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Hilal English

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia Friendship: Dawn of a New Era

May 2024

A Reflection on the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Investment Conference 2024

This article provides an enriching narrative of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia's profound bond, marked by shared history, culture, and strategic interests, as they forge ahead into a promising era of economic collaboration showcased vividly at the 2024 Investment Conference, promising a brighter future for both nations.

Pakistan maintains strong bilateral relations with all Muslim countries worldwide. However, its relations with Saudi Arabia have remained particularly special. The reasons behind the warm relationship between the two countries are rooted in enduring and mutual religious, defense-related, cultural, and mercantile ties. Both countries have remained committed to supporting each other since the signing of the Treaty of Friendship in 1951. Over the years, they have also succeeded in developing a unique synergy for mutual development.
Saudi Arabia hosts the largest Pakistani diaspora, which has played a pivotal role in bolstering institutional infrastructure across various sectors, including engineering, medicine, and economics. Pakistani professionals have been instrumental in advancing the Kingdom's development goals, while skilled and non-skilled workers have contributed significantly, underscoring their importance as valuable assets to Saudi Arabia's growth trajectory.

The ‘Vision 2030’ of Muhammad Bin Salman Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, revolves around a few key elements, which include the revival of the administrative system, improving the political ecosystem, and developing a culture where law-abiding is considered a prime responsibility. 

Being two leading members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), both countries, in consonance with each other, have played an important role in uniting the Muslim world on a common platform. In the recent past, this relationship between the two countries has taken a new turn and embarked upon a path of mutual benefit and support. The ‘Vision 2030’ of Muhammad Bin Salman Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, revolves around a few key elements, which include the revival of the administrative system, improving the political ecosystem, and developing a culture where law-abiding is considered a prime responsibility. Embedded in these objectives is economic diversity through exploring options other than oil, pilgrimage, as well as ensuring food security for the population.
Main Elements of the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Investment Conference
Pakistan has aligned itself with the objectives of Saudi Arabia's 'Vision 2030' and has offered a long list of investment opportunities to Saudi Arabia with bilateral benefits and advantages. The visit of the Prime Minister of Pakistan to Saudi Arabia during the month of Ramadan and the plan of the Saudi Crown Prince to visit Pakistan in the near future are links in the same chain. After the Prime Minister of Pakistan's visit to Saudi Arabia, a high-level delegation from Saudi Arabia visited Pakistan on April 15, 2024, welcomed by the Pakistan Foreign Minister. The delegation had a formal meeting with the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) as well, during which various aspects were discussed. A brief overview of the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Investment Conference, held on April 16, is provided below:
▪ The Saudi delegation, led by the Saudi Foreign Minister, was accompanied by a myriad of officials, experts, and corporate sector leaders.
▪ The conference commenced with opening remarks by counterparts from both countries, followed by a detailed presentation of investment opportunities available in Pakistan for mid-to-high-level investments.
▪ This presentation was followed by a question-answer session during which Saudi officials posed intriguing questions about the pitched opportunities.
▪ Following a brief break, both sides were divided into small groups for a series of breakout sessions related to their respective sectors. These sessions served as the main course of the conference, allowing discussions on relevant projects.
▪ During these breakout sessions, officials from both countries convened in separate lounges, where detailed presentations of available projects were made.
▪Towards the conference's conclusion, it was mutually agreed to make the frequency of such meetings and conferences regular, at least once every month. Both countries also agreed to establish joint working groups for each sector to monitor progress on agreed-upon projects.
▪ Finally, both countries decided to create a digital dashboard regularly updated to allow both sides to track the degree and level of completion of agreed-upon projects.

After the Prime Minister of Pakistan's visit to Saudi Arabia, a high-level delegation from Saudi Arabia visited Pakistan on April 15, 2024, welcomed by the Pakistan Foreign Minister.

Peculiarities of the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Investment Conference 
There have been numerous conferences, meetings, and delegation visits in the past, but the recent conference carries a unique façade never seen before. Several special features of the recent Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Investment Conference are highlighted below:
▪ The conference was conducted to enhance collaboration between the two countries regarding business operations, joint ventures, and investment opportunities. No discussions were held related to loans, grants, aids, or similar passive financial models.
▪ A detailed and deliberate meeting plan was prepared in advance, focusing on tangible investment opportunities available in Pakistan for Saudi Arabia to capitalize on. This resulted in the execution of objectively concluded meetings, with the Saudi side clear on what was to be offered and on what terms.
▪A detailed pitch book was prepared highlighting investment opportunities in various sectors in Pakistan, including agriculture, information technology, telecommunications, petroleum, energy, tourism, and human resource development.
▪ The pitch book served as a teaser for available projects in the mentioned sectors. Each project was further broken down into various parts, including its description, market dynamics, unique value proposition, business model, and investment valuation. Key factors such as likely output, infrastructure development requirements, and manpower needs were outlined for each project, along with a brief financial layout including Internal Rate of Return, payback period, and likely project duration.

Towards the conference's conclusion, it was mutually agreed to make the frequency of such meetings and conferences regular, at least once every month. Both countries also agreed to establish joint working groups for each sector to monitor progress on agreed-upon projects.

▪ During the breakout sessions, experts, officials, and corporate sector leaders from both countries convened in dedicated lounges for detailed discussions on the available projects.
▪ With Saudi Arabia's confidence in Pakistani business models and opportunities improving, other Gulf countries are likely to follow suit. Pakistan has already entered into a number of Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with Middle Eastern countries. It is likely that with Saudi Arabia as an investment partner with Pakistan, those countries will also expedite the finalization of deals and agreements.
▪The world perceives Pakistan's seriousness of purpose through SIFC, which is moving in a straightforward direction with a single-point agenda: improving the economy. In just a little less than a year, SIFC has proven its mettle by identifying problem areas in economic development, highlighting key sectors critical to achieving economic growth objectives, and taking baby steps towards development in those sectors.
Underlying Opportunities
The conference holds great significance due to the various geopolitical and geostrategic dynamics affecting Pakistan in the region and globally. This unique environment presents a fleeting opportunity, the failure to seize which could result in substantial losses for Pakistan. Some of these dynamics include:
▪ Pakistan is grappling with a burdensome debt, which is draining its economy and posing a significant obstacle to development. The country struggles to generate sufficient funds to repay loan installments burdened with hefty interest rates, hindering progress towards forward-leaning development and growth.
▪ Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa are striving to secure food supplies for their populations in the coming years. As an agrarian nation embarking on its second agricultural revolution, Pakistan offers opportunities for addressing food security concerns in these countries.
▪ Pakistan possesses untapped treasures in the energy, mining, mineral, and IT sectors, which serve as lifelines for industries worldwide.
▪ India's religious extremism and terrorist activities through proxies in various countries are tarnishing its international reputation, resulting in the severing of business ties and collaborations with India. Pakistan can leverage this situation by offering opportunities to countries critical of India, such as Canada, China, and select Asian and European nations, providing them with markets for their goods and investment opportunities.
▪ Escalating tensions in Palestine have sparked global reactions, leading to mass boycotts of Israeli products and demands for an end to atrocities in Gaza. This places a responsibility on all Muslim countries, including Pakistan, to condemn the situation and attract investment from other nations while developing domestic products to achieve self-sufficiency, growth, and development.
In previous articles, I have mentioned that the SIFC is expected to help Pakistan emerge from its current dire situation within six to eight years. However, considering the pace at which the organization is operating and the initiatives by the government to overcome economic hurdles, it is anticipated that SIFC's main objectives will be achieved within a relatively shorter timeframe.


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