Banking on foreign aid

Ali Asseri, Saudi Ambassador to Islamabad explains how his country has tried to help with aid and relief.

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By  Massoud A. Derhally Published  May 7, 2006

|~||~||~|Ali Asseri, Saudi Ambassador to Islamabad explains how his country has tried to help with aid and relief. Q. What was the level of support that Saudi Arabia? A. I would say it has been unlimited support. At the official level the King announced 500 million SR and in Ramadan there was a national telethon and a big amount was donated to the Pakistani people. The Saudi Red Crescent, with a team of doctors from the National Guard, from the ministry of health they came immediately. We have a state of the art field hospital in Mensehra, which has been operating ever since the earthquake took place. It’s a sustainable process that will continue. It is unlimited support. We will continue to do whatever we can to help the people of Pakistan to alleviate their suffering and agony. Q. There have been several high level visits from the Kingdom to Pakistan by King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan. Why is Pakistan so important to Saudi Arabia? A. Ever since Pakistan took its independence, it had a unique relationship with King AbdulAziz based on our faith to be honest. If you look at the volume of trade and economic interaction it doesn’t go up to our political [level]. There is love and affection that really binds both nations. That comes religiously and also the similarity in culture and customs. We have almost 1 million Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia and we issue more than 500,000 visas every year for Pakistanis to go to Saudi Arabia. What we hope to do is translate that love and affection to investment and trade and I think we are able to do this. We have a few Saudi companies that are interested in Pakistan. Q. Do you think the Saudis can have political influence in Kashmir? A. Let me be very clear. Our presence in Kashmir is purely humanitarian and simply the help that the people of Saudi Arabia and the leadership want to provide to alleviate the suffering of the people who are going through difficult times in the earthquake area. With regards to the Kashmiri issue we believe this is an internal problem and our policy is we do not interfere in internal matters. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to see this tension eliminated. We encourage very much the existing comprehensive dialogue between Pakistan and India and we hope it would lead to resolving all problems including the Kashmiri issue. We are in favour of seeing the Kashmiri issue resolved peacefully. Q. Would Saudi Arabia be interested in a pro-active role? A. Saudi Arabia would encourage it but its up to the Indians and the Pakistanis to work it out. This is a problem that has been there for a long time. We are in favour of what is happening now to see them solving their problems in a peaceful manner. Q. How has the Saudi-Pakistani relationship changed as a result of 9/11? A. It has become stronger because we are facing the same problem in regard to terrorism. We have found out that we have a common enemy, that we have a deviant thinking in our societies. In fact the relationship has become stronger. There is more coordination. When the King came here we signed five agreements that are being translated into action. Q. Are there fewer Saudis today in Afghanistan and Pakistan after 9/11? A. Definitely. Even now when Saudis come here they require a visa, they have to have a reason to be here because we are very concerned by the brainwashing and indoctrination because that’s what happened in the past. We cannot deny that there was no problem. There was a problem. We have to take preventive precautions to not let that happen again. If you want to come to Pakistan as a medical student, you are very welcome [but] there is a procedure. You follow it. We have almost 500 Saudi students in Pakistan studying medicine and engineering. There are restrictions. Before you did not need a visa. Today you need a visa. Q. Does your relationship with Pakistan extend beyond economic and political interests, for instance does it include military? A. We have a very good and long military cooperation. We have a lot of students that come to military colleges here. We have bought 24 planes. We have exercises with the navy every two years for the last 8 years. There is good military cooperation and it is sustainable. Q. What about military cooperation along the lines of technology? A. Anything that Pakistan can provide Saudi Arabia we would go for. Number one its cheaper, two its easy to maintain, three we have a lot of cooperation so technicians and people that are needed are a couple of hours away from us. ||**||

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