistani migrants in Saudi Arabia is also a major source of foreign currency for Pakistan. In recent years, both countries have exchanged high-level delegations and developed plans to expand bilateral cooperation in trade, education, real estate, tourism, information technology, communications and agriculture. Saudi Arabia is aiding the development of trade relations with Pakistan through the Gulf Cooperation Council. In 2019, Saudi Arabia paid $20 billion to finance developmental projects in Pakistan. In February 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco and SABIC announced to set up a US$10 billion oil refinery and Petrochemical industry in Pakistan’s deepwater port of Gwadar, Balochistan. It would also help refine and store imported oil for onward transportation to China and develop fuel supply chain for the landlocked Central Asian states. Fuel transportation to China through Pakistan would take just 7 days as opposed to the western route through Indian Ocean that takes almost 40 days.
Pakistan maintains close military ties with Saudi Arabia, providing extensive support, arms and training for the Saudi armed forces. Pakistan has also been providing training to Saudi soldiers and pilots. Fighter Pilots of the Pakistan Air Force flew aircraft of the Royal Saudi Air Force to repel an incursion from South Yemen in 1969 and Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers built Saudi fortifications along its border with Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is the largest importer of Pakistani arms, and has purchased small and medium conventional weaponry worth millions of US Dollars. In 2016, Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) has secured export order worth US$81 million to Saudi Arabia.
The historical relation between the two brotherly countries witnessed great boost sine Imran Khan assumed the charge as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, as Saudi Arabia was not the first country which provided financial support to Pakistan to deal with the looming economic crisis but also released about 1,350 Pakistanis imprisoned in Saudi Arabia as a good-well gesture promised by Saudi Crown Prine Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to Pakistan.
Author is an Executive Editor of Mélange int’l Magazine and Secretary Information Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR)