Saudi Arabia is a critical part of Pakistan’s foreign policy: Former PM

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Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Pakistan is a “critical part of Pakistan’s relationships and foreign policy,” said former Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in an interview on Saturday with Frank Kane of Arab News.

Aziz, who first served as Pakistan’s finance minister and then its prime minister from 2004 to 2007, described relations with Saudi Arabia as “very important” and hailed the Kingdom’s direction of reform.

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He made the comments in an episode of “Frankly Speaking,” a new series of televised interviews by Arab News in which leading policymakers are questioned about topical issues.

In the interview, the former prime minister spoke about change in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia’s reforms, and the difference between Islamabad’s relationship with Iran and with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s reforms

“When a pandemic like the one we faced happens, you have to consider very carefully how you react to it and I think Saudi Arabia’s response was more than adequate, more than what was needed,” Aziz said, adding that Saudi Arabia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was “more than what was needed.”

“I would say that the quality of the technocrats in SAMA [The Saudi Central Bank] and the Ministry of Finance were world class,” the former prime minister said, adding that he had worked in 12 countries around the world, managing big regions for Citibank.

When it comes to the reforms that are taking place in the Kingdom under the country’s Vision 2030 reform program, Aziz said they were “the best thing that has happened” in the past few years.

“I think the best thing which has happened [in Saudi Arabia] in the last few years, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman have done reforms which you could never even consider or think about,” he said.

Pakistan’s former prime minister added that in today’s structural reform agenda, he would put Saudi Arabia in the top countries of the world.

Relationship with Iran

“Iran is a country with a lot of history, a lot of smart people there,” Pakistan’s former prime minister said in the interview, “but it is run by the clergy effectively,”

Pakistan’s strategy with Iran is to “maintain a relationship which is peaceful and avoid any tensions,” he added.

However, Aziz said Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is very important, adding that it is a critical part of Pakistan’s relationships and foreign policy.

“When I looked at Saudi Arabia as a relationship, it was like looking at your elder brother – you know they care for each other and sometimes if we did something which we shouldn’t have done, they’ll say: ‘hey what did you do?’”

Possible deal with Israel

“Personally, I think a lot of work will have to be done on the domestic scene to make that exception,” Aziz said when asked if there could be a possible peace deal between Pakistan and Israel.

“Having relations with a country is now not necessarily something which should really be as big an issue as it has been made by all of us over the years,” he added, saying the “door should be open.”

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