Ending Pakistan’s long wait, Saudi Crown Prince could visit Islamabad next week

Islamabad: Saudi Arabia Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), is likely to travel to Islamabad next week, a visit that has been long overdue and suffered last-minute cancellations in the past.

The last time the Saudi Crown Prince visited Pakistan was in February 2019 when the then Prime Minister Imran Khan personally drove him to the Prime Minister’s House.

Even though Islamabad has made arrangements and extended invitations to Prince Mohammad Bin Salman on multiple occasions after that, his proposed visits have been cancelled due to various unknown reasons.

Last year, the ruling government in Pakistan was left embarrassed when the Saudi Crown Prince travelled to India to attend the G20 Summit in New Delhi.

Islamabad tried hard to push for a brief stopover by MBS in Pakistan at that time but the efforts did not bear fruit, leaving the government in a spot of bother.

“When MBS was travelling to India for the G20 Summit, Pakistan’s Foreign Office and the Prime Minister’s office tried hard to have MBS land in Islamabad for a few hours before or after his return from India. It was only to show India that Saudi Arabia is a close friend of Pakistan. But that didn’t happen,” said senior political analyst Adnan Shaukat.

“Contrary to the wishes of Pakistan, which wants to send strong messages to its arch-rival India on its relations with major powers in the Gulf, the Arab states have maintained a certain balance with respect to their relations with both India and Pakistan,” he added.

Other reasons why Pakistan has struggled when it comes to turning scheduled visits of MBS to reality are the serious concerns of security and political instability.

“In late 2022, the Saudi Crown Prince was scheduled to visit Islamabad, but it had to be cancelled since the dates were close to the change of Army Command and also because of the ongoing protests and long marches by Imran Khan’s party,” said Shaukat.

“After that, new schedules for the visit could not be finalised because of the developing political uncertainty in the country, coupled with the general elections,” he added.

However, it seems that this time, the Shehbaz Sharif government has done its homework.

“Shehbaz Sharif visited Riyadh twice and met with MBS to extend his assurance and invitation. MBS also seems convinced and has agreed to travel to Islamabad on Sharif’s invitation. This will be the third meeting of rime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and MBS within a space of about five weeks,” Shaukat said.

Shehbaz Sharif also cancelled his visit to the OIC meeting and has stayed back to host and meet the Saudi business delegation, which is in Islamabad to seek business and investment opportunities.

MBS’ visit will also be significant in view of Iran President Ebrahim Raisi’s recent trip to Pakistan amid the ongoing tensions in South Asia.

Pakistan has opened up its doors to the Saudi business community and investors as it hopes to attract Saudi investments.

“The strategy to attract big Saudi investment in Pakistan is part of a civil-military-led initiative to pull the country out of its current economic turmoil. Pakistan is eyeing to materialise the first phase of $5 billion investments by Saudi Arabia,” said senior political analyst Kamran Yousaf.

Pakistan, under the new business framework of Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) spearheaded by Chief of Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir and the Shehbaz Sharif government, was able to impress the high-powered Saudi delegation headed by their Foreign Minister.

Pakistan has offered Saudi investors stakes in key sectors, which include mining, agriculture, minerals, and energy, etc.

Islamabad is hoping that the visit of high-level Saudi delegations would pave the way for bigger announcements during MBS’ visit.


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