Islamabad 20 Sept 2018 (Express Tribune)
Pakistan on Thursday said Saudi Arabia is set to join the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project as its third major economic partner – a development that may rescue the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led government from the precarious economic condition.
“A high-level delegation led by Saudi energy minister will visit Pakistan during the first week of October for talks on the CPEC and other issues,” said Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who was also part of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s entourage during his first foreign visits to Riyadh and UAE.
Chaudhry, who was addressing a news conference in Islamabad, said Pakistan has formally offered Saudi Arabia to be part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) during the visit in which the PM held wide ranging talks with Saudi King Salman as well as Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
The development came just days after China and Pakistan hinted at inviting friendly countries to invest in the CPEC, a flagship programme of the BRI that seeks to revive old silk route by connecting Europe and Asia and is often termed as a ‘game changer’.
Details were not immediately available but the move suggests that the two countries may have found a way out to help Pakistan’s ailing economy with massive investment from Saudi Arabia.
It is unclear what the PTI government would offer Saudi Arabia in return.
In a move that indicates apparent shift in his earlier stance, Imran Khan – in an interview with the Saudi state television – has said Pakistan backs Saudi Arabia in Yemen conflict. In the same breath, however, he has stressed the importance of resolving all conflicts in the Muslim world through dialogue.
Chaudhry said the PM’s maiden visit was positive as he was given a warm welcome by the Saudi government. He said Pakistan’s relationship with Riyadh and UAE saw a dip during the previous government. But the recent visited helped to restore the confidence between the two countries.
He announced that UAE government will also help Pakistan carry out water supply projects in Karachi. He said Pakistan is also looking forward to improving its bilateral ties with the neighbouring India and appreciates its positive response toward this move.
When asked to comment on the possible implications of Pakistan’s close ties with Saudi Arabia on Iran, the minister insisted that Islamabad considers Tehran an important country and neighbor, and hence wants friendly relationship with it.
Observers, however, believe that Imran’s move to back Saudi Arabia for its campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen may have serious repercussions.