The earliest migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the 1950s and 60s were from Pakistan, and the UAE’s flagship airline, Emirates, was trained by the state airline, Pakistan International Airlines.
In fact, the first flight Emirates took was from Dubai to Karachi in 1985.
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s three-time prime minister, has a special relationship with Saudi Arabia.
It was Saudis royals who brokered a deal for him in December 2000 when General Pervez Musharraf overthrew the Sharif government in a bloodless coup and took him along with 18 members of his family, where they stayed until November 2007.
The Saudi government also gave Sharif’s government a grant of $1.5bn in March 2014 to help meet debt-service obligations and undertake large development projects.
At the time, Ishaq Dar, Pakistan’s finance minister, termed the grant, “a gift”.
In more recent times, Sharif has relied heavily upon the testimony of Hamad bin Jasim bin Jaber Al Thani, former Qatari prime minister, as a part of his defence in an ongoing corruption investigation at the Supreme Court that could unseat him as prime minister.
General Raheel Shareef, former chief of army staff, was allowed by the Pakistani parliament and the Pakistan armed forces to head the 41-nation military alliance to fight “terrorism” in April 2017.
Saudi Arabia is home to more than 1.9 million Pakistanis, mostly unskilled workers, while the UAE hosts a further 1.2 million, according to government data.
Qatar, a much smaller country by comparison, hosts only 115,000 Pakistani citizens.
Those expatriate Pakistanis have a significant effect on their country’s economy, with foreign remittances playing an important role in bolstering Pakistan’s foreign-exchange reserves.
Analysts believe that any attempts to expel Pakistani workers or block remittances could have a major effect on Pakistan’s economy.
Saudi Arabia is at the top of the list of countries with $4.52bn in funds sent home by Pakistanis in the current fiscal year, according to Pakistan’s central bank.
The UAE comes in next at $3.47bn, with Qatar appearing much further down the list with only $304m in remittances.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also two of Pakistan’s major trading partners. The South Asian country has imported goods and services worth $5.84bn from the UAE in the current fiscal year, and a further $1.95bn from Saudi Arabia, according to the central bank.
It also sold exports worth $852m and $300m to those two countries respectively.
By comparison, Pakistan sold exports worth $42.6m to Qatar in the current fiscal year, while importing $864m worth of goods and services.
The bulk of those imports has been in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG), after Pakistan signed a landmark 15-year deal with Qatar in February 2016.