Prime Minister Imran Khan has hailed the high-profile maiden state visit of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman as a manifestation of the strong relationship Pakistan enjoys with Saudi Arabia in an exclusive interview to a Saudi newspaper. When asked about the significance of the visit,the prime minister said as the longstanding, firm and close relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia extended to all spheres; political, economic, and diplomatic, the Crown Prince’s visit would strengthen the diplomatic support of Saudi Arabia to Pakistan. He was confident that this trip would reinforce bilateral economic relations by identifying new avenues of investment and joint ventures and build upon strong historical relations. He also asserted that during the visit, all aspects of bilateral, regional and global issues, ranging from bilateral cooperation in the economic, diplomatic, political arenas to collaboration in regional peace and stability, especially of relevance to the Muslim Ummah would be discussed. “Pakistan is eagerly looking forward to this historic visit of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman to Pakistan,” he added. The prime minister said that multiple contracts were expected to be signed between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia during the visit of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. The highlight of the his visit was said to be the signing of the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding)in respect of the oil refinery, Saudi Arabia’s largest investment in Pakistan’s history, which would help boost local production as well as the local energy market. “Pakistan is a highly attractive investment destination for Saudi Arabia. So the possibilities of Saudi investment in sectors like energy, petroleum, and agriculture and infrastructure development will come under discussion,” he added. The prime minister assured that investment of Saudi investors, including the oil refinery project, would not face any procedural delays. As for the diplomatic sphere, the prime minister seemed quite hopeful for the two countries to unite in order to effectively mobilise the international community to amicably resolve festering disputes like Kashmir and Palestine. “Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have similar stances on regional and global security and this visit will be an opportunity to discuss key regional and global security issues,” he said. He also wished for the brotherly countries to exert their energies and influence facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister emphasized that peace in Afghanistan will bring stability and prosperity in the region. When united, the premier said, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia could effectively utilize the platform of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to strengthen the Muslim Ummah and foster close cooperation among Muslim countries. The prime minister added that Pakistan rejected military solutions and believed that conflicts could be resolved through peaceful means. He also showed Pakistan’s willingness to play its role in mediating between Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran. When asked about the Houthis aggression against Saudi Arabia, the premier passionately replied that Pakistan would not allow anyone to attack Saudi Arabia and would always stand with Saudi Arabia whenever it faced a threat in any form to its security and sovereignty. He added that the kingdom is “very close to our heart in every respect”. “[The] visit will go a long way in laying a foundation of strategic and economic relations that has been the hallmark of our two brotherly countries.” he continued. “The generous deposit of $3 billion and supply of oil on deferred payment is reflective of the desire of the Kingdom to see a strong, vibrant and prosperous Pakistan.” He also pointed out that that it would be an opportunity for MBS to interact with key Pakistani government officials and get to know the country and its government better. He believed that making Saudi Arabia a part of the mega China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project would bolster CPEC as an engine of growth for the region,”. To another query, the prime minister said that CPEC would not just be a corridor, as was indicated by his government’s focus on the next phase of CPEC, where they were going to focus on the Special Economic Zones. “We will focus on the indigenous production and industrialization.” The government, he said, was also encouraging the relocation of industry not only from China but also from other countries. It was focusing on measures aimed at restoring the confidence of both local and foreign businessmen in Pakistan, he added. While appreciating Saudi Arabia’s leading production of oil worldwide and its tremendous experience in the energy sector, the prime minister noted that it could benefit Pakistan in its “quest for developing much-needed resources of energy. “The investment in Gwadar alone would be the most important contributor towards making Pakistan self-reliant in this sector,” he maintained. The prime minister announced Pakistan’s willingness to develop an economic and cultural corridor with Saudi Arabia to further expand the bilateral relations. He remarked, “Our relations with Saudi Arabia are not based on the exigencies of time but are time-tested.” It was hoped that Saudi Arabia would invest in other sectors to bring its economic and trade relations with Pakistan at par with their political relations. The country was looking forward to “enhanced cooperation” in the banking sector, education sector, science and technology, trade and investment, construction sector and cultural cooperation – particularly in the field of films, cinemas and tourism. The prime minister said that Pakistan would be interested in increasing its agricultural exports to Saudi Arabia as well as other regional countries. He then appreciated Saudi Arabia, UAE and China for their generous support to Pakistan in its hour of need. Hailing the crown prince’s reforms to turn his country into a modern and forward-looking nation, he added that Saudi investments reflected the Kingdom’s diversification program envisioned in its Vision 2030. The premier said that the incumbent government was also taking steps to change the status quo. The previous government was said to have burdened the country with unnecessary loans; destroying its institutions. He believed that he and Saudi Crown Prince, however, shared the same vision on eradication of corruption. Khan also talked about Pakistan’s immense potential in tourism. He said that their priority was to make Pakistan easier for business and friendly for tourism. asserted that the government was taking concrete steps to promote tourism and facilitate tourists, especially those who want to see their holiest places located in Pakistan. The liberalised visa regime was also talked about as an attraction for not only tourists but also investors. He said that the government had initiated a broader and multi-dimensional reforms process to improve the investment climate in Pakistan in order to make it an attractive destination for potential investors. “This will complement the projects initiated under CPEC. The main thrust, among other factors, is to promote enabling an environment for business and commercial activities in the country,” he added. To a question on terrorism, the prime minister said terrorism was a big menace that had to be countered with an iron hand. “Being the biggest victim of terrorism, Pakistan knows its ugliness and costs more than any other country in the world.” He urged the Pakistani community living in Saudi Arabia to “take it as their second home in the true sense of the word.” Published in Daily Times, February 18th 2019.