ISLAMABAD: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Monday agreed to visit Pakistan on the invitation of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The development came during a telephonic conversation between the two leaders where they also reiterated the resolve to strengthen bilateral ties and expedite cooperation in the fields of investment, energy and trade.

According to a handout issued by the Prime Minister Office, the crown prince congratulated Shehbaz Sharif and the people of Pakistan on the Independence Day and conveyed his best wishes for the country’s progress and prosperity.

The two leaders reviewed the progress made on the decisions taken during the prime minister’s visit to Riyadh in April, reads the handout.

Shehbaz thanks Saudi crown prince for ‘support in times of need’; PM seeks Uzbek investment in Pakistan; grieved by Giza fire

Recalling the historic support extended by Saudi Arabia to Pakistan in times of need, the prime minister thanked the crown prince for the “recent support for the stability and development of Pakistan’s economy”, apparently hinting at Riyadh’s plan to renew its $3 billion deposit with the State Bank.

Last week, Bloomberg reported the Saudi finance ministry has planned to renew the deposit ‘as soon as this week’. Moreover, the kingdom has also planned to provide $100 million a month for 10 months in petroleum products as additional support.

The report added that the assistance would plug Pakistan’s funding gap and pave the way for the IMF’s loan approval at the end of this month. The commitment is likely to be announced within two days.

The amount of $3bn was deposited by Saudi Arabia last year, when the PTI-led government was in power, to shore up Pakistan’s depleting foreign reserves.

Saudi Arabia had agreed to discuss the terms to extend the facility when the prime minister visited the kingdom in April on the crown prince’s invitation.

During that visit, the two leaders discussed ways to strengthen economic, investment and trade ties, said a joint statement issued at the conclusion of the three-day visit.

Separately, the two sides agreed to explore options to enhance the financing of petroleum products and support economic structural reforms in Pakistan.

In recent years, the crown prince has engaged in high-level contacts with the Pakistani leadership.

In February 2017, Pakistan rolled out the red carpet for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s first official visit to the country. Former prime minister Imran Khan himself drove the visiting dignitary from the airport.

The highlight of that visit was a commitment from the crown prince ‘to look into the hardships faced by Pakistani labourers and prisoners’ in Saudi Arabia.

In reply to Mr Khan’s request, the Crown Prince told him to ‘consider me the ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia’.

Later, in May last year, the two sides signed a prisoner transfer agreement for repatriation of over 2,000 Pakistani prisoners languishing in Saudi jails.

Two months after the agreement, 62 Pakistani prisoners returned home.

Uzbek ambassador calls on PM

In a separate development, Uzbekistan’s Ambassador Oybek Usmanov called on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday and conveyed greetings from Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyeyov.

According to the PMO, the ambassador said Mr Mirziyeyov was looking forward to welcoming the prime minister to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand next month.

The prime minister expressed satisfaction with the close and fraternal relations between the two countries, said the PMO.

He underlined the significance of the Trans-Afghan Railway Project to advance the connectivity agenda and promote regional prosperity.

Mr Sharif invited Uzbek investments in Special Economic Zones which would accrue mutual benefits, the PMO added.

“Prime Minister Sharif underscored the need to urgently operationalise the Transit Trade Agreement and Preferential Trade Agreement in order to fully unlock the immense bilateral economic potential,”’ the statement added.

Mr Sharif reiterated the commitment to provide transit access to the Central Asian states to the ports of Karachi and Gwadar.

Separately, in a tweet, the prime minister expressed grief over the loss of precious lives in a fire incident in Abu Sefein Church in Egypt’s Giza city.

“On behalf of the people of Pakistan, I extend my most sincere condolences to [President Abdel Fattah al Sisi and] families of the deceased and pray for the speedy recovery of those injured,” he tweeted.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2022

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