ISLAMABAD: Saudi Ambassador Nawaf bin Saeed Al-Maliki on Monday called on Prime Minister Imran Khan amidst what appear to be frayed bilateral ties due to Riyadh’s refusal to roll over its loan.
“The exchange of views focused on bilateral cooperation and the Covid-19 situation,” the Prime Minister Office said in a statement on the meeting.
“The resolve to further strengthen the strong, longstanding Pakistan-Saudi Arabia fraternal ties was reaffirmed,” it added.
The repayment of $1 billion last week as the second tranche of $3bn loan brought into spotlight what many see as an unease in relations between the two countries over geopolitical differences.
Envoy meets PM after Islamabad unexpectedly repaid part of Saudi loan
Saudi Arabia had in 2018 given $3bn loan to Pakistan for three years to avert a balance of payments crisis that the country was then facing. The Kingdom had on that occasion also agreed to provide $3.2bn oil credit facility, but that was discontinued after the first year.
The Saudi cash loan has now matured. There was, however, an expectation that Riyadh would roll over the loan in view of Pakistan’s difficult economic conditions, especially because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Saudis, moreover, in the past never insisted on the repayment of loans, but that did not happen this time. The message from Riyadh was clear that it wanted its money back.
Pakistan has so far repaid $2bn with help from China and is set to pay the final instalment of $1bn next month.
The Saudi attitude, some say, stemmed from its unease over Pakistan’s foreign policy direction, especially its relations with Turkey and Iran.
Many officials, despite failing to get the Saudi loan rolled over, are still optimistic about renewal of ties with the Kingdom.
A high-level Saudi delegation, led by Prince Faisal bin Farhan, is expected to visit Islamabad early next month. A Pakistani delegation is also expected to visit Riyadh soon afterwards.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Tahir Ashrafi, who is also the special representative for Middle East, dismissed these assertions as propaganda. “There is no pressure from Saudi Arabia in any respect,” he maintained. Maulana Ashrafi rather contended that ties with Saudi Arabia were at a high point as compared to the past decade.
Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2020