Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince is visiting Pakistan today. The two-day visit is the first leg of the prince’s multi-pronged tour of Asia. After Pakistan, Prince Mohammed bin Salman is going to make a maiden visit to several Asian nations. The reported itinerary includes a visit to India and China.
While the trip has been delayed for a day for unknown reasons, it is pretty clear that the Saudi Crown Prince is pursuing a ‘look East’ policy.
The tour to the three Asian countries is aimed at building alliances in the region, which is home to the fastest growing economies of the world. It is expected that the Asian tour will see the signing of a slew of bilateral agreements, investment opportunities, and cooperation in various sectors.
Although all legs of the Asian tour are being given coverage in the international media, the one that is getting the most highlighted is the Prince’s visit to Pakistan.
MBS’ Visit to Pakistan
In the two-day visit, MBS, as the Crown Prince is widely referred to, will meet high-level Pakistani dignitaries including the Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa, President Arif Alvi, and Prime Minister Imran Khan, as well as a Senate delegation.
This will be MBS’ first state-level visit to Pakistan as Crown Prince and he will receive the country’s highest civil award by none other than President Arif Alvi. A banquet shall also be held in this regard.
The Crown Prince will be accompanied by a “high-powered” delegation that comprises more than 40 chief executives including the CEO of Aramco as well as about 1,100 businessmen and officials.
Prime Minister Imran Khan will welcome Prince Mohammed at the Nur Khan Airbase and lead the royal guests to the Prime Minister House where they will be presented the Guard of Honor.
According to government officials, the Crown Prince is expected to announce an unprecedented Saudi investment in Pakistan during the visit.
As much as eight Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) will be signed between the two countries. These MoUs will pertain to sectors including energy, investment, finance, media, security, sports, and culture.
Given the diverse and wide-ranged dynamics of potential investment, a Saudi team previously visited Pakistan to assess the investment potential in various sectors.
The preliminary work has been completed for the signing of the bilateral. While both sides have not divulged the exact figure regarding the investment, Saudis are expected to invest up to $15 billion in the coming years. One of the major projects will be the construction of a refinery and a petrochemical complex in Gwadar for an estimated. Pakistani authorities will complete a feasibility study that may last a year.
An agreement regarding youth and sports will also to be signed during the prince’s visit as well as to $2 billion worth of contract in the food and agriculture sector.
In order to ensure effective coordination and continued pursuance of the mutually agreed objectives, the two countries will announce the creation of the Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prime Minister Imran Khan will jointly head.
According to media reports, more agreements will be signed for setting up of three power plants in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Who is Mohammed bin Salman?
Mohammed bin Salman holds several key posts including Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister and is heir to the Kingdom’s throne.
As soon as he was appointed as Crown Prince in June 2017, Mohammed bin Salman started making headlines in both national and international media as he was 31 years old when appointed by his father, King Salman. Soon after taking charge, MBS rolled out several unprecedented reforms.
His innovative ideas and youthful approach made him relatable for the 29 million strong youth population of Saudi Arabia and was for this reason named ‘Prince of youth’ when he came to power. His appointment was largely celebrated in the Kingdom, but his popularity did not confine to his home ground only.
When he visited the West in 2017, the media paid extraordinary attention. He was taken as a marker for a revolution in the conservative Saudi society. His life and achievements remained under the spotlight for several months.
Mohammed bin Salman was born on August 31, 1985. He acquired his primary education in Riyadh, where he made to the rank of the Kingdom’s top ten students. After completing his early education, he decided to pursue a career in law.
He decided to stay in his own country by his father’s side and enrolled in King Saud University, one of the finest in the Kingdom, to attain a law degree. During his academic career, he participated in several training programs.
After graduation, MBS set up several firms before he became part of the government. He served as the secretary general of the Riyadh Competitive Council.
He acted as a special advisor to the chairman of the board for the King Abdul Aziz Foundation and remained a member of the board of trustees for the Albir Society for Development.
He also accomplished philanthropic feats, establishing the MiSK Foundation that inculcates learning and leadership among the Saudi youth and strives to develop startups in the country via several business incubation programs.
MBS started his political career in 2007 when he became a full-time advisor to the Council of Ministers for two years. In 2009, he became a special advisor to his father, the then Governor of Riyadh. Later, he became a consultant of the experts’ commission of the Saudi cabinet till March 2013.
On January 23, 2015, he became Defense Minister following his father’s ascension to the throne. The same year, he got named as the Deputy Crown Prince. Apart from these roles, he also headed the Council for Economic Affairs and Development that monitors the Kingdom’s economic affairs and remained President of the Royal Court.
In all these roles, he had laid down the foundation of the reforms that he brought later as Crown Prince. The change that can be seen now is the fruition of a lot of hard work and numerous efforts of the past. It depicts MBS’s commitment and resolve for bringing positive change to his country.
Reforms by the Crown Prince:
The crown prince is known for several reforms that have transformed the face of Saudi society. He is accredited for revolutionizing the Kingdom’s economic sector, reducing its reliance on oil.
In April 2016, he rolled out Saudi Vision 2030, an ambitious and innovative plan that touches all aspects of not only the Saudi economy but also the society. The Vision 2030 provides for vigorous investment, diversifying the revenue resources with a particular focus on youth empowerment.
The reform intends to privatize and diversify the economy as well to offer e-governance solutions
He also called for a focus on industrialization especially in the fields of energy, advanced manufacturing, food, water, biotechnology, and entertainment.
Vision 2030 also aims to modernize the economy and make it more inclusive. It aims to increase women participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%. Known as the champion of women rights, MBS introduced several laws that liberated women.
Since 2017, women are allowed to enter the public stadiums and drive. MBS further announced that Saudi women are not required to wear a head cover or a black abaya as long as they are dressed in a ‘decent and respectful’ manner. He further announced that regulation for equal pay for men and women is in the offing and appointed several women to senior positions.
Mohammed bin Salman also limited the powers of the Saudi religious police and launched a corruption drive that brought back $106 billion to the Saudi treasury.
Another revolution that should be attributed to the prince regards entertainment. The Crown Prince has reinvigorated the entertainment industry.
For the first time in over three decades, Saudis are able to go to cinemas and Hollywood blockbusters are back in the country.
In 2016, MBS also formed an entertainment authority.
What will the Crown Prince’s Visit Bring for Pakistan?
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have always remained close allies and their bilateral relations will be strengthened further after the Crown Prince’s visit.
Pakistan is facing an economic crisis and while Saudi Arabia has helped Pakistan with several loans, the country needs a long-term source that would keep on generating returns. This source can only come in the form of investments. We are in dire need of the resources that the Crown Prince’s visit will create.
In this funds-stricken economic situation, an investment of $15 billion (or maybe more) will bring much more than just a sigh of relief. The visit will not only salvage us from miring further into the balance of payment crisis but also will prevent us from facing that crisis again.
Furthermore, the visit also has many geopolitical and geostrategic benefits. The Kingdom’s support is necessary in the times when Pakistan is hoping to get removed from the grey-list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF), is hoping to win a case before International Court of Justice (ICJ), and is seeking diplomatic support from the world.