M. Arshad Munir
Historically, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have enjoyed a deep and longstanding bond based on their common geopolitical interests and a large number of expatriate Pakistani workers in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia has always stood with Pakistan to help the country whether it is political and economic crises. The general perception about Pak-Saudi relations is that they started with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This incident may have given impetus to our relations but they date back to the period before the creation of Pakistan.
Historically, it was in April 1940 when the then Crown Prince Saud Bin Abdul Aziz visited Karachi and was warmly welcomed by leaders of the Muslim League, including Mirza Abul Hasan Ispahani, M.A. Maniar and Karim Bhai Ibrahim, that laid the foundation of Pak-Saudi relations. The Crown Prince was accompanied by a large delegation, including his five brothers, Faisal, Saad, Fahd, Mansoor and Abdullah. There is, however, no public record of the dignitaries’ meeting with Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
But when Bengal suffered severe famine in 1943, the Saudis responded to Jinnah’s appeal for humanitarian assistance. King Abdul Aziz sent the first foreign donation amounting to £10,000. In 1946, Jinnah sent the Pakistan movement delegation led by M.A.H. Ispahani, including Begum Jahanara Shah Nawaz, to the United Nations. While the Indian National Congress team was obstructing Muslim League envoys’ engagements, Prince Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz, who was leading the Saudi delegation, came to their rescue. Saudi Arabia invited Ispahani and his colleagues to the official reception in honor of all other UN delegations at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Prince Faisal then introduced the Pakistan Movement members to other delegates, where they explained their struggle for a separate homeland.
It is said that after the creation of Pakistan, Arab merchants settled in Mumbai and Calcutta migrated to Pakistan, especially Karachi. In 1954, King Saud laid the foundation stone of a housing scheme in Karachi – then the capital of Pakistan – and it was named after him as “Saudabad”. King Faisal was equally revered by the then Pakistani government and named a key Karachi artery, Shahrah-e-Faisal, and an airbase after him. Lyallpur, a city in central Punjab, was also named in his honor as Faisalabad.
It was three years after the 1965 war when Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, the then Saudi minister of defense and aviation, visited Pakistan and a bilateral defense cooperation protocol was formalized. During the 1970s, Saudi leadership responded to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s request for financial assistance in order to respond to India’s nuclear ambitions.
Furthermore, over two million Pakistanis employed in Saudi Arabia send home remittances amounting to nearly four billion annually. The Kingdom is the largest market of the Pakistani manpower worldwide.
After the Western sanction following 1998 nuclear tests, Saudi Arabia provided 50,000 barrels of oil per day to Pakistan for a year; amounting to about one-sixth of Pakistan’s total oil imports on deferred payment. Later, the Saudis branded the outstanding payment as a gift in times of need.
It has never been a one-way relationship though. Pakistan has always stood by the Arab nation in times of war and peace and they have always reciprocated in kind. Pakistan can never afford to lose strategic, time-tested allies.
— The writer is the Press Counselor at the Consulate General of Pakistan, Jeddah