Changes in Regional politics

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Mohammad bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has initiated his Asian tour aimed at rehabilitating his image five months after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. This is also an extension of Arab Spring started in 2011 from Tunisia. Since US and west are keeping distance from these events keeping their interest intact but this may result with some regional changes taking Turkey, Iran, Russia and Qatar on the other side

The new events have started from Pakistan on 17th Feb with an immense welcome to Mohammad bin Salman. Prince Mohammed signed agreements worth $20bn on 18th Feb, a crucial injection of funds for an ailing economy suffering a foreign-currency crunch and which is currently negotiating its 13th IMF bailout in 40 years. These include deals for a US$10 billion oil and refining complex in Pakistan’s strategic port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. In celebration, the Saudis have announced the release of more than 2,000 Pakistani prisoners from their jails. The Saudi Arabian government has also included Pakistan in its ‘Road to Makkah’ project, allowing pilgrims to undergo immigration clearance at Pakistani airports before leaving for Haj with increase the Haj quota for Pakistani pilgrims to 200,000 from an existing 184,210 pilgrims. Further Visa Fees have also been reduced.

With trips to US and European capitals unlikely in the near future, the royal visits to Pakistan, India and China are an important opportunity for the crown prince to prove he is still an acceptable statesman in the wake of the murder of Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist.

Onward Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in India on 19th Feb a day after his visit to Pakistan. The Crown Prince had flown back to Saudi Arabia from Pakistan before coming to India.

There Prince Mohammed had to walk on a diplomatic tightrope since India has blamed Pakistan for the killings in Kashmir and asking for revenge.

Before that a joint statement issued in Islamabad on 18th Feb by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan underlined the need for avoiding politicization of UN listing regime – a significant concession to Islamabad, which has fought efforts to have JeM chief Masood Azhar formally added to a UN terrorist watch list. The Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country would try to de-escalate tensions between south Asia’s nuclear-armed neighbors. The car bombing, the deadliest attack in the history of Kashmir’s 30-year insurgency provided an unwelcome opportunity for controversy on a crucial tour for the man slated as Saudi Arabia’s future king.

Prince Mohammed made his first state visit overseas since the event of Jamal Khashoggi to North Africa in December, where he was warmly met in Egypt but dogged in Tunisia by protesters wielding saws – a reference to Khashoggi’s alleged dismemberment. The king of Morocco declined to meet with him.

India describes Saudi Arabia as a “key pillar” of its energy security. It provides about 17 per cent of India’s crude oil and about a third of its liquefied natural gas. The relationship may be more key as a deadline nears for India to comply with United States sanctions against Iran, India’s largest oil provider. Saudi Arabia will release 850 Indians from its prisons after a request from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to New Delhi. In New Delhi on 20th Feb, Prince Mohammed said he expects investment opportunities worth more than $100 billion in India over the next two years.

In Islamabad, government officials said Prime Minister Imran Khan raised the issue of the increasing tension with India during his talks with the crown prince. They said that during his visit to New Delhi, Prince was expected to encourage Indian leaders to try to resolve all issues through talks.

Earlier on 19th Feb, in a video message, Prime Minister Khan said Islamabad will take action if Delhi shares any actionable evidence concerning last week’s suicide bombing. While offering cooperation and another chance at a dialogue over the Kashmir issue, the premier also warned India against any act of aggression, saying Pakistan will not hesitate in retaliating to a provocation. However, he made it clear that he hopes better sense will prevail.

Now after arrival in China on 21st Feb Saudi Arabia has signed 35 economic cooperation agreements with China worth a total of $28 billion at a joint investment forum during the visit. “China is a good friend and partner to Saudi Arabia,” President Xi Jinping told the crown prince in front of reporters. “The special nature of our bilateral relationship reflects the efforts you have made,” added Xi, who has made stepping up China’s presence in the Middle East a key foreign policy objective, despite its traditional low-key role there. The crown prince said Saudi Arabia’s relations with China dated back “a very long time in the past”. “In the hundreds, even thousands, of years, the interactions between the sides have been friendly. Over such a long period of exchanges with China, we have never experienced any problems with China,” he said.

Saudi ties with Asian countries have transformed over the past decade as they displaced the U.S. as the kingdom’s main oil buyers. Now they are strengthening further as western powers have distanced themselves from Prince Mohammed after the killing of critic Jamal Khashoggi in October.

On his home ground Saudi Crown Prince is trying to make Saudi Arabia part of the world by announcing women’s approval to vote and be elected in  municipal elections and to be nominated to the Shura Council and to have rights to drive vehicles along with permission for cinemas and arts festivals.

Here one may not forget that since 2011 a change of strong waves have started coming in, in the whole region in response to oppressive regimes and a low standard of living in the region, beginning with protests in Tunisia in 2011 with self burning of a person on a road in protest resulting in overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia who went  into exile in Saudi Arabia.Than lifting of the 19-year-old state of emergency in Algeria, Granting of lawmaking powers to Oman’s elected legislature took place. In Egypt Former Armed Forces commander, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came in to power after Hassni Mubarrak and Morsi governments were overthrown and they were put in Jail. In Yemen Al-Hadi was ousted by Houthi Rebels with Start of Yemeni Civil War and thereafter Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. In Sudan President Bashir nevertheless remains as President but in 2018 and 2019 he is facing immense public pressure to get down.

Then start of Iraqi Civil War with Kurds and ISIS started. Changes in Bahrain ruling structure is also in progress. Prominently overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi;  and thereafter his killing by US and rebel forces is part of the sad story. Formation of the Free Syrian Army and full-scale civil war is another sad story with formation of ISIL who took broad swathes of Syria and Ongoing violence in Syria. This has caused millions to flee their homes. These events have caused deaths of almost 1 million during last 8 years and still they are going on.

The developments started at the end of 2018 and in 2019 may now turn the whole region with another divide mainly on sectarian basis but on top with economic interests. Pakistan among them stands with its economic parameters at the bottom as can be seen from the given chart. So with initiatives of Saudi Prince and later visits of President of Turkey and PM of Malaysia it has to move very cautiously and to strike a balance in emerging new regional changes. If Pakistan succeeds in controlling its fiscal and current account deficits and raizing its tax revenue with the help of regional changes than it can come out of its crisis but for that government is required to bring all stakeholders together. Recently government’s gesture by not inviting opposition parties in Saudi Prince Visit’s functions is not a good sign. Hopefully from all angles of sanity, government would avoid such gestures in future.

Economic Parameters of Central and Western Asian Countries- 2019
  Population

In million

GDP size $ in billions GDP (Nominal) per-capita

In $

Currency against 1 $ Fiscal Deficit in % of GDP Current Account Deficit in % of GDP
Pakistan 205 307 1,541 Pak Rs 139.66 -7.5 – 5.19
Saudi Arabia 34 770 20,761 Saudi Riyal 3.75 -3.7 +2.67
Iran 83 430 5,289 Iranian Riyal 112,000. -2.1 +1.30
Turkey 83 714 10,537 Turkish Lira 5.30 -2.0 -5.5
India 1,369 2,690 1,940 Indian Rs 71.04 -7.0 -1.47
China 1,415 13,457 8,643 Chinese Renminbi 6.7 -4.0 +0.7
Bangladesh 168 286 1,602 Bangladeshi Taka 84.03 -5.0 -2.25

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