Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday — his first foreign trip since assuming office — on a three-day visit at the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Madinah Governor Faisal Bin Salman Al Saud and high-level Saudi officials received the prime minister and his delegation. The prime minister was accompanied by key cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, Narcotics Control Minister Shahzain Bugti, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif.
Federal minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain, Maulana Tahir Ashrafi and MNAs Mohsin Dawar and Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui also joined PM Shehbaz on the official visit.
The prime minister and members of his delegation later offered prayers at the Prophet's Mosque.
Footage being shared on social media showed that when the PM and his delegation reached the mosque, people there chanted slogans against them. In a video message in response to the chants, Aurangzeb said she had prayed for guidance for those chanting slogans at such a holy place.
'Bonds of brotherhood and friendship'
Prior to his departure, PM Shehbaz said he was embarking on the visit to "renew and reaffirm our bonds of brotherhood and friendship".
"I will have wide-ranging discussions with [the] Saudi leadership," he said, calling the kingdom one of Pakistan's "greatest friends".
The premier also issued a video message shortly before leaving in which he said he was "delighted" that his first visit since assuming office was to the kingdom.
"This reflects the high importance that Pakistan attaches to its special relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is historic in nature and strategic in significance," he said, thanking the crown prince for the "gracious" invite.
"Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are bound by deep-rooted and abiding fraternal ties which are built on a solid foundation of mutual trust and support," he said.
"We are profoundly grateful to Saudi Arabia for its consistent support to Pakistan in its difficult hours. For its part, Pakistan has always stood by Saudi Arabia and will always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Saudi brethren."
PM Shehbaz also lauded the development the kingdom has achieved under the vision of the crown prince, calling it a transformational initiative.
"I look forward to my interaction with the Saudi leadership to review our multi-faceted bilateral cooperation and to take this special relationship to unknown heights," the prime minister said.
He also conveyed his good wishes to expatriates in the kingdom, saying that they contributed enormously to the country's economic development. "They are a key partner in further fortifying Pakistan-Saudi brotherly relations," he concluded.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Foreign Office (FO) said the prime minister will be accompanied by a high-level delegation which will include key members of the federal cabinet.
"During the visit, the prime minister will have bilateral interaction with the Saudi leadership, with particular focus on advancing economic, trade and investment ties and creation of greater opportunities for the Pakistani workforce in Saudi Arabia. The two sides will also exchange views on a range of regional and international issues of mutual interest," the statement said.
PM Shehbaz's visit to Saudi Arabia will impart a strong impetus to deepening bilateral cooperation in diverse fields and further reinforce the growing partnership between the two countries, the statement added.
The Saudi crown prince had officially extended the invitation on April 16, when he had called PM Shehbaz to felicitate him after he became premier and assured him of the Kingdom’s continued support for Pakistan.
The two leaders had also discussed bilateral ties and reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing and developing them in all respects. The crown prince, according to the Saudi Press Agency, had confirmed the keenness of the Saudi leadership on supporting Pakistan in all fields.
According to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the premier and the crown prince had also agreed to work together to further augment and diversify their bilateral ties in all spheres, particularly trade, investment and employment generation opportunities.
PM Shehbaz had thanked the crown prince for the support his country has been extending to Pakistan, describing it as “historic”.
PM Shehbaz's trip, during which he will also perform Umrah, has also garnered attention for reasons apart from it being his first foreign visit. He was initially criticised for bringing several family members on the trip on state expenses and for planning to charter a plane.
However, the information minister has insisted that the prime minister would be travelling on a commercial flight and all members of his entourage would be bearing their own expenses.