PRIME Minister Shehbaz Sharif greets Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud, at the PM House, on Tuesday—White Star
PRIME Minister Shehbaz Sharif greets Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud, at the PM House, on Tuesday—White Star

• Emphasises continued bilateral cooperation for regional security
• Calls on President Zardari, Prime Minister Shehbaz, meets FM Dar
• Discusses potential for enhancing trade, investment cooperation
• Both nations call for immediate ceasefire in Gaza

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Tuesday praised Pakistan’s proactive, business-oriented approach to seeking investments and expressed high expectations for “significant benefits” for both countries from the expanded investments.

Speaking at a media conference at the Foreign Office along with his host, Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar, after a counterpart meeting, Mr Farhan also emphasised continued bilateral cooperation for regional security alongside the initiative to expand economic cooperation.

“We will continue to work for the economic prosperity and security of our region,” he said, noting the similar geopolitical outlooks of both countries.

The Saudi foreign minister was in Pakistan on a two-day visit, accompanied by a high-level delegation to initiate negotiations on prospective investment projects. The trip was also intended to serve as a precursor to an anticipated visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Pakistan later in the year.

The Saudi delegation’s visit followed a foundational meeting between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the Saudi crown prince — known by his initials MbS — in Makkah earlier this month, where commitments were made to intensify economic engagement.

A central aspect of the understanding reached at that meeting was to fast-track an initial $5 billion investment tranche under a broader Saudi commitment to invest $25bn in Pakistan over the next five years.

“We are very impressed not just by the breadth of the opportunities that exist but also by the format [for facilitating investment],” the Saudi foreign minister said.

“This gives us some very, very significant confidence that we will be able to move forward on those projects we identify as worthy of investment,” he said, adding that his country “will be moving significantly ahead on a multitude of opportunities”.

He, however, avoided naming any specific projects in which the kingdom was planning to invest.

During their meeting before the media conference, Mr Farhan and Mr Dar discussed the potential for trade and investment collaboration.

At the presser, Mr Dar reassured Saudi investors of Pakistan’s commitment to fully supporting them.

He recalled Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s directive to the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) and relevant ministries to “move forward on investment projects in a diligent and time-bound manner in a fast track”.

Saudi-Pakistan investment conference

The two foreign ministers co-chaired the investment conference, which was the main feature of the Saudi delegation’s visit to discuss potential investments in Pakistan.

During the conference, the Pakistani side highlighted legal and administrative reforms, including establishing the SIFC to streamline investments.

Mr Dar spotlighted opportunities in sectors such as agriculture, IT, and mining and invited Saudi investors to invest in them.

Investments in state-owned enterprises, which are being put up for privatisation, were also solicited. Technical teams later delved into various investment proposals.

The Saudi delegation expressed its interest in improving the investment environment and appreciated SIFC’s role in resolving past investment and business issues related to Saudi investments.

The conference was anticipated to lead to a structured investment framework under the SIFC for dealing with Saudi investments.

Meetings with PM, president

The Saudi delegation, led by Foreign Minister Farhan, also separately met President Asif Ali Zardari and PM Sharif.

President Zardari expressed Pakistan’s desire to transform the relationship with Saudi Arabia into a long-term strategic and economic partnership.

Mr Sharif, meanwhile, underscored the need for both sides to work closely to expedite the first phase of Saudi investments in Pakistan under the new arrangement.

Middle East situation

The Saudi foreign minister, in his remarks at the Foreign Office presser, called for de-escalation in the region in the aftermath of Iranian retaliatory strikes against Israel and the continued Israeli aggression in Gaza.

“We are in an unstable region. The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is inflaming the region. We do not need more conflict, we do not need more confrontation,” he said.

De-escalation, he maintained, should be “everybody’s priority” and differences should be resolved through dialogue instead of use of force.

He criticised the international community for failing to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza and ensuring unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Gazans.

Mr Salman also called out the world’s double standards, noting that the killing of six Western aid workers moved the international community on aid in a way the death of 33,000 Palestinians couldn’t.

Mr Dar endorsed Mr Salman’s call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2024

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