• President Arif Alvi confers highest civil award on Saudi royal
• MBS meets PM Khan, army chief and parliamentarians
• Prince hopes Pakistan will be one of 20 biggest economies in world by 2030
• Imran says prisoners’ release decision makes the prince more popular than him in Pakistan
• In joint statement, both countries vow to continue combating extremism and terrorism
ISLAMABAD: The two-day historic visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) concluded on Monday with a significant announcement that over 2,100 Pakistani prisoners languishing in Saudi Arabia’s jails will be released soon.
The crown prince, who had arrived in Islamabad on Sunday night, spent a busy day, attending a reception at the President House where he was conferred the highest civil award Nishan-i-Pakistan by President Dr Arif Alvi and meeting Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and a delegation of parliamentarians.
Before leaving for the United Arab Emirates, the crown prince delivered a farewell speech with Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Nur Khan Air Base in Rawalpindi. He expressed the hope that Pakistan would have a bright future due to its leadership and people and it would emerge as one of 20 biggest economies in the world by 2030.
He called the $20 billion Saudi investment in Pakistan phase-I, saying it was the beginning of new cooperation between the two countries. Without giving any timeline, he declared that the second phase of investment would start at the conclusion of phase-I.
Praising Prime Minister Khan for his efforts to normalise relations with India, the crown prince said dialogue was the only way of resolving outstanding issues and ensuring peace and stability in the region.
Like at the time of arrival, the prime minister once again drove the crown prince in a rainy evening to the Nur Khan Air Base, from where the latter was seen off by a number of ministers and the army chief.
Before leaving the Prime Minister House for the President House, Mohammad bin Salman also had a brief meeting with PM Khan, who later accompanied the prince to the President House in a royal buggy.
After receiving the crown prince at the main gate, President Arif Alvi took him to the main banquet hall where a reception was hosted in his honour. The event was attended by Gen Bajwa, federal ministers, members of the Saudi delegation and senior bureaucrats.
President Alvi conferred Nishan-i-Pakistan on Mohammad bin Salman.
Speaking on the occasion, the president lauded Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and said both the kingdom and Pakistan were heading towards the same direction of eradicating corruption and maintaining peace in the region.
The president invited Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to visit Pakistan and asked the crown prince to tour the country’s northern areas. “You will definitely love and like them a lot,” he said to the prince.
Before boarding his special plane, the crown prince in his farewell comments said he had enjoyed his stay in Pakistan as if he was living in his own home and hoped that Pakistan would become one of the 20 biggest economies in the world by 2030. “We feel at home in Pakistan. We believe in Pakistan’s future. We believe Pakistan has a huge opportunity and in 2030 Pakistan will become a huge economy.”
The crown prince said the world’s top economies of China and India would definitely benefit Pakistan in future. “China is the largest economy in 2030 and India would be the third largest economy in 2030, so Pakistan would definitely benefit with these neighbours.”
Praising the leadership of Prime Minister Khan, the prince said Pakistan had a “great” leadership to put the country on the right position. “We can see that happening because in 2018 Pakistan’s economy grew by five per cent. So we believe that Pakistan has a huge potential in the future. We have long relations with Pakistan and being brothers we want to be the part of this journey,” he added.
The crown prince said that in addition to the signing of $20bn investment deals, Saudi Arabia wanted to invest more in Pakistan. “What we did today is the beginning and we hope we will do more and more partnerships and projects in Pakistan,” he maintained.
Speaking on the occasion, Prime Minister Khan thanked the Saudi prince for announcing the release of 2,170 Pakistani prisoners and said this step had made him [the prince] more popular than him in Pakistan.
“As you have said that you are an ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia, I realised that Your Highness, if you stand for election in Pakistan you will be able to get more votes than me. You are at the moment extremely popular and I especially want to thank you for the release of more than 2,100 Pakistani prisoners as you have said in the morning that they will be freed,” he added.
The prime minister said most of the prisoners were from the labour class and were living in Saudi Arabia as the Pakistan government could not provide them employment.
“Unfortunately in Pakistan, we did not provide them employment that was why they had to go. I am very grateful to you for the prisoners that you have very generously announced their release,” he added.
“I also want to say that by signing MoUs, this is the first time that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have new level of relationship which was very narrowly confined in the past. This the first time our relationship is now developing into other spheres. The MoUs reflected enhanced relationship. But what I feel it is just a beginning,” Mr Khan said, adding that Pakistan’s geo-strategic location would help both countries strengthen their economies.
“I am extremely happy with your trip. As you have considered Pakistan your second home, the Prime Minister House, where you lived, rest assured that whenever you are in Pakistan, consider it as your own house and you can come and stay there,” he added.
A joint statement was also issued by the PM Office at the conclusion of the crown prince’s visit in which the two sides reaffirmed the historical relations between them. It says the crown prince praised PM Khan’s agenda of transforming Pakistan into a welfare state based on Islamic socio-economic principles and assured him of the kingdom’s continued support.
Both sides reiterated their commitment to continue combating extremism and terrorism and expressed their deep appreciation for the achievements and sacrifices made by the two sides in the war against terrorism. They also applauded the martyrs who sacrificed their lives in order to confront this serious scourge and called upon the international community to shoulder its responsibilities to join all international efforts to combat global terrorism. They also underlined the need for avoiding politicisation of the UN listing regime.
The two sides expressed the hope for achieving a fair, comprehensive and long-lasting peace in the Middle East in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative and the resolutions of international legitimacy guaranteeing the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including the establishment of an independent and viable Palestinian state based on internationally agreed standards 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital.
The crown prince praised openness and efforts of Prime Minister Khan for dialogue with India and the opening of the Kartarpur crossing point and the efforts exerted by both sides, stressing that dialogue is the only way to ensure peace in the region to resolve outstanding issues. The two sides agreed on the importance of political settlement and promoting peace in Afghanistan so that Afghan refugees can return to their country and contribute to their development and lasting peace.
Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2019