Saudi crown prince likely to visit Pakistan in March

PM Khan’s upcoming Russia visit of great significance: Chinese Scholar

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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 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. Further adding to this, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s upcoming official visit to Russia is historic and of great strategic significance, Cheng Xizhong, Visiting Professor of Southwest University of Political Science and Law and Senior Fellow of the Charhar Institute said on Sunday.
“It is particularly noteworthy that with a gap of 23 years, Russia has invited the Pakistani leader to visit Moscow, which reflected PM Imran Khan’s high-stature and leadership qualities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has great respect to PM Imran Khan and now the voice of Pakistani leader is always acknowledged at the world level whether it is on regional or international issues, which enhances the dignity of Pakistani people and nation”, he said in a statement issued here. Prof Cheng expounded in his analysis that the strategic significance of this visit is mainly reflected in the following three aspects: First, Pakistan’s international status has risen significantly, and the great personal charisma of PM Imran Khan has been highly recognized by the international community. In recent years, Pakistan’s diplomacy, focusing on geo-economic strategy, has been very vigorous and successful with commitment to balanced relations among major powers in the world. Second, Russia and India have had close relations for decades, and Russia has always been the main source of weaponry for the Indian army. As India approaches the United States, Russia increasingly attaches importance to developing cooperation with Pakistan in all fields, including defense and security.

This is conducive to the balance of power in the South Asian subcontinent. Third, in the new era, the relationship between China and Russia is “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership” and the relationship between China and Pakistan is “all-weather strategic cooperative partnership”. Therefore, the development of comprehensive cooperative relations between Pakistan and Russia is of global significance and conducive to world peace. The development of mutually beneficial cooperative relations among Pakistan, China and Russia is conducive to curbing the disturbance of external force and of the regional power on regional peace and stability, he concluded.

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