EXCLUSIVE – Imran Khan: People of Pakistan would defend Saudi Arabia

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The people of Pakistan would defend Saudi Arabia if anything happens to them, but the country wants to play a uniting role in the region, Prime Minister Imran Khan said in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya.

The prime minister denounced the “divisions” and “devastation” in the Muslim world, saying that more conflict should be avoided and that Pakistan can play a role in this regard because it has “one of the best militaries and is a nuclear armed country.”

“Saudi Arabia, with Mecca and Madinah there, I can assure you that- forget our military- the people of Pakistan want to defend Saudi Arabia if anything happens to them so you can rest assured. But you see for Pakistan, the role we want to play now is that we want to play the role of a country that brings other countries together,” Khan said.

“We would like to play a role with Saudi Arabia of putting out fires in the Muslim world, getting countries together,” he added.

Khan also encouraged more trade between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, reaffirming that as strong trading partners, both countries can benefit.

“I think Saudi Arabia and Pakistan need to look beyond the relationship they had in the past. We trade, we invest with each other, we do joint ventures and I think it will raise the standard of living in both countries,” Imran said.

Khan also addressed the importance of China in trade relations, where he said that the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor is planning to set up special economic zones, which is where “Saudi Arabia stands to benefit.”

“Then it will have access to China, benefitting from the special economic zones with special benefits,” he said.

Khan added that these zones will make it easier for countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia to invest as they will have one-window operations, isolation from the “bureaucratic red tape”, concessions and lower taxes.

Khan also hailed reforms initiated by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, stressing that Pakistan wants a “strong and reformed” Saudi Arabia.

“Prince Mohammed is trying to modernize Saudi Arabia (with) much needed reforms... I think it is very impressive, we wish him all the luck, because we want Saudi Arabia to get stronger,” Khan said.

He added that a reformed Saudi Arabia, with its universities, colleges and youth can “compete with the world in the 21st century.”

Saudi Arabia plans to set up a $10 billion oil refinery in Pakistan’s deepwater port of Gwadar, the Saudi energy minister had said in January.

“Saudi Arabia wants to make Pakistan’s economic development stable through establishing an oil refinery and partnership with Pakistan in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor,” Saudi Energy Khalid al-Falih told reporters in Gwadar.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is set to arrive in Pakistan on Sunday to sign the agreement. Al-Falih had said that Saudi Arabia would also invest in other sectors.

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