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Saudi Crown Prince accorded rousing reception

February 18, 2019


PRIME Minister Imran Khan drives Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the PM House from Nur Khan Air Base on Sunday.—White Star
PRIME Minister Imran Khan drives Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the PM House from Nur Khan Air Base on Sunday.—White Star

• MoUs worth $20bn signed
• PM speaks about prisoners’ misery, immigration facility for Haj pilgrims
• 21-gun salute for royal guest
• Highest civil award for Prince Mohammad

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman arrived here on Sunday on his first official visit to Pakistan as the heir to the throne amid high security.

Seven memorandums of understanding (MoUs) envisaging over $20 billion of Saudi investment were signed between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in different fields at a ceremony soon after his arrival in the federal capital.

The issues of immigration clearance of Haj pilgrims, over 2.5 million overseas Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia and over 3,000 Pakistani prisoners in Saudi jails were also discussed and the crown prince assured Prime Minister Imran Khan, during a reception at PM House, that he would do his best to address these problems.

Prime Minister Khan held a one-on-one meeting with Prince Mohammad followed by the inaugural session of the Supreme Coordination Council (SCC), a body to boost bilateral cooperation in different fields. The meeting was co-chaired by the prime minister and the crown prince. Later, a reception was hosted in the honour of the crown prince at PM House.

According to the Foreign Office, Pakistan’s highest civil award, Nishan-i-Pakistan, will be conferred on the crown prince at an investiture ceremony at the Presidency on Monday.

Earlier, PM Khan clad in black Shalwar Kameez and black coat received the crown prince at Nur Khan Air Base, where the royal guest was given warm welcome with 21-gun salute. Members of the federal cabinet and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa were present on the occasion.

Prime Minister Khan drove the crown prince from the air base to Prime Minister House with the prince sitting on the front seat of the car. The entire route from the air base to the PM House was decorated and cultural troupes were present all along the route to welcome the prince.

During the reception, the crown prince said Saudi Arabia in the first phase had signed over $20 billion MoUs and discussed different matters of common interests, including trade and tourism, with Pakistan.

Referring to the prime minister’s speech in which he had disclosed that on their way to the PM House the crown prince had told him about his plan to increase the number of tourists in Saudi Arabia from 80 million to 100m, Prince Mohammad said they were not planning to announce the number but since Mr Khan had disclosed it so they were now committed to achieving the target of 100m tourists.

Lauding Prime Minister Khan’s leadership, he said: “We were waiting for this kind of leadership to partner with and do lot of things together.”

“Pakistan (is) facing great future today and with the great leadership. Last year in 2018, Pakistan’s GDP grew by five per cent. We believe that Pakistan can be very very important country in the coming future and you are to be assured that we will be a part of it,” the crown prince said in his brief and extempore speech at the reception.

He said Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would cooperate with each other for improving tourism in the two countries.

“We will be creating amazing and great future for Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the region. We believe in our region and that’s why we are investing in it. And we believe that one day we will have great Middle East, surrounded by Pakistan from the east,” he said.

Calling himself an ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia, the crown prince assured the prime minister that he would do his best to address the problems confronting Pakistanis living in his country. “We cannot say no to Pakistan. I will do whatever I can do for them,” he said in response to the “special request” made by the prime minister to look into the issue of the 3,000 Pakistani prisoners in Saudi jails.

Earlier, the PM while welcoming the crown prince and his delegation said: “Saudi kingdom has always been a friend in need to Pakistan.”

Addressing the crown prince, he said: “I want to thank you for the way you helped us when we were in a bad situation. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are 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.

Mr Khan also invited Riyadh to avail opportunities in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Pakistan’s close relations 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 a country with the biggest GDP,” he added.

The prime minister said due to security concerns people were not allowed to welcome him [the prince], otherwise the streets would have filled with the people who wanted to welcome him. “If it had not been for security concerns, you would have seen thousands and thousands of people on the streets welcoming you,” he told the prince.

In his concluding remarks, the prime minister asked the crown prince to allow immigration clearance of Pakistani Haj pilgrims in home country and requested him to take care of over 2.5m Pakistanis living in the kingdom.

During a meeting of the two sides’ delegations at PM House, seven MoUs envisaging over $20 billion of Saudi investment were signed in the fields of oil refinery, petro-chemicals, quality control, power generation, renewable energy and mineral resources.

The setting up of a high-powered Supreme Coordination Council (SCC) was announced during the meeting. The SCC includes the ministers of foreign affairs, defence, defence production, finance, energy, petroleum, water resources, information, culture, interior, commerce, trade and investment and human resources of both countries. The council will cover areas under three pillars — political and security, economic, social and culture.

Under the SCC, 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 SCC will meet annually, in Riyadh and Islamabad, alternately.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman witness the signing of an MoU on Sunday.—White Star
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman witness the signing of an MoU on Sunday.—White Star

Prince’s arrival

Earlier on the crown prince’s arrival at Noor Khan Air Base, cultural troupes and schoolchildren welcomed him. Two children presented bouquets to the prince.

After a brief meeting between the Saudi delegation led by the prince and Pakistani side at the airbase, the crown prince was taken to PM House at 8:30pm.

At PM House, which was decorated with colourful lights, a welcome ceremony was held in which national anthems of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were played and a tri-services guard of honour was presented to the crown prince. The prime minister and the crown prince introduced members of their delegations to each other. Helicopters continued to hover on the federal capital to ensure foolproof security.

The crown prince planted a sapling of pine tree on the lawns of PM House.

Earlier, when the special aircraft of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman entered Pakistan’s airspace at about 6pm a formation of JF-17 Thunder jets and F-16 jets escorted it. The crown prince landed at the airbase at 7:53 pm.

Islamabad describes Prince Mohammad’s first state visit to Pakistan, since becoming the heir to the throne in 2017, as a “historic one” and hopes that the two-day visit will not only cement bilateral ties but also help stabilise crippling economy of Pakistan.

Not only the government but the opposition has also hailed the visit of the crown prince as Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari have welcomed the crown prince in their statement issued on the eve of his visit.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2019