Pakistan ambassador reflects on one-year tenure in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have the closest relations, brotherly and brotherly, said Ahmad Farooq, Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as he reflects on his one-year tenure in Riyadh.

“It was a very rewarding experience for me in a country where Pakistan is so respected and we have such a strong bond between our leadership and our people,” Farooq told Arab News.

Farooq took charge of the mission on 20 May 2023 and it has now been a year since his tenure began.

The year he spent in the country, he said, strengthened “all aspects of our relations and gave me the opportunity (to see) how we can take them forward, strengthen them and bring them closer to the country, especially on the economic side.”

The ambassador highlighted four main areas, which he called “the most promising” in strengthening economic partnerships between the two countries. These are information technology, agriculture, mining and defense.

“Information technology is a priority area for the Kingdom in line with its Vision 2030, and on the Pakistani side we have a very strong ecosystem of companies and IT professionals with a long history of providing products and solutions worldwide.”

The ambassador said that attracting Pakistani IT companies to the Kingdom is another objective that will welcome new talent and promote business opportunities and investment in the sector.

Agriculture and food security are other areas where the two countries can continue to work together, he said.

“Pakistan has a very strong tradition of agriculture and what we want to do is to make Pakistan a source of food security for the kingdom,” he added.

The ambassador explained that Pakistan expects from the kingdom “investments in our agricultural sector that translate into increased production and contribute to the kingdom’s food security requirements.”

He added that mining is another area where Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can work together.

“It (mining) is again a priority area for the Kingdom under its Vision 2030 and Pakistan has huge mineral resources that are yet to be exploited,” he said.

“In history, we had the strongest sector where the two countries worked together, which is the defense sector,” he added.

Farooq described the changes he has seen in the kingdom since his return as “enormous”.

“My first contact with Riyadh was almost 25 years ago, when I came to study Arabic at King Saud University as a student. When I compare the Kingdom at that time, it is a great transformation and society has opened up. I’m not just talking about the economic transformation, but the social and cultural transformation is huge and very welcome,” he said.

The ambassador said that everywhere he looks, women are actively contributing to society.

In a conversation about daily life in Riyadh, the ambassador drew attention to the many possibilities for entertainment and superb cuisine.

“The kingdom being home to the two holy mosques is something that is very close to my heart and I really enjoy having that access and being able to visit Medina and Mecca whenever you want,” he said.

The Ambassador also emphasized his deep appreciation for the Kingdom’s commitment to improving the Hajj experience for pilgrims in Mecca.

“Pakistan is among the largest number of pilgrims who come for Hajj and also if you look at the data, we are among the largest number of people who come for Umrah,” he said. “This year alone we are expecting around 160,000 Hajj pilgrims coming from Pakistan.”

Farooq said that the Makkah Route Initiative was launched two years ago from Islamabad and it turned out to be a great success.

“This is a great benefit for the pilgrims coming from Pakistan,” the envoy said.

Many pilgrims coming for Hajj are elderly, he said, and it is convenient for them to go through all the immigration procedures in Islamabad. When they arrive in the Kingdom, they can simply leave the airport and have their luggage delivered to their hotel.

“This is a great help and we are very grateful to the Saudi authorities, they are investing a lot of resources and effort in the management and this is a very positive movement and a great help to the pilgrims,” ​​said Farooq.

This year, following the great demand and success of the initiative, the Kingdom expanded the program to Karachi.

“Both north and south now cover the Makkah route and we look forward to expanding it to other cities in the future,” the ambassador said.

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