Pakistani PM due in Saudi Arabia to enhance relations

Pakistani PM Imran Khan due in Saudi Arabia to boost strained relations
2 min read
Pakistani PM Imran Khan is due to meet Saudi leaders in the Red Sea city of Jeddah during a three-day visit.
PM Khan's visit comes after months of strained relations [Drew Angerer/Getty-file photo]
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is due in Saudi Arabia Friday for a visit aimed at enhancing ties after months of strained relations over the disputed region of Kashmir

Saudi Arabia was the first foreign country Khan visited after his election in 2018 and he has visited the kingdom five times since, most recently in December 2019. 

But Saudi Arabia appeared frustrated with Pakistan last year after it came under pressure from its longstanding ally to take a firm stand on the Kashmir dispute with India. 

Khan is due to meet Saudi leaders in the Red Sea city of Jeddah (west) during his three-day visit, which Islamabad said was at the invitation of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

Saudi Arabia has supported Pakistan with billions of dollars in aid and loans in recent years.

Read more: What's fuelling anti-France protests in Pakistan?

But observers say the Kingdom is also keen not to upset India, a key business partner and importer of Saudi oil. 

In a sharply worded statement in August, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi called on the Saudi-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to convene a high-level meeting on Kashmir. 

The call raised eyebrows in Riyadh, where it was widely seen as a warning that Pakistan was preparing to call for a session outside OIC auspices. 

Saudi Arabia prides itself on being the guardian of Islam's holiest sites and is particularly sensitive about any move that might undermine its leadership of the 57-member pan-Islamic body. 

The kingdom recalled $1 billion of a $3 billion loan to cash-strapped Pakistan, and an expired multi-billion-dollar oil credit facility to Islamabad has not been renewed, a diplomatic source told AFP in September. 

Prior to that, Pakistan rebuffed calls to send ground troops to support the troubled Saudi-led military campaign against Yemen's Houthi rebels. 

Ahead of Khan's arrival, Pakistan's army chief General Qamer Javed Bajwa met in Jeddah with Saudi leaders. 

The two sides "discussed ways to enhance joint cooperation to maintain security and stability," Saudi state media reported. 

The Pakistani premier's visit is expected to focus on the needs of the 2.5 million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia and on enhancing economic ties with the biggest Arab economy. 

"I look forward to my visit to Saudi Arabia and hope my interaction with the Saudi leadership will further strengthen our bilateral relations and will open further avenues for building a strong economic partnership," Khan wrote in the Saudi daily Arab News.

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