Saudi delegation

Published May 8, 2024

PLANS to bring Saudi investment to Pakistan have clearly been put on the fast track. Over the past month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has visited the kingdom on two separate occasions, meeting the crown prince on both, while the Saudi foreign minister was in Islamabad in April, accompanied by other high officials. The latest in this series of top-level exchanges was a two-day investment conference held in the federal capital, which wrapped up on Tuesday. The Saudi side was represented by the assistant minister for investment, who brought with him a 50-member delegation representing 30 Saudi companies. Speaking at a reception on Monday for the Arab visitors, Mr Sharif said the time was near when bilateral business deals “worth billions of dollars” would be finalised. When he met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in early April, it had been reported that Riyadh was looking to invest $5bn in Pakistan. During the just-concluded conference, the Saudi assistant minister said his country saw Pakistan as a “high-priority economic investment and business opportunity”.

While $5bn of Saudi money will not turn around the Pakistani economy, such investments will send a signal to the world that this country is open for business. For too long, we have depended on foreign and multilateral loans and financial aid to keep the ship afloat, when courting foreign investment as well as ramping up exports is a far more sustainable model to uplift the economy. Saudi Arabia appears to be a natural choice to spearhead this campaign to attract foreign funds. Bilateral ties are old and deep, and have survived periods of turbulence. Pakistan has for decades exported labour to the kingdom, and benefited from the foreign exchange these workers send home. Moreover, the House of Sharif enjoys a close rapport with the House of Saud, a relationship which can be leveraged for the benefit of both states. But as has been written in these columns earlier, investment from Riyadh or any other foreign partner will benefit Pakistan most when there is internal political harmony, as well as transparency in policies. The Saudi crown prince is due in Pakistan soon — according to some reports, he may arrive in the next few days. The state should use the visit to cement the deals already discussed, so that work on the projects can begin in earnest.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2024

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