IS IT TIME FOR PAKISTAN TO PIVOT?

Tucked away in a corner of the old PECHS Block 6 lies a remnant of Karachi’s more recent history.

Long before General Ziaul Haq mandated the study of Arabic in state schools, a private language school, the Society for the Promotion of Arabic (SPA), was busy preparing Saudi-bound Pakistanis in the rudiments of the sacred tongue.

For years, Arabic teachers, often themselves students studying at Karachi University, from the Middle East, would run intensive courses for skilled workers, such as General Raheel Sharif, holding lucrative job offers in the Gulf states.

The SPA, along with the Gulshan-i-Iqbal offices of the original 1940s-era World Muslim Congress (Motamar Al-Alam Al-Islami) are small reminders of the longstanding links between the oldest Islamic republic and one of the newest.

A much more visible presence is the estimated nine million Pakistanis who have worked in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) since the early 1970s. Their numbers today are surging and the International Labour Organisation thinks there were as many as a million migrant workers in the GCC, sending back nearly 19 billion dollars in remittances.

There’s little doubt that the Pak-Saudi encounter is the original “all weather” relationship. But this relationship is now coming under strain. Indeed, we may well be at a moment of what Barack Obama termed a ‘pivot’ — a subtle, but strategic reassessment of foreign policy.

The overarching reason for reassessment is the change in Saudi Arabia’s top leadership and in particular the elevation of the 32-year-old defence minister Mohammad bin Salman (or MBS as he is called) as crown prince.

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