The $6 billion bailout package that Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan last week is a masterful oddball. This isn’t only because it isn’t every day that a state gets to financially benefit from a journalist’s murder that someone else has committed. And persecuting journalists is one thing Pakistan is completely self-sufficient in, and would not require any foreign aid for.

If you had to come up with six billion American dollars, with as little as what six billion US dollars would usually represent, there wouldn’t be too better manifestations than the $6 billion that Pakistan has managed to get. For instance, average Joe six billion dollars would have the purchasing power of $6 billion; the ones that Pakistan has brought back home have a collective purchasing power of zero dollars.

The bailout is a unique combination of financial décor and delay, which serves Pakistan on such a temporary basis that it could henceforth be used as the smallest spacetime unit in quantum mechanics. And if the Saudi bailout was the geopolitical manifestation of one Planck length, Islamabad is looking for a few more of those, especially in the UAE and China.

Even so, for such an eccentric payment mechanism that traverses all kinds of dimensions in our multiverse, the cost of these six billion dollars appears to be customary – almost mundane, if not dogmatic. For, if the six billion dollars aren’t actually six billion dollars, the bailout package really isn’t just a bailout package.

So how much do these $6 billion cost for Pakistan, and what exactly is the payment mode?

First and foremost should be the continuation of what Pakistan is already paying. That is religiously standing with Saudi Arabia, while Riyadh continues to exhibit paranoia with regards to the Shia Crescent that could engulf it from all sides. For instance, previous ‘gifts’, ‘aids’, ‘loans’, ‘bailouts’ and other such misnomers have required Pakistan to fight proxy wars around the kingdom, most notably in Syria and Bahrain.

Pakistan’s spearheading of the Islamic Military Coalition is of course a part of the many loans that Islamabad has mustered over the years. And despite Parliamentary resolutions against involvement in Yemen, Pakistan’s military presence along the Saudi-Yemen border – even if it’s as part of the agreement to safeguard Saudi territory – means that Islamabad is complicit in whatever Riyadh is doing in the region, from the good to the bad and the very ugly.

Furthermore, what appears to be the case is the fact that the payment mode and instalments consist almost entirely of diplomatic transactions. After all, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s presence – and address – in the Future Investment Initiative, with loud proclamations on how ‘desperate’ he is for Saudi money, carried diplomatic currency following Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

While Pakistan has historically had to alienate Iran in a bit to appease Saudi Arabia – and indeed, the US – the latest cost that Pakistan might have to pay is a standoff with Turkey.

The PTI led government does not seem to be particularly interested in maintaining the strength in ties with Turkey that were bolstered under the previous government. And if they feel alienation of Turkey is perfectly fine because it is a ‘PML-N ally’ then they would take political pettiness to a level that even they are yet to touch.

Geostrategic payments could come in the shape of proximity to Balochistan, where China already has a commanding presence owing to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Of course, if Saudi Arabia gets access to Balochistan, it would be right next door to Iran, encircling a crescent of its own around its arch-rival.

Also, the Saudis have already told Prime Minister Imran Khan that they want vocal support for the Islamic Military Coalition, which quite clearly has more than just a sectarian tinge. So if we see Islamabad backing off from its repeated – albeit artificial – stance of neutrality in the Middle East and desire to play mediators, we should also hear the ka-ching sound that it accompanies.

 

The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.