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The Future Of Sino-Pak-Saudi Relations

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Saudi Arabia has asked Prime Minister Imran Khan to pay a visit to the Gulf country. For several weeks, it seemed that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi would have to resign from his post due to Saudi pressure. However, following several rounds of discussions, the foreign minister was allowed to keep his position after apologising for his remarks about Saudi lack of response to the Kashmir issue. Since then we have witnessed the foreign minister apologising multiple times on local media and his social media platforms. Even his press conference following his recent visit to China emphasised friendly ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia more than Pakistan-China relationship.

Recently, there have been reports of Saudi Arabia putting forth a four-point plan to follow for continued good relations between the two countries. So far, there are no exact details about these points. Upon investigation, however, this scribe reliably gathered that Saudi Arabia wants to hold further discussions about bilateral relationships with Prime Minister Imran Khan himself. This development has followed multiple apologies from FM Qureshi and a visit to the Gulf state by COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Currently, the foreign office is working on setting a formal date and agenda for the meeting between the Pakistani and Saudi heads of states.

Closer to home, China recently expressed its support for Pakistan to lead the Muslim world. Meanwhile, a delegation headed by FM Qureshi also visited China two weeks ago. However, the head of CPEC authority was not included in the delegation. It should not be forgotten that the strong alliance between the two countries rests primarily on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. During the foreign ministers’ meeting, China proposed specific recommendations, suggestions and future road maps for CPEC.

It is well known that, for the past four to five months, China has stopped financial assistance for the on-going CPEC projects. During his visit, the foreign minister highlighted the matter to resume the existing projects’ financial mechanism. The Chinese officials responded by saying that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has filed references against Mr Ahsan Iqbal (ex-federal minister for planning and development) and Mr Shabaz Sharif (ex-chief minister of Punjab) for having received kickbacks from the Chinese.

The Chinese raised suspicions about such allegations being levelled by NAB, as these allegations incriminated China for corruption as much as the former senior government officials of Pakistan. They said that this would reflect badly on their international image and would affect their relations with other foreign clients. The Chinese officials demanded clarification of allegations in both cases before proceeding with financial assistance for CPEC. They lamented repeated allegations raised on multiple projects such as Multan Metro Bus Project and Orange Line. They added that China has always provided financial support to uplift the Pakistan economy, but it cannot tolerate unjust allegations on its sovereignty. Thus, they said, until the matter is resolved, all Chinese financial assistance for CPEC projects will remain at a standstill. The Chinese insisted that there was no evidence of corruption from their side. However, were NAB to prove its allegations, the Chinese would take strict actions against the relevant firms.

Now, Pakistan has to strike a balance between its relations with Saudi Arabia and China. It will serve our foreign policymakers well to remember that it takes two to tango: if Pakistan raises questions on the integrity or foreign policy of other countries, then it will eventually have to bear their reaction as well. China and Saudi Arabia have both provided strategic and economic support to Pakistan at its hour of need. Therefore, it is crucial to devise a strategic foreign relations roadmap as well as to operationalise strict governance in Pakistan. Otherwise, a big question mark gets raised on the country’s institutional credibility. I am hopeful that PM Khan has a clear plan for his visit to Saudi Arabia and for the solution of Pakistan’s political and economic problems. Pakistan needs to be healthy at economic, political, technological and social fronts before raising support or allegations.


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Naya Daur