ISLAMABAD: Islamabad’s ties with Middle Eastern states are “not at the cost of our bilateral relationship with any other country,” including the US, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman told Arab News on Saturday.
“Pakistan is actively engaged with the US, and as a result Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Islamabad and the US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has visited Pakistan three times,” said Dr. Mohammad Faisal.
“The (Pakistani) government believes in productive and proactive diplomacy, and this is what we’ve done in the last four months.”
During its first four months in office, the government of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has focused on strengthening ties with Middle Eastern countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Analysts say this is due to tensions between Pakistan and the US over the war in Afghanistan.
“Saudi Arabia and the UAE are time-tested and all-weather friends of Pakistan, and it’s quite natural for Pakistan to warm up its relationship with these countries at a time of ever-deteriorating diplomatic relations with the US,” said Tahir Malik, international affairs professor at NUML University in Islamabad.
It is imperative for Pakistan to forge close ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE “to stay relevant in the international community,” he added.
After being elected in August, Khan chose Saudi Arabia for his maiden foreign trip in September, where he held meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Khan traveled to the UAE soon after.
Both trips bore dividends. Saudi Arabia agreed to give Pakistan $3 billion in foreign currency support for a year, and a further loan worth up to $3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports to help stave off a current account crisis. The UAE offered $3 billion in aid.
“I don’t think this clear appreciation of our close historic relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE was demonstrated by previous Pakistani governments,” Rasul Bukhsh Rais, a professor of political science, told Arab News.
Khan returned from those two countries with “incredible support at a very difficult hour in Pakistan’s history,” marked by a new transition to democracy, a deteriorating economy, a new party (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) in power and a new prime minister, Rais said.
Pakistan needs to explore trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, lure investors by offering incentives, and explore opportunities to increase agricultural exports, he added.
Former Pakistani diplomat Javed Hafeez said Khan’s government has boosted relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Islamabad is committed to protecting Saudi sovereignty against any foreign aggression, Hafeez added.
According to the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, some 4 million Pakistanis live and work in the Middle East.