ISLAMABAD: The government on Saturday rolled out the red carpet for Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who arrived here on a three-day visit.

Prince Salman, who also holds the portfolios of deputy prime minister and defence minister, was received at the Nur Khan Airbase by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — a protocol reserved for heads of state and government having special relationship with Pakistan.

The prince was given a 21 guns’ salute and guard of honour.

Prince Salman opened his visit with a meeting with President Mamnoon Hussain, who also hosted a banquet in his honour.

Diplomatic observers have been paying special attention to the high-profile visit from Riyadh after the relationship remained in deep freeze for five years of previous government’s tenure.

The warming of ties has been driven by confluence of strategic interests of both countries. Disappointed with the United States for not having adequately addressed its regional interests and in view of the shifting regional balance, the kingdom has shifted its foreign policy focus to Asia. Pakistan, meanwhile, is looking for economic assistance to keep its struggling economy afloat.

The crown prince would afterwards also visit India and Japan.

While Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are expected to sign a number of agreements during the trip – ranging from trade to defence – diplomats said the highlights would be a security pact and an accord on prisoners’ transfer.

The security pact would provide for cooperation against organised crime and drug trafficking, whereas the prisoners’ exchange accord would allow for sentenced convicts to serve jail terms in their own countries.The crown prince is being accompanied by a delegation of over 300 senior officials and leading businessmen.

Analysts believe that the size and composition of the delegation is an indicator of Saudi seriousness in strengthening strategic ties that would be anchored in greater defence, security and economic cooperation.

President Hussain told Prince Salman that Pakistan is keen to “strengthen the comprehensive strategic cooperation and diversify the already existing close and cordial bilateral ties”.

Over the next two days, the crown prince would meet the prime minister, Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, Adviser to Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif.

On Sunday, a number of meetings are planned between businessmen of the two countries. The Board of Investment would present projects, some relating to infrastructure, seeking Saudi investment.

Mian Mehmood, the president of Pak-Saudi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, sounded optimistic about the Saudi investment. “In our business-to-business meetings we will get handsome joint ventures in food processing, housing, pharmaceutical and construction sectors,” he told Dawn.

Saudis seem particularly interested in making investment in the energy sector.In his meeting with Prince Salman, President Hussain said tremendous potential for bilateral trade and investment in various sectors, particularly energy, infrastructure, construction of dams, agriculture, livestock and social sector development, existed.

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