Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the Royal Court in Riyadh on January 14, 2019. Photo: AFP/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is due to arrive for a two-day visit to Pakistan on Saturday, where he reportedly will sign agreements worth around US$12 billion. While MBS may not be having the best time of his life as he is being criticized globally for his alleged role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, here in Pakistan things are different.

The government of Pakistan is trying everything to appease MBS. It booked 300 Toyota Land Cruiser Prados for his delegation. However, it has been reported that the crown prince will not use any of the Pakistani vehicles but instead will use his own, which along with his other belongings were to be shipped to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia.

It is reported that around 80 containers will be brought in from the kingdom for the prince’s use. One wonders, as the prince will not be using any of the Pakistani vehicles, why taxpayers’ money has been spent on booking almost 300 luxurious sport-utility vehicles. How is it that Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, who were always critical of the lavish spending of previous governments and criticized the perks given to the foreign guests, have made this U-turn?

The twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi will be completely cordoned off during MBS’s stay in the name of security and the world will see Pakistan, a country whose economy is in turmoil, spending lavishly on a flypast for the crown prince using JF-17 warplanes, and giving him a reception with thousands of guards. This will send the message to the world that when it comes to hospitality, especially for someone who is helping us financially, we Pakistanis can waste hundreds of thousands of dollars in the name of security and honor.

One wonders what happened to Prime Minister Khan’s austerity drive, which was focused on saving each and every single penny of the taxpayers, with even the buffaloes of Prime Minister House sold as an unnecessary luxury. It is hoped that Khan and his cabinet members will prove us wrong by announcing that the luxurious SUVs and the other expenses will be paid out of their own pockets and the PTI’s party funds. If so, then we have no right to criticize them, but if the expenses will be paid from the national exchequer, then it will raise further questions as to why the PTI is wasting taxpayers’ money on things that do not matter at all.

For sure, MBS will not be impressed by the number of Prados nor will he be interested in aerial shows. He is coming here for business, using Saudi aid as a tool for not only taking a driving seat in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project but also winning the country’s support for the Saudis’ proxy battles such as the conflict in Yemen.

One wonders when the PTI-led government will realize that acquiring loans and bailout packages from the Saudi monarchs and the US in the past has not proved beneficial for us, as in return we always paid a heavy price, sometimes fighting their proxy battles and on many occasions giving birth to extremism on our own soil. This has earned us the title of a state that is available for rent to do anything if dollars or riyals are provided. It seems we have not learned from our past mistakes, and we will do anything to rely solely on the money provided by friendly countries instead of creating the opportunities to sustain ourselves.

MBS is a guest and we enjoy cordial relations with Saudi Arabia, but instead of trying to impress the prince with the luxury cars and cultural shows, the government should focus on how to persuade him to provide more investment packages, rather than the announcement of the opening of an oil refinery in Gwadar and other deferred-payment schemes. After all, MBS and his kingdom are only looking to become stakeholders in CPEC and to have an eye on Iran through their presence in Gwadar.

Pakistan cannot afford again to become a proxy battlefield for Arab states, as it has already paid a huge price in the shape of extremism and a wave of terror in its own territory. This doctrine is not taking Pakistan any further, but instead is making it heavily dependent on the oil-rich Middle East, the price of which will be paid by the generations to come.

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