Saudi crown prince’s Pakistan visit on track despite political upheaval

Despite political uncertainty, the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is on track as the Saudi de facto ruler is likely to travel to Islamabad in the third week of this month.

Official sources said both sides were busy in preparing for the visit of MBS, who is now also the Saudi prime minister. Although the Foreign Office is tight-lipped, the tentative date of the visit is November 21.

Earlier the visit was in doubt because of the long march of former prime minister Imran Khan. The PTI chairman has now called off the long march and would resume his protest once he fully recovers from his injuries.

Officials are hoping that the situation would remain under control and there would be no upheaval at the time of the visit.

Also read: PTI’s long march puts MBS visit in doubt

The government of Prime Minister Shebhaz Sharif, which is facing multiple economic challenges, is keen to ensure the visit takes place as the Saudi crown prince is expected to announce another financial bailout package for Pakistan.

Riyadh has already rolled over $3 billion dollar loan that Pakistan had to pay later this year.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia sought additional $4.2 billion financial bailout package. He told reporters on Friday that Saudi Arabia had given a positive response to his request.

China during the visit of Prime Minister Shebhaz Sharif also agreed to roll over $7.3 billion loan with a commitment to provide additional $1.5 billion assistance.

If Saudi Arabia and China’s pledges are materialised this would help Pakistan avert any immediate threat of default and would also strengthen the rupee against the dollar.

The MBS visit is seen as crucial as government is expecting some financial bailout package as well as revival of certain projects that were shelved during the PTI government.

The visit of MBS is being planned at a time when the coalition government led by Shehbaz is facing daunting economic challenges and when Saudi Arabia is involved in a diplomatic row with the US over the recent cut in oil supplies by major exporting countries.

Pakistan in a surprise and significant move took a public stance on the US-Saudi row and backed Riyadh’s position.

The statement in favour of Saudi Arabia at this juncture may help Pakistan get the much needed financial support from Riyadh.

The US has been furious over the OPEC+ move to cut oil supplies by two million barrels a day despite request by President Joe Biden to the contrary.

Biden warned that Saudi Arabia will have to face consequences of the decision and that his administration would revisit the 80-year long bilateral relationship with the Arab country.

Also read: Riyadh renews $10b refinery project

Against this backdrop, the visit of Saudi crown prince would be closely watched. Sources said the government was keen to revive the multibillion dollar investment plan that Saudi Arabia had agreed to do in Pakistan when MBS visited Islamabad in February 2019.

As part of the plan, Saudi Arabia was to set up oil refinery in Gwadar with an investment of $10 billion. However, the project could not take off due to variety of reasons including former prime minister Imran Khan’s certain policy moves that angered the Saudi leadership.

But now Saudi Arabia is willing to revive the project. Pakistan is pushing Saudi Arabia and China for tripartite agreement for the oil refinery. It is said that China would provide the necessary financing while Chinese companies would undertake the project.

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