Saudi Arabia resets foreign policy, economy and society – lessons for Pakistan


As America’s influence weakened in Afghanistan and Iraq following its withdrawal, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is well positioned to play a notable role in the greater Middle East. The unprecedented meeting of OIC Foreign Ministers on December 19 in Islamabad is being held at Riyadh’s request on one agenda: humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia’s renewed interest is not limited to West Asia in particular.

Already, Saudi Arabia under Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) is expanding its diplomatic reach in the field of foreign policy in different regions. Iraq (Mesopotamia – a crossroads for Iranian interests and power projection) has offered Saudi Arabia a new opportunity to leverage its influence. Riyadh quickly decided to establish working relations with pro-Iranian elements and deepen its ties with other pro-Arab Iraqi communities in Iraq, while presenting itself as an investor. It is thanks to this leverage effect that Baghdad offered to serve as a culminating bridge in the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement.

It was mainly Mohammad Bin Salman who seized on the new bonhomie with Iraq and finally opted for a modus vivendi with Tehran. This is even if Iran continues to be a main competitor in the Middle East and beyond using its hybrid reach from Iraq to Yemen to the Levant region to challenge Saudi interests.

Saudi Arabia‘s real foreign policy challenge was its strained relationship with Qatar. Qatar is another GCC country that has practically opposed Riyadh in the Middle East and Africa by supporting rival anti-Saudi groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, elements in Libya and Syria. The latest international media visuals of Prince Mohammad Bin Salman visiting Qatar highlighted the recent thaw in bilateral relations. His charm offensive was on display right, left and center when he got off his plane at the airport.

Along with that pledge, Riyadh has forged behind-the-scenes ties with Israel – far from being fully recognized – by granting rights to fly over Saudi Arabian airspace. The detente between Saudi Arabia and Israel is certainly destined to continue.

Another theater, Yemen recently witnessed a kinetic disengagement from Saudi Arabia which had sucked up Riyadh’s military prowess against pro-Iranian Houthi rebels. The de-escalation of hostilities is part of Saudi Arabia’s major move to shift to a strong foreign policy stance underpinned by peaceful means of resolving conflicts and managing competition with its geopolitical peers, namely Iran, Turkey. and Qatar.

Riyadh’s diplomatic effort has accelerated, partly due to the increased withdrawal of the United States from the Middle East and partly driven by Saudi Arabia’s quest for internal modernization.

In other words, linked to this new charm of foreign policy is Prince Salman’s Vision 2030 which sought to transform the Saudi state, economy and society. As he describes it, “Vision 2030 encompasses three main themes: a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation. This gigantic goal must be reached by 2030: Saudi Arabia will have at least five universities among the top 200 universities in the country. world and by refocusing on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by encouraging financial aid “.

Another important step is the goal of lifting the economy out of dependence on oil. This is where the promotion of non-oil sectors like the environment, tourism, and tourist-friendly policies is a radical departure from Saudi Arabia’s traditional past. Societal changes such as allowing women to drive, work and socialize are underway. Men can mingle with the opposite sex in theaters, cinemas, clubs, cafes, and even in wrestling matches. Young men can make friends with women on social media and go to cool new cafes. The lifting of societal restrictions in a conservative society has led many to believe that the Saudi people are ready to embrace these new changes.

Striving to counter extremism and radicalization is another goal Saudi Arabia has set for itself: it has banned its radical jihadist groups, even restricting mainstream Tablighi Jamaat to reverse what is believed. to be the ideological indoctrination of the youth by Saudi Arabia.

Certainly, unlike the KSA, Pakistan has a capacity deficit in foreign policy, in particular, corresponding least to the financial means of the former. It remains to be seen whether Islamabad can learn a lesson or two from Saudi Arabia’s journey in its profound transformation of foreign policy, economy and society. “As Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have formed diplomatic and strategic relations, Islamabad could benefit from our experiences at all levels,” noted Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Pakistan Admiral (ret’d) Nawaf Bin Said Al-Malik in a recent speech.

Drawing on the Ambassador’s comments and given the backdrop to the recent unfortunate Sialkot incident, Islamabad will be well advised to closely monitor Saudi Arabia’s new strategy to de-radicalize its youth in order to neutralize the ill effects. of a particular form of Cold War era ideology. Without a doubt, Riyadh has succeeded in controlling some of the sweeping themes related to extremist groups that could not happen without the will, vision and determination of the current leadership of the country.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, politician from Balochistan and former advisor to the government of Balochistan on media and strategic communication.

He remained associated with the BBC World Service. He is also president of the Institute of New Horizons (INH) and Balochistan. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai

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