Muhammad Bin Salman in Pakistan - Role of Opposition Parties and Media


The start of a new year in Pakistan has witnessed one high profile visit from Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zahid, the Crown Prince of UAE in January. Now, February will witness the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan. Whereas, these steps are positive for our national interest and long term strategic as well as economic objectives, the opposition parties have kept the tradition of monopolizing issues and stirring conspiracy theories alive all the while obliterating the advantage to be reaped by the nation as a whole.

Ever since Imran Khan has taken over the office of Prime Minister, every step taken by him is scrutinized and looked at through a lens of conspiracy building. Whether positive or negative, the opposition parties and dissenting journalists haven’t missed a single chance at bashing the present government for its policies. Sometimes the criticism is invoked on extremely trivial and petty matters. The motives are obvious – in order to divert the attention of the masses from the crimes and wrongdoings committed by the past government representatives and to reduce the heat that has come with accountability. Using trivial and petty matters to defame the government is the easiest established agenda by the opposition parties and a good number of media houses in the country. During the process, matters of national interest are more than often overlooked depicting the immaturity and irresponsibility exhibited by opposition parties and journalists alike.

The recent visit of  Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zahid, the Crown Prince of UAE is a case in point, where insignificant criticism on the government remained on the prime talk shows of electronic media for almost three days. From calling the Prime Minister the chauffeur of the Prince to spreading mockery of both the leaders wearing friendship bands it was appalling to witness the absence of responsible journalism and instead there was a display of a media circus where facts were ignored. Accusing the Prime Minister of carrying a begging bowl in front of world leaders, the opposition parties completely overlooked how the $6.2-billion bailout package for Pakistan announced during the crowned prince visit was not going to be added into Imran Khan’s personal account rather it would benefit the nation as a whole. In pursuit of dismantling the present government facts are being distorted and presented in an unreal light.

Such assertions by the spokespersons / hired journalists of the corrupt leaders do nothing but undermine the serious efforts being undertaken by the government to put the foreign policy and the economy (both knocked down by the previous governments) on the right path. It is extremely unfortunate and regrettable to see such negative vibes being spread and picked up by international media cells thus increasing the likelihood of hindering relationships between otherwise friendly countries.

Now coming to the Pakistan-Saudi relationship and the upcoming visit of the Saudi crown prince to Pakistan it is expected that the same pattern would be followed. Although Pak-Saudi relationship has stood the test of time. Indeed, over the years, the two countries have also succeeded in developing a unique synergy for mutual development. Saudi Arabia is home to the largest number of Pakistani expatriates, Pakistani engineers, construction experts and labor which have played a crucial role in building infrastructure in the modern Saudi Arabia. During the era of King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS), this relationship has further fortified in recent years to make a new history of bilateral cooperation extending from political, military to an economic and cultural level. Hence both the countries are vital for each other.

Saudi Crown Prince MBS is expected to arrive in the month of February and it has been reported that the Prince will announce investment worth almost $15 billion in Pakistan in addition to other economic and diplomatic initiatives. In October 2018, Saudi Arabia agreed to provide a $6 billion package to Pakistan to support its economy. The package included $3 billion balance of payments support and $3 billion in deferred payments on oil import. This way, Saudi Arabia has once again come forward to rescue the dwindling economic situation of Pakistan.

In view of a possible commotion likely to be created by the same actors on the visit of MBS who had created a fuss on the visit of UAE Prince, it is imperative that the media and the opposition parties act responsibly and go for investigative journalism instead of sensationalizing such a sensitive issue. While addressing concerns of foreign media it should be accentuated that Pakistan as a country is going through serious economic crises. Pakistan is avoiding the International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditions and for this reason, it has to search for options in the shape of economic initiatives from friendly countries. Visit of MBS is in the same context and has no other political motivations. Prior to the visit it is suggested that opinion of the intelligentsia may be sought before the visit of MBS in close coordination with Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and Ministry of Finance. The opposition parties and journalists need to be weary of the fact that all sane democracies of the world aim at protecting their national interest and considering how the media negatively portrayed the Prime Minister Imran Khan's maiden visit to Saudi Arabia during October 2018 and criticized him for visiting Saudi Arabia in reference to the Khashoggi murder, we should know that Pakistan, right now has no stakes involved in the murder and approaching this topic amidst the visit of the crown prince would be illogical, unneeded and would negatively affect the upcoming talks regarding aid. Pakistan should learn from the example of Saudi-America relationship, wherein Saudi Arabia enjoys the best of relationships with the West despite the Khashoggi murder and despite being a monarchy (regarding whom the international community harbors human rights concerns - which are against the standards of the West), the Kingdom has never really had to deal with pressure from the Western governments or media to change its ways. Iran is another issue that is put on fire whenever some initiatives with Saudi Arabia are underway. The Iranian lobby in Pakistan, its sympathizers and other spoilers play this cards whenever it comes to Pakistan's relationship with Saudi Arabia. Any effort to discolor the Pak-Saudi and Pak-Iranian relationship before the visit would be nothing but to damage the Pakistani government’s efforts of building better diplomatic and economic ties with the brotherly countries which are considered “uncalled for” by patriotic section of the Pakistani society.    

So,  in light of all of the above we should learn from the mistakes committed during the past visit and for once the media, opposition parties and government should come on the same page regarding issues of national interest and when at instances such as these, where the State is reaping benefit from government policy initiatives the opposition should let their personal vendettas go and focus on the bigger picture – a better and prosperous Pakistan. The economic crisis that the present government has inherited does not alone affect one party, rather it affects the entire population and it needs to be collectively catered to, by all.