ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is paying his maiden official visit to Saudi Arabia on Thursday with a heavy entourage that included his 16 family members.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) criticised the prime minister for taking with him a big entourage on state expenses.

However, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb claimed that the prime minister was going on a commercial flight and all members of his entourage would be on their own expenses.

A list of entourage circulated in the media was confirmed by a source in the Prime Minister Office (PMO). According to the list, 40 people will accompany the prime minister on the official visit. They included 16 family members, some of them will join the prime minister from the United Kingdom and Dubai.

PTI slams ‘big entourage on state expenses’; Marriyum claims people travelling with PM will bear their expenses

Many attempts were made to get the list confirmed by the information minister, but she did not respond.

PM Sharif is leaving for Saudi Arabia on his maiden official overseas trip to Saudi Arabia on Thursday where he is scheduled to hold talks with Saudi leadership. He will also perform Umrah.

The three-day visit from April 28 to 30, the Prime Minister’s Office said, would be a “milestone” for the longstanding bilateral ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which would “further strengthen” the existing strategic cooperation between the two countries.

The invitation for the trip was extended to Mr Sharif by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman when he called to greet him on his election.

The two leaders in their telephone conversation reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing and developing the relationship in all respects.

Historically, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have had very close economic, political, and military ties. The Kingdom has on multiple occasions bailed out Pakistan’s struggling economy, whereas Islamabad has provided extensive support for the Saudi armed forces in the shape of arms and training.

The Saudi leadership has, however, been more comfortable working with the Sharifs. The Saudis initially felt a bit nervous when Imran Khan’s PTI formed government in 2018, but went on to develop a good working relationship with it as well though it hit a few bumps in the road.

“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have a lasting bond of Islamic brotherhood. Pakistanis cherish these long-standing ties with their Saudi brethren,” Mr Sharif said while speaking at a preparatory meeting held for the visit.

He sought recommendations for the development of these relations, especially in the fields of employment, energy, food security and long-term strategic partnership.

PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said in a statement that the prime minister is carrying a heavy entourage on state expense.

He claimed that Ms Aurangzeb was lying that the prime minister was going to Saudi Arabia on a commercial flight and all members of the entourage will bear their expenses.

Ms Aurangzeb said PM Sharif was not going to Saudi Arabia on a chartered plane. “The PM would go to Saudi Arabia on a commercial flight and he would bear expenses of his visit. For 10 years as Punjab’s chief minister, Shehbaz Sharif used to pay his travel expenses out of his own pocket,” she added.

Ms Aurangzab asked Imran Khan not to lecture on austerity as everyone had become aware of the realty of his “farce of austerity” that had resulted into the biggest fiscal deficit in the country’s history after nearly four years.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2022

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