PM Imran set to visit Saudi Arabia next month

Arrangements of the visit to the kingdom are being finalised


Kamran Yousaf April 29, 2021

ISLAMABAD:

Prime Minister Imran Khan will visit Saudi Arabia early next month in a crucial trip that suggests a thaw in ties between the two countries which were marred by differences on certain regional issues.

"I can confirm that Prime Minister Imran Khan will be undertaking an official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the invitation of Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman, early next month. Further details of the visit will be shared in due course," the Foreign Office spokesperson told reporters here on Thursday at the weekly briefing.

Although, Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri did not share his exact itinerary, but official sources confirmed that the prime minister would visit Saudi Arabia on May 7. He is likely to be accompanied by senior military leadership.

The visit comes against the backdrop of quiet efforts by the two sides to remove hiccups in ties. The hectic behind-the-scene efforts finally led to a telephonic conversation between Premier Imran and Saudi Crown Prince Mphammed bin Salman in March. This was the first contact between the two leaders in 15 months.

Prior to the telephonic conversation, the foreign ministers of the two countries also spoke to lay the ground for the PM’s visit.

Also read Saudi Arabia likely to resume oil supply on deferred payment

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have enjoyed longstanding strategic relationship. But relationship in recent years met with certain roadblocks. The first real test of their ties came in 2015 when Pakistan refused to send troops to join the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. The relationship returned to some normalcy after Pakistan joined the Saudi-led Islamic military alliance against terrorism and sent former army chief General (retd) Raheel Sharif to head the group.

When PM Imran took charge in August 2018, Saudi Arabia extended $6 billion financial package to Pakistan to shore up its depleting foreign reserves.

However, ties between the two countries suffered another blow after Pakistan first decided to attend a conference of Saudi Arabia's rivals in Kuala Lampur. Islamabad had to withdraw from the summit after Riyadh warned of serious consequences.

Pakistan skipped the Kuala Lampur summit after Saudi Arabia assured that it would convene the OIC meeting on Kashmir. However, that proposal never saw light at the end of tunnel, compelling Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to publically criticise Saudi Arabia.

The relationship became so tense that Pakistan had to return $2 billion to Saudi Arabia. It was rare that Saudi Arabia asked for the return of loan as on previous occasions, Riyadh had either rolled over the loan or converted it into a grant.

But the change of government in Washington appears to have also led to rethink the Saudi strategy.

The Biden administration has not only withdrawn US support to Yemen war but also said Washington would not turn a blind eye towards the alleged human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

The new US government's intention to revive the nuclear deal also pushed Saudi Arabia to revisit its strategy.

Against the backdrop of these developments, Saudi Crown Prince MBS in an interview said his country wanted to have "good and special" relationship with Iran.

Pakistan immediately welcomed the statement by the de facto Saudi ruler.

"We welcome Saudi Arabia’s initiative for peace with Iran," the spokesperson said.

He said Pakistan enjoys good brotherly relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia.

"Pakistan has always stressed the imperative of avoiding any conflict, underscored the importance of defusing tensions and stressed the need for resolution of differences and disputes through political and diplomatic means."

"We believe that the peace initiative announced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will lead to unity among the Muslim world," the spokesperson added.

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