Saudi crown prince likely to visit Pakistan in March
Pakistan is keen Prince Mohammad bin Salman attends the Pakistan Day parade as guest of honour, say sources
February 20, 2022
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are in talks to finalise the dates for the much-awaited visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to Islamabad likely to take place in March, official sources told The Express Tribune on Sunday.
Pakistan, sources added, is keen that the Saudi crown prince attends the Pakistan Day parade as a guest of honour on March 23.
Sources said that the two sides were in touch with each other and barring an exception, it is likely the Saudi de facto ruler will visit Pakistan which would be his second visit in three years.
The last time he travelled to Pakistan was in February 2019 just days after the Pulwama attack in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) that brought the two nuclear-armed neighbours to the brink of war.
At the time, Prime Minister Imran Khan drove him to his office from the airport suggesting close bonhomie between the two leaders. Saudi Arabia had extended the financial bailout package to Pakistan after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) formed the government in August 2018 in order to help it deal with the depleting foreign exchange reserves.
But a few months later, the relationship between the two countries hit an unusual roadblock after PM Imran joined the Turkish President and the Malaysian Prime Minister at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in September 2019.
What led to the further strain in ties was the premier’s decision to attend the Kuala Lumpur summit. Saudi saw the move by then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad as an effort to set up a parallel Islamic bloc to counter the Riyadh led Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Pakistan eventually pulled out of the summit but the damage had already been done.
At one point, the ties were so strained that Pakistan had to return Saudi loan before time, a rare instance in the Pak-Saudi ties. Riyadh had extended financial help to Pakistan in the past but never asked Islamabad to return the money as it either rolled over the facility or converted it into a grant.
But President Joe Biden's victory brought Pakistan and Saudi Arabia once again together as the new US President, unlike Donald Trump, maintained a distance from the Saudi Crown Prince. It also withdrew arm support for the war in Yemen. Biden hasn't yet spoken to either Saudi Crown Prince or PM Imran.
The ice between the two countries finally melted when the prime minister visited Saudi Arabia in October last year. That visit led to another Saudi bailout package to the tune of $4.2 billion, $3 billion in cash support while the remaining oil facility was on deferred payment.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia also cooperated to arrange an extraordinary meeting of the OIC Foreign Ministers on Afghanistan in Islamabad. The conference led to the establishment of Trust Fund under the banner of the Islamic Development Bank to help the people of Afghanistan in view of the grave humanitarian situation.
Pakistan is also set to host the regular conference of OIC Foreign Ministers on March 22. It is expected that foreign ministers of OIC would also be invited to witness the Pakistan Day parade.
Pakistan, sources added, is keen that Prince Mohammad bin Salman attends the Pakistan Day parade as a guest of honour on March 23