Crucial moments in Pak-Saudi Arabia ties

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By Umar Karim
With Pakistan led by a new prime minister in Imran Khan and a party in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf that has never been in power before, many nations have become inquisitive about the foreign policy direction the country will now take, as evidenced by the felicitations that have poured in from across the world.

The first foreign dignitaries to arrive in Pakistan following July’s election were the foreign ministers of Iran, the US and China, followed by the Saudi minister of information and finally the Turkish foreign minister. This suggests the interest of both international and regional actors in engaging with the new government. With regards to the Middle East, and keeping in mind the region’s fragmented political state, these contacts could be seen as attempts by different political groups to either woo Pakistan’s new government into their sphere of influence or to sustain their pre-existing strong links with the South Asian nation.

It must be taken into account that almost all of the former prime ministers of Pakistan have selected Saudi Arabia for their first foreign visit. Such decisions had a lot of variables involved, other than the resolve to strengthen bilateral relations. Since Saudi Arabia is home to two of Islam’s most holy places, selecting it as the first foreign destination for the country’s new chief executive echoes the paramount importance of religion in the eyes of new rulers and resonates well with their domestic constituencies. After becoming PM, Khan initially decided against any trips in the first three months of his government, but things took a turn with his visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

What led to this change of mind? The answer lies partially in the ominous situation of Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan’s foreign reserves are depleting every day and the country requires about $3 billion of financial support immediately to avoid defaulting on its already acquired loans. The Islamic Development Bank said last month that it was willing to support Pakistan financially by