Pakistanis question 'austerity drive' as government hires 300 luxury cars for two-day MbS visit

Pakistanis question 'austerity drive' as government hires 300 luxury cars for two-day MbS visit
3 min read
15 February, 2019
Preparations are underway for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's two-day visit to Pakistan starting Sunday. The Pakistani government has reportedly hired 300 luxury cars for the visit.
Khan was one of few foreign leaders to visit Riyadh following the Khashoggi murder [PakistanToday]

Pakistanis are questioning their government's "austerity drive" after it was revealed it hired 300 luxury vehicles for a luxurious two-day visit by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The crown prince widely known as MbS, will travel to Pakistan on Sunday as part of a five-country trip to Asia.

The Saudi visit has caused a stir in Pakistan, with Pakistanis questioning just how much Prime Minister Imran Khan has shelled out for the crown prince’s comfort.

Khan was one of the few world leaders to visit Riyadh for an October 2018 investment conference following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. He returned to Pakistan with $6 billion dollars in loans and deferred oil payments.

The Pakistani government booked 300 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado cars for the visit, reported the Express Tribune.

"This government is honestly a cruel joke," tweeted the leader of the left-wing opposition Pakistan People’s Party Nafisa Shah, questioning the reality of Khan’s "austerity drive" in the country. Under that drive, Khan has auctioned off luxury cars owned by the government and refused to live in the official prime ministerial residence.

"When you try to impress a rich "friend" by trying to be something you are not it often doesn’t end well," Pakistani lawyer and writer Ayesha Ijaz Khan tweeted.

The visit could be a potentially lucrative one for Pakistan, as the country will reportedly sign a memoranda of understanding for a $3 billion dollar deal with Saudi Arabia for an oil refinery in Gwadar, in addition to other investment deals in minerals and renewable energy. Gwadar is a port of growing importance given its place in China's One Belt, One Road policy.

Razak Dawood, the Pakistani Prime Minister's adviser on Commerce and Investment, said Pakistan could see $10 to $12 billion dollars of investment in the "medium term", while Saudi-owned Arab News reported $15 million dollars of deals could be signed.

"This is going to be one of the biggest-ever Saudi investments in Pakistan," a Pakistani finance ministry official told AFP on Sunday.

While the Saudi Embassy says it will pay for most expenses for the visit, including hotels and the vehicles, Pakistan will have to cover the crown prince’s security costs.

MbS himself will not travel in one of the Prados. A reported 80 containers, containing the crown prince's luggage, food and other items, will be shipped to Islamabad for use by MbS and his 1,100-strong entourage. His personal vehicles will arrive on a chartered flight on Friday.

The crown prince will be accompanied by 130 royal guards. A 235-strong delegation from the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, founded by Saudi Arabia and headed by Pakistan's former army chief General Raheel Sharif, is already in the country to prepare security arrangements for the visit.

Mobile phone service was suspended in areas of Islamabad and Rawalpindi in order to set up checkpoints for the visit, Dunya News reported. Training and drone flights would also be prohibited during MbS's stay.

The crown prince will also travel to China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.