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Exclusive interview with Saudi Foreign Minister H.H Faisal bin Saud

The Saudi Foreign Minister sheds light upon the brotherly nature of Pakistan-Saudi Arabia's bilateral ties and how their cooperation on issues relating to Islamophobia and the OIC platform could be used to safeguard the interests of the Muslim Ummah in the global community. He explains the importance of improving bilateral relations through increased investment and economic opportunities between the two countries.

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Prince Faisal: Thank you very much, dear colleagues, from Pakistan. It’s a great pleasure to have the opportunity to talk to you today on the occasion of this extremely important visit of His Excellency Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan.

It is a significant visit in the history of this brotherly relationship that has spanned over 70 years and has been critical for our bilateral ties as they transform over the years to be a partnership and a true brotherly relationship. We have a large Pakistani community in the Kingdom with 2 million residents who have contributed significantly to the nation’s development.

Both the national governments have worked together on many important issues. We can continue to cooperate closely and firmly both on matters of bilateral concern and for the greater benefit of the Muslim Ummah and the planet.

In general, we had an excellent visit by the Prime Minister, many many subjects have been covered, we had a very strong focus on economic cooperation, on strengthening the flow of investments bilaterally, and facilitating greater cooperation, and greater trade between the two nations as well.

Moeed Pirzada: Thank you, your Highness. My co-host Maria Memon and I are privileged and honored to present you to the people of Pakistan and our viewers all across the world. We are grateful to you for finding time for our viewers at the moment, which we understand; you are so busy, as you mentioned, that the prime minister of Pakistan, the foreign minister, the army chief, and cabinet members are in Saudi Arabia. They have met you, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the key Saudi officials, so can you tell our viewers the significance of the agreements that have been signed, especially the long-delayed supreme coordination council and this moment?

Prince Faisal: Thank you, and absolutely the agreement that was signed about the supreme council is extremely important. It’s because, as I mentioned in my short introduction, we have a very, very strong bond as brothers, but we have not yet exploited all the opportunities that exist in this relationship.

Thus, this council will institutionalize the relationship and ensure that at all levels of government in an intergovernmental process, we work towards exploring and exploiting all the opportunities that exist to support and nurture the relationship, whether political and security cooperation or predominantly, economic cooperation.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we strongly feel that we have not completely explored the potential for economic cooperation between Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is why this community is crucial. We are looking forward to activating it immediately and working towards really tangible results from its procedures.

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Maria Memon: There are some rumors that, probably, there will be a reciprocal visit. Is there any chance that his Royal Highness will come to Pakistan along with this delegation? The last visit we saw was in 2019, anything new on the cards?

Prince Faisal: His Highness remembers his visit very, very fondly. It’s one of his favorite visits he’s had, and he looks forward to coming back to Pakistan in the near future. Of course, that remains to be coordinated, but we hope either this year or next year, we will be able to arrange a visit for his Royal Highness.

In the meantime, we will make sure that at the ministerial level, there are frequent visits from both our side but also the Pakistani side to ensure that we maintain the momentum that has been built through this visit by the prime minister and that momentum keeps continuing until we have another bilateral leadership level visit.

Moeed Pirzada: Prime Minister Imran Khan is very eager that Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia, should join hands under the platform of OIC to raise the issue of Islamophobia with the key western countries and to impress upon them the hurt which is caused when insults are hurled at the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). What can you tell us about this possibility using the OIC platform?

Prince Faisal: I believe the OIC is an important organ; it’s the second-largest multilateral organization in the world, and of course, we need to use that platform to address all issues of intolerance, not least of course Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is a dangerous trend and phenomenon that has emerged in global politics along with all discrimination against belief systems and faiths. As you know, we share the concern with Pakistan, and I think it is almost all the world’s concern in some cases.

Speech can go too far, and it can be hurtful, harmful, and damaging not just to people’s feelings but also pave the way to instability. Therefore, there must be a dialogue among all of us in the global community about how we address this issue, particularly, the escalating tone of disrespect for religion in general and, of course, Islam, in particular, that is targeted in the midst.

We, as Muslim nations, need to band together to address that concern, and I think we’re very proud that Pakistan is taking that to heart, and we are working closely with our brothers in Pakistan to address this concern.

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Maria Memon: I have a follow-up question from the last visit of His Royal Highness Mohammed bin Salman. The last time he was here, there was an order to release 2000 Pakistani prisoners from Saudi jail. Correct me if I am wrong; the figure I have right now is that 563 of the prisoners have been released, so could we know the exact timeline when all of them will be released, and can you expedite the process for them to come home?

Prince Faisal: To be honest, I don’t have the numbers. However, now that you’ve raised that, I will certainly check on that. I’m sure that we have released everybody who is entitled to release.

If there are some prisoners who are potentially up for release, I think it’s a matter of processing, and the necessary agencies will do their best to make sure that it’s processed as soon as possible.

Moeed Pirzada: Your Highness, we welcome the great initiative of the green Middle East and green Saudi Arabia, which has been taken by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman one month ago, but you must have also heard that the Pakistani government, especially the Prime Minister of Pakistan, has been working on a billion tree tsunami and a clean and green Pakistan initiative for the past several years since 2013. How can Pakistan and Saudi Arabia join hands and cooperate in your new green Middle East and green Saudi Arabia initiative?

Prince Faisal: You’re right; we have announced this initiative that highlights our contribution towards addressing the global climate change crisis and helping us improve the planet and its environment.

Additionally, as you mentioned, Pakistan had a leading role in that agenda and has this plan for a billion trees, which is incredibly impressive. I know Pakistan has already made certain impressive progress in this regard by already planting several hundred million trees.

Therefore, I am optimistic that we will work together to align both of those initiatives, learn from each other, and benefit from each other’s experiences. We all know that global climate change is a challenge for us all.

We have to work together and cooperate through the strong bilateral relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Consequently, we can partner on issues that are complex and that are not only of global but bilateral nature, and that’s the kind of relationship we are working towards building.

Read more: Pakistan offers support to Saudi Green Initiative

Prince Faisal bin Farhan
Source: State Bank of Pakistan

Maria Memon: I was reading up on all the memorandum of understandings signed together, which suggests that there is a lot of room for more joint ventures. It means a lot more Pakistani labor and as you’re going to engage us at that level as well, so just wanted to know if there are a lot of joint ventures like agriculture, technology, commerce, finance and how is your government going to facilitate in the policy of ease of visas and the working conditions over there of the labor class?

Prince Faisal: Absolutely, as I mentioned earlier, a real focus of this visit and the discussion between the two leaders in the economic relationship and emphasis on building a more robust investment climate between the two nations, which is a win-win situation.

The visit aims to facilitate both Saudi investment in Pakistan and Pakistani investment in the Kingdom, significantly in the form of the contribution of Pakistani labor within the Kingdom’s workforce.

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We have recently undergone some significant labor reforms, which have, I think, improved to a great extent the flexibility of third-country labor within the Saudi labor marketplace, where they now have greater freedom to transfer their work from one place to other.

Cumulatively, all of this facilitates a much stronger contribution for Pakistanis employed in the Kingdom to find prosperity within and at the same time contribute to the Kingdom’s prosperity and growth.

You know we have a very ambitious plan, “Vision 2030,” under which we expect to considerably enhance the employment base of the Kingdom that means that there will be major opportunities for additional employment for Pakistani nationals beyond.

We also hope that Pakistani businesses will continue to increase their investment in the Kingdom because there are some very successful and innovative Pakistani entrepreneurs who I think will find excellent and exciting opportunities in the Kingdom and work towards increasing the level of Saudi investment in Pakistan.

Historically the nature of the Pak-Saudi Arabia relationship has been a very strong political one with robust government to government contact. Our focus and the mandate we have from both leaders is to ensure that we are also facilitating the business-to-business aspect in these historic ties.

The Saudi businesses increasingly understand the great opportunities that lie before them within Pakistan and the potential for success, and the support that they’re going to receive from the Pakistani government, and as I said, we are also going to do the same for Pakistani businesses hoping to give them the opportunities to grow and invest in the Kingdom.

So it’s a focus on a win-win relationship in the economic realm because we believe that that is the core basis for any strong relationship. As we are so close and fraternal in the past decades, it is essential to reap the economic potential that exists in this relationship that hasn’t received enough, and that’s the mandate that we heard from the Royal Highness the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister to make sure that we as ministers in all of the cabinet agencies are working hard to facilitate bilaterally investments, labor flow and beyond.

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Moeed Pirzada: The joint communique we have seen also mentions Afghanistan and mentions that Saudi Arabia can help Pakistan in its dialogue with India; we have a difficult situation in the east and west. Saudi Arabia has in recent years developed a good relationship with India as well; how can you help us in both areas Afghanistan and India?

Prince Faisal: I think Afghanistan is critically important not just to the security of Pakistan and its neighborhood but also to our security and global security at large. As Pakistan has a very, very important role to play in helping secure the future of Afghanistan, we will, of course, work closely with our colleagues and with the international community to make sure that we are able to help Afghanistan find its footing get to stability and prosperity.

I also look forward to working with my counterpart in detail on the relationship with India. I really want to acclaim what has been achieved recently in the form of calming tensions and a ceasefire between India and Pakistan.

This is an excellent step in the right direction, and we will only work to encourage that process and make sure that the tensions continue to be reduced between both nations. As you mentioned, we have a growing relationship with India, and in this respect, we hope we can help everybody work towards reducing tensions.

I believe that focus on building prosperity for the people should be the key emphasis of all national policy and goals. I think Pakistan and its leadership have that priority. What we have heard from Imran Khan, it is apparent that there is a very keen focus to ensure that militant security in the region is safeguarded because that will deliver the stability that is needed for the country’s economic growth. We will offer any support we can to make that happen.

Maria Memon: What are the key areas that you have identified where Pakistan and Saudi Arabia can work in synergy, especially in the context of this regional peace dream we hope to achieve someday?

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Prince Faisal: I mean, there are too many to list. I would say that we agree on almost everything, if not everything, and we have a very similar world view, whether it’s regional security or global prosperity.

We have decided that we will work not just at the high level, you know, through the commission but also through increased engagement at the working level officials to senior level, ensuring that we align in all areas. It’s really exciting. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the potential for enhancing the relationship going forward.

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