Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Sunday expressed optimism about the economic future of Pakistan, saying his country had been waiting for a leadership like that of Prime Minister Imran Khan to partner with Islamabad in various areas.
Addressing a reception dinner at Prime Minister House hours after arriving in Pakistan, the crown prince — known as MBS for short — said Pakistan is a "dear country" to all Saudis and that the two countries "have walked together in tough and good times".
He said Pakistan today had a great future in store "with a great leadership", and noted that the country's GDP grew by 5 per cent in 2018.
"We believe that Pakistan is going to be a very, very important country in the coming future and we want to be sure we are part of that," the crown prince said.
Turning towards Prime Minister Khan, he said his country had been "waiting for that kind of a leadership" to partner with and "build a lot of things together".
He noted that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan today signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) for investment cooperation.
"We believe the amount of that kind of investment is US $20 billion," MBS said. "It's big, for phase one."
He expressed the hope that the investment will grow to bigger numbers in the coming years and be beneficial for both the countries.
The Saudi royal said his country would collaborate with Pakistan economically, politically and in terms of security. "We believe in our region, that is why we are investing in it," he added.
"This is my first trip [to the] east since I became the crown prince and the first country [that I have visited] is Pakistan," the Saudi royal concluded.
Saudi Arabia a 'friend in need': PM
Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech welcomed the Saudi crown prince and his delegation to the country, saying the Kingdom has always been a "friend in need" to Pakistan.
"For Pakistanis, this is a great day," the premier said, adding that Saudi Arabia had always been there when Pakistan needed friends.
"I want to thank you for the way you helped us when we were in [a] bad situation," Khan told MBS, adding that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were now taking their relationship to a new level, where investment agreements would be mutually beneficial for the countries.
The investment would revolve around minerals, tourism, petrochemicals, agriculture, food processing and other areas, he said.
Prime Minister Khan also invited Riyadh to avail opportunities that can arise from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Pakistan's close links with Beijing. "It is an exciting future where we have Saudi Arabia participating in what is going to be, in the next 10 years, probably the country with the biggest GDP," he added.
Khan told MBS that if it hadn't been for security concerns, "you would have seen thousands and thousands of people on the streets welcoming you."
The prime minister's speech preceded the address of the Saudi crown prince, but once MBS finished, Khan rose again to speak about two issues.
One, he requested MBS to allow Pakistani Haj pilgrims to undergo immigration at the three major Pakistani airports before leaving for Saudi Arabia for their convenience.
Secondly, Prime Minister Khan requested the Saudi authorities to look into the hardships of the Pakistani labourers working in the Kingdom.
"There are some 3,000 [Pakistani] prisoners there and we just would like you to bear in mind that they are poor people who have left their families behind," Khan said.
Terming it a "special request", the premier asked MBS to "look upon them [Pakistani labourers] as your own people".
In response, MBS told Prime Minister Khan he could consider him the ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia.
"We cannot say no to Pakistan ... whatever we can do, we will deliver that."
MoUs for bilateral cooperation signed
Prior to the dinner, Pakistani and Saudi officials signed MoUs for bilateral cooperation in a number of areas — a process overseen by Prime Minister Khan and MBS. The agreements signed include:
- Technical cooperation programme between the Saudi Standards, Metrology And Quality Organisation (SASO) and Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA)
- Cooperation agreement between Saudi and Pakistani governments in the field of sports
- Financing agreement for the import of Saudi goods between the Saudi Fund for Development and Pakistan
- Framework MoU regarding Saudi funds' participation in the financing of power generation projects between the Saudi Fund for Development and Pakistan
- MoU between the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to explore investment opportunities in refining and petrochemical sectors
- MoU between the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the field of mineral resource sector
- MoU between the government of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on the development of renewable energy projects
Prime Minister Khan also held a one-on-one meeting with the Saudi crown prince at PM House. It was followed by the inaugural session of the Saudi-Pak Supreme Coordination Council.
Co-chaired by Khan and MBS, the council was formed to put in place a high-level institutional mechanism to fast-track decisions in key areas of bilateral cooperation, and for close monitoring of their implementation, a press release issued by the Prime Minister's Office said.
The council which was originally proposed by MBS will cover areas under three pillars: political and security, economic, social and culture.
Under the council, a steering committee and joint working groups have been set up at ministerial and senior officials levels to develop frameworks of cooperation in specific projects and submit recommendations to the respective ministers.
The functioning of the body will be coordinated by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the two countries. The Supreme Coordination Council will meet annually in Riyadh and Islamabad, alternately.