SHAFAQNA- Suadi Arabia’s Bin Salman signed $20bn in investment deals with the South Asian country during two-day visit to Pakistan.
Bin Salman arrived in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, on Sunday, a day after he was originally scheduled to land. He was greeted by Prime Minister Imran Khan and given a red-carpet welcome.
Prime Minister Imran Khan received him at an airbase and personally driving him into the city.
The two leaders held rounds of delegation-level and one-on-one meetings, after which they presided over the signing of seven investment agreements worth $20bn in the sectors of oil, petrochemicals, power generation, alternative energy and sports, according to a Pakistani foreign office statement.
Following the talks, PM Khan requested MBS to personally intervene to aid 2.5 million Pakistanis residing in the Persian Gulf kingdom with any “hardships” they may have. Khan also asked for more than 3,000 Pakistani prisoners currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia to be released.
On Monday, Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced that the crown prince had ordered the “immediate release” of 2,107 Pakistani prisoners from Saudi jails.
In March 2018, a Human Rights Watch investigation, based on interviews with 12 Pakistanis held in Saudi Arabia and family members of other defendants, showed “widespread due process violations by the Saudi criminal justice system and Saudi courts”.
However, the primary focus during MBS’s visit has been on the investment deals that could see the construction of an oil refinery in the southern Pakistani port of Gwadar, the acquisition of two government-owned power plants by Saudi corporations, and alternative energy and mining projects.
The influx of foreign direct investment will be welcome for Pakistan, whose foreign reserves have dropped to $8.2bn, or enough for two months of imports, and where domestic investment has dried up amid tightening economic space.
The Saudi investment deals came at a key time when Pakistan struggles with a faltering economy, a looming balance of payments crisis and waning domestic growth.
On Monday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi assured the public that work on the projects would begin quickly and implementation would be constantly monitored.
“The council [on implementation] has been given timelines – it will not be haphazard in its work,” he told reporters in Islamabad, sitting alongside Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubair.
“It has been given times and told they need to implement action plans by a certain time.”
Al-Jubair asserted that the investments by Saudi Arabia were a vote of confidence in Pakistan’s long-term economic prospects.
“This is not charity, this is an investment,” he said. “There is benefit for both sides. If we did not believe in Pakistan, we would not be making this investment.”
During the joint press conference, al-Jubair responded to a question by speaking against Iran.
Pakistani state television muted the Saudi Minister of State’s audio halfway through his response against Iran, returning to the press conference when he had completed his answer.
Pakistan has friendly relations with Iran, and Foreign Minister Qureshi had just responded to the same question – on developments following an attack on an Iranian security convoy claimed by a Pakistan-based armed group – by saying he was in touch with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and the two countries were working together.
On the second day of his trip to Pakistan on Monday, Prince Mohammed (also known as MBS) met President Arif Alvi in the capital Islamabad, where he was awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan (Order of Pakistan) at a formal ceremony.
Earlier in the day, Prince Mohammad met army chief, and lauded professional capacities of the Pakistan armed forces. Both the leaders agreed on enhancing defence cooperation between the two countries, Tribun told.
MBS and his delegation will leave Islamabad on Monday, bound for India and China, where he will continue a diplomatic push as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 policy, a framework that would see the Persian Gulf kingdom diversify its investments and bilateral relationships worldwide beyond oil and petroleum agreements, ALJAZEERA reported.
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