QUETTA, Pakistan—Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Pakistan last week and promptly pledged twice the amount of Saudi investment in infrastructure that observers had expected: $20 billion. Though it may not all be delivered, the promised money signaled the growing Saudi role in major infrastructure development in Pakistan.
Until last year, such projects were being funded prominently, and almost exclusively, by China. But last fall, soon after Prime Minister Imran Khan took office, Pakistan unexpectedly invited Saudi Arabia to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC—the big-ticket Pakistan component of China’s huge Belt and Road Initiative, which was previously only a bilateral arrangement between Islamabad and Beijing. Riyadh was happy to accept the invitation, as it wants to expand its economic influence in Pakistan by helping fund a slate of ambitious infrastructure projects, including a major oil refinery on the Arabian Sea.
CPEC, with a collection of infrastructure projects totaling $62 billion, aims to connect Xinjiang province in western China with the new Gwadar port in southern Pakistan. Cash-strapped Pakistan opened CPEC up to Saudi Arabia because it desperately wants a bailout package from Riyadh. China, for its part, has welcomed the Saudi investment.