The crown prince’s visit is one of Imran Khan’s greatest accomplishments yet

Published: January 14, 2019
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Pakistani and Arab media are celebrating Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s hugely successful visit to Pakistan. PHOTO: TWITTER/ PTI OFFICIAL

The hugely successful visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ) to Pakistan a week ago represents one of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s greatest foreign policy accomplishments yet, because it proved that his country’s ‘balancing’ act between regional powers is capable of turning latent rivals into trusted partners.

The Emirati breakthrough

The Pakistani and Arab media are celebrating MBZ’s hugely successful visit to Pakistan and lauding the $6.2 billion support package he provided to the South Asian state. The personal camaraderie between the Emirati leader and the Pakistani prime minister was on full display for the whole world to see, proving that whatever distrust might have emerged in 2015 – after Islamabad refused to dispatch troops to assist the joint Saudi-Emirati war in Yemen – it has dissipated and been replaced by nothing but the best feelings towards one another.

This is an astounding reversal of the geostrategic situation in recent years, after it seemed like the decades-long Pakistani-Emirati strategic partnership had become a thing of the past, following the fallout over Islamabad’s independent decision years ago and India’s resultant exploitation in order to position itself as the UAE’s new regional ally. Nevertheless, in spite of the positive advancements in Indian-Emirati relations since that time, including most notably the agreement late last year to jointly invest in Africa, PM Imran was able to cleverly leverage his country’s ‘balancing’ act in order to save one of Pakistan’s most important partnerships.

The Saudi path to success

It is well known that MBZ mentors Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who hosted PM Imran after the election during his first overseas trip as Pakistan’s new leader, and agreed to invest $10 billion in various projects in his country. Reports are now circulating that his upcoming reciprocal visit to Pakistan will see the future Saudi King increase his investments up to a total of $15 billion, which is proof that Pakistani diplomats have been working very hard behind the scenes over the past couple of months to secure such lofty support and might have coordinated it with the UAE.

After all, with MBZ being MBS’ mentor, it’s unrealistic to think the two didn’t discuss their respective Kingdoms’ relations with their shared longstanding Pakistani partner sometime throughout the course of their ‘father-son’ relationship, especially after PM Imran’s visit to Saudi Arabia and prior to MBZ’s own visit to Pakistan. PM Imran’s visionary leadership in trying to pioneer a ‘balanced’ foreign policy all throughout the Mideast and the greater realm of Afro-Eurasia is evidently paying off, after he won MBS’ trust and probably got the crown prince to put in a good word to his mentor about his guest.

The reason why it’s so important to emphasise all of this is because the UAE could have been Pakistan’s latent rival if previous analyses were correct about the fears some in the Emirates had about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’s (CPEC) terminal port of Gwadar one day replacing Dubai and Abu Dhabi. That strategic forecast might have been made by those entrusted with securing the country’s future interests and gaming out possible scenarios, but it could also have been taken advantage of by third parties such as India to drive a deeper wedge between the UAE and Pakistan after 2015.

‘Balancing’ away the hybrid war on CPEC

Relations did indeed noticeably cool over the past four years, but PM Imran’s ability to credibly position Pakistan as a neutral ‘balancing’ force in Mideast affairs through his country’s intensified partnerships with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran proved to the UAE that CPEC isn’t aimed against any single country and is instead an all-inclusive integrational project for connecting China to the rest of Afro-Eurasia via this strategic trans-Pakistani overland route. This realisation – backed by actions such as the reinvigorated Pakistani-Saudi strategic partnership – must have assuaged any lingering concerns the Emiratis may have had about Pakistan’s intentions.

It’s important that Pakistani-Emirati relations are back on track because the UAE could have been a formidable opponent of both the South Asian state and its Chinese partner. The UAE has rapidly expanded its influence across the world via its network of shipping ports and airports, as well as the military bases it obtained in the Red Sea-Gulf of Aden region throughout the course of the war in Yemen. Instead of potentially leveraging these to challenge and ultimately ‘contain’ China via the hybrid war on CPEC, the Emirates will now cooperate with it on equal terms inside of Pakistan itself.

Concluding thoughts

What PM Imran pulled off with Pakistan’s successful rapprochement with the UAE is nothing short of masterful, because he turned a latent rival into a trusted partner after first proving his country’s peaceful win-win intentions to MBZ’s mentee, MBS. That event, more so than anything else, showed the Emirates that Pakistan shouldn’t be regarded as a future competitor, like some in India had been hyping it up to be for their own reasons, but rather as a brotherly nation that’s consistently maintained excellent relations with the influential House of Saud.

Once any doubt about that was finally dispelled, it was only natural for MBZ to visit Pakistan and reaffirm the strategic partnership between the two states. That monumental occasion marked the success of Naya Pakistan’s ‘balancing’ act between regional powers and confirmed that it is capable of reaping very real geopolitical results. Going forward, Pakistan must expand this ‘balancing’ strategy from the Mideast to the rest of Afro-Eurasia and keenly take advantage of the various CPEC branch corridors (CPEC plus, including both mainland and maritime ones) in order to finally become a pivotal player in Eastern Hemispheric affairs.

This post was originally published here.

Andrew Korybko

Andrew Korybko

The author is an American Moscow-based political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare. He tweets at @AKorybko (twitter.com/akorybko?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Humza

    Pakistanis are not impressed by the begging ability of Imran Khan, particularly when he promised to break the begging bowl when he was in opposition. The fact that PTI has no economic policy and blunders from one decision to another with a confused group of incompetent and corrupt ministers is what concerns us more. It surprises me that the author doesn’t keep in mind the reason Saudi Arabia and and its UAE ally are warming up to Pakistan, meaning it is because the Saudis in particular are reeling from the negative international flak after the murder of Saudi dissident Kashoggi. Pakistan is one of their few allies who will never say anything negative against the kingdom because despite all Imran Khan’s talk about ideals and corruption, he will make every u turn possible because he lacks principles. We are worried about what Imran Khan has promised to these two nations behind closed doors because the whole reason Pakistan was sidelined by the UAE and Saudi in 2015 was Pakistan’s refusal to get involved in the Yemen Civil war. The UAE is in lock step with Saudo Arabia so it is no grand master stroke to see that begging Saudi Arabia will be the same as begging UAE. I just hope this begging isn’t coming with strings such as Pakistani support for the nonsensical war in Yemen.Recommend

  • AJ

    Strange how writers from foreign countries appreciate IK’s efforts to bring investment in the country, but the local writers vilify him at every levelRecommend

  • sterry

    It’s even stranger when a Pakistani cannot understand why an American writer is applauding Imran Khan from scaling back CPEC projects with China but tilting to US allies and the old status quo! Don’t you want Pakistan to finally develop its economy and have its own independent policy ?Recommend

  • Mohammad

    IK doesnot know the abcd of foreign relations. Also Pakistan has cheated UAE & Saudi by refusing the military help during Yemen war.Recommend

  • Sardar Mohsin

    The recent visit of Emirats Crown prince to Pakistan and its impact on bilateral relationship between twomuslim countries can be judge with the passing of times but it is laudable to that a country which annoyed to Pakistan for not sending troops to Yemen,now interested in relationship with Paksitan. At what cost Crown prince visited and aid $6.2 billion to Pakistan? If govt. satisfied the emirates about CPEC flagship project Gwadar that this port would harm Dubai or Abu Dhabi ports then it should be appreciated but if our govt. promised to sending its troops to Yemen then it will be highly condemnable.
    We should not play a rival role rather should endeavour to build cordial ties among muslims states.Recommend

  • Adeel MD

    He was begging for us, the Pakistanis, I am very pleased that he is taxing the expensive mobiles making it hard to buy, his intention is only to build the reserves of the country and reduce the in-necessary imports, like the smart mobiles. I will be amused to see how the youngsters like you react to this. Sorry to say, you all can’t think of living without the imported things, any yet asking why IK is begging. shameless Pakistanis and Putwaris that are so negative.Recommend