Naveed Aman Khan
WHY Saudi Arabia is joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as it has become the third major partner in the China funded, Belt and Road linked, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) consisting of major infrastructure projects inside Pakistan. The announcement has come after Premier Imran Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia where he asked for the Kingdom’s financial assistance to shore up foreign reserves of Pakistan. The idea of a third party joining the China backed infrastructure initiative in Pakistan is not new. A number of other countries including Iran and the United States were also made similar offers by Islamabad. While America and Iran didn’t join the project yet. In near future Iran seems to join CPEC enhancing its economic activity. Iran being immediate neighbour will defiantly get economic benefit of CPEC to get rid of its hard time. Saudi Arabia’s massive investment in the CPEC would be the first of its kind, where it has actually acquired stakes in Pakistan’s economy. This is a major shift in terms of KSA’s Foreign Policy towards Pakistan.
Saudi leadership has always offered financial assistance to Pakistan whenever Pakistan got into an economic crisis of its own making. During 1990s, Saudi Arabia gave subsidies in oil imports and offered liquidity to help Pakistan survive American sanctions on the country. When Pakistan was in financial jeopardy Saudi Arabia decided to stand by it. In response, Pakistan has always offered military support to Saudi Arabia in fighting terrorism, training troops and defending the Kingdom’s security. In the past, Pakistan deployed troops in the Kingdom to help shore up Saudi forces in the Kingdom. Cooperation in the area of security has seen some changes over the past few years because Pakistan showed reluctance in openly joining Saudi military.
In 2015, Pakistan refused to send troops to Yemen where Saudi Arabia is involved in a major military conflict.
Pakistan is a part of a Saudi-led Islamic military alliance, the country doesn’t want to be embroiled in any sectarian conflict any more by openly supporting a ‘Sunni military bloc’ which may engender serious security troubles for Pakistan domestically and with the neighbouring country Iran. The last three decades have seen Pakistan facing one of the most challenging sectarian crisis domestically, which has partially been a result of Pakistan’s poorly conducted foreign policy, particularly the country’s ability to balance its relationship with Iran and Saudi Arabia. This change of approach in Pakistan was not well received in Islamist countries where Saudi Arabia has significant influence. On Pakistan’s decision to stay neutral in the ongoing conflict in Yemen and Syria, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said that initially Pakistan’s decision to not join the Saudi-led coalition was dangerous and unexpected. The UAE termed Pakistan’s choice of staying neutral in Yemen as akin to supporting Iran’s interests in the region. With our own economic interests we need to take care of the interests of Iran as well and this is the inclusive philosophy of President Xj Jinping’s economic vision of CPEC.
There are two reasons of Saudi Arabia’s investment in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Firstly, the Saudi Arabia’s decision to invest in an infrastructure project would surely offer it significant stakes in the Pakistani economy. Additionally, the new leadership in the KSA doesn’t want to deteriorate ties with Pakistan as the former may still expect Pakistan’s military support in case of any future domestic security challenge. Secondly, the new approach of giving funds in the form of investment rather than loans mean that the Kingdom is not going to offer financial assistance to Pakistan that doesn’t bolster its influence in the country further. For Saudi Arabia, the decision to join CPEC will not only generate financial returns in the long run, but will also strengthen its foothold in the region.
On the other hand, for Pakistan, the incoming investment from Saudi Arabia will give it much needed financial assistance to shore up its economic reserves. The two countries are entering an era where economic and security calculus is becoming important rather than just an ideological alignment of ties. It’s encouraging that Saudi Arabia doesn’t appear to be pushing Pakistan to break its working relationship with Iran, which is a clear divergence from its previous policy. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s bilateral relationship may be entering a new era in which security and economic cooperation are at the core. To maintain balance of interests and power in the region Pakistan should strengthen its relationship with Iran also. Iran is also our brotherly neighbouring country. Pakistan-Iran bilateral balanced relationship is the need of the time and the region. Pakistan-Iran enhanced trade and development is equally beneficial for both of the nations. To diffuse Indian influence in Iran, Pakistan should strengthen bilateral relationship with Iran. Besides Saudi Arabia, Iran’s investment in the CPEC will definitely change course of economic revolution in the region. Pakistan will have to endorse and follow Chinese policy of inclusion of different nations to make CPEC more result oriented. Inclusion of different nations in CPEC is guarantee to regional success.