Prime Minister Imran Khan will undertake a visit to Saudi Arabia after his telephonic conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman on Monday in a development that suggests easing of tensions between the two countries.
This was the first telephonic interaction between the prime minister and the de facto Saudi ruler in two months and comes against the backdrop of covert diplomatic efforts to remove apparent hiccups in the bilateral relations.
Ties between Riyadh and Islamabad apparently soured because of differences on certain regional issues. The tensions had compelled Pakistan to return $3 billion to Saudi Arabia despite facing the tough economic situation.
The $3 billion loan was part of the $6 billion financial bailout package Saudi Arabia had extended to Pakistan after Prime Minister Imran took charge. But now, the two sides appear to have overcome their differences leading to visit by Imran to the kingdom at the request of Saudi crown prince.
“The Crown Prince invited the Prime Minister to undertake a visit to Saudi Arabia in the near future. The Prime Minister graciously accepted the invitation,” said an official handout issued here by the Prime Minister Office.
The telephonic conversation came a day after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke to his Saudi counterpart, Prince Farhan bin Farhan al-Saud. Qureshi also had a telephonic conversation with the UAE foreign minister on Saturday.
The flurry of telephone calls appears to suggest that both the UAE and Saudi Arabia might be playing some role in seeking rapprochement between Pakistan and India. Qureshi as well as Indian External Affairs Minister are currently in Dushanbe to attend the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process Conference.
Qureshi told reporters on Monday in the Tajik capital that there was no planned meeting with the Indian foreign minister but diplomatic sources did not rule out the possibility of an encounter between the two on the side-lines of the regional moot on Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the official statement said the Crown Prince enquired about the prime minister’s health and wished him speedy recovery. The prime minister also enquired about the well-being of the crown prince since he had recently undergone a surgical procedure.
Imran lauded the transformational “Green Saudi Initiative” and the “Green Middle East initiative” recently announced by the crown prince. He also highlighted Pakistan’s “10 Billion Tree Tsunami” initiative, which is under way in the whole country, and its potential dividends to restore ecosystem and to combat climate change.
While highlighting the complementarities between both the countries’ environmental initiatives, the prime minister hoped for enhanced bilateral cooperation and knowledge-sharing in this field.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan conveyed warm wishes for the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz,” the statement said.
The prime minister reaffirmed Pakistan’s desire to further strengthen amiable and fraternal ties with Saudi Arabia and also reiterated Pakistan’s support for the kingdom’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The prime minister and the crown prince agreed to work together to further augment bilateral ties in all spheres. Both the leaders reaffirmed their resolve to further strengthening the strong, longstanding Pakistan-Saudi Arabia fraternal ties.