Saudi foreign minister to arrive on charm offensive

Prince Faisal to convey that Riyadh values its ‘long-term strategic partnership’ with Pakistan

Prince Faisal to convey that Riyadh values its ‘long-term strategic partnership’ with Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

The Saudi foreign minister is expected to pay a daylong visit to Islamabad on Thursday in what appears to be a damage control exercise in the wake of the Kuala Lumpur summit which Pakistan announced not to attend at the eleventh hour under what Turkish president termed Saudi threats.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had accepted Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s invitation to the summit which was held from Dec 18 to 21 to offer “an international platform for Muslim leaders, intellectuals and scholars…to discuss, exchange ideas about the issues revolving in the Muslim world.”

However, Pakistan suddenly pulled out of the moot after Prime Minister Imran’s visit to Riyadh.

A Turkish newspaper later quoted President Recep Tayyib Erdogan as saying that Pakistan was pressured to stay away from the moot in which leaders of Malaysia, Turkey, Iran and Qatar participated.

Erdogan had ‘unveiled’ that Saudi Arabia threatened Pakistan to withdraw its financial assistance as well as to expel millions of its workers if it attended the gathering of Muslim leaders in Malaysian capital.

Saudis pressure forced Pakistan to skip KL summit: Erdogan

Following the Turkish newspaper report, Pakistan’s foreign office issued a brief statement saying that Islamabad did not participate in the Kuala Lumpur summit because time and efforts were needed to address the concerns of major Muslim countries, regarding possible division in the Ummah.

Saudi Arabia however dismissed the claim as ‘baseless’ and insisted that its relationship with Pakistan is beyond the realm of threats. The Saudi Embassy in a statement had also clarified that Riyadh neither threatened nor stopped Islamabad from attending the KL summit.

Sources in the Foreign Office, nevertheless, conceded that Pakistan’s decision to stay away from the summit stemmed from the Saudi reservations. They said the PM had travelled to Riyadh to assure Saudi Arabia that Pakistan’s participation in the summit would not undermine Saudi interests.

However, the Saudis were not convinced as they viewed the gathering of key Muslim leaders as an attempt to create a new Islamic bloc.  Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had dismissed the assertions, insisting that the KL summit had nothing to do with raising a new bloc in the Muslim world.

PM Office ‘vetoed’ FO advice on Malaysia summit

Pakistan’s decision at the last minute to walk away from the summit discredited the country both internationally and domestically. What compounded the Pakistani problem was the public statement of the Turkish president which also put Saudi Arabia in a bad light.

Diplomatic sources said Saudi Arabia never wants to lose the public support it enjoys in Pakistan and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah is believed to be visiting Islamabad to dispel such an impression.

The Saudi Foreign Minister will meet Pakistan’s top civil and military leadership and convey a message that Riyadh values its ‘long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan,’ according to sources.

Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are the first countries, which extended financial bailout packages for the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to deal with the balance of payment crisis last year.

This fiscal support and presence of millions of Pakistanis in both countries, who send annual US$9 billion in remittances, are considered to be a decisive factor in Pakistan preferring Riyadh over the KL summit.

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