Saudi prince walks red carpet in Pakistan as part of ‘pivot to the east’

Saudi prince walks red carpet in Pakistan as part of ‘pivot to the east’
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The Saudi Arabian crown prince has arrived in Pakistan at the beginning of a historic, three-nation diplomatic tour designed to bolster ties with key allies and build influence in Asia.

Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, and top government and military officials greeted Mohammed bin Salman at Islamabad’s airport yesterday, where he received a 21-gun salute.

His visit has been described as an attempt to repair his reputation in the wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

The crown prince is expected to travel to the Indian capital today to meet Narendra Modi, the prime minister, and Dharmendra Pradhan, the petroleum minister. He is due to spend Thursday and Friday in China.

The three-nation tour has been characterised as part of a “pivot to the east” and, in part, a road show to sell Saudi Arabian oil. China and India are its biggest customers.

As the guardians of the most holy site in Islam, the Saudi royal family carries great prestige in Pakistan. The Gulf state has also helped keep its ally’s economy afloat by propping up its foreign exchange reserves with a $6 billion loan, giving Islamabad breathing space as it negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

In this handout photograph taken and released by Pakistan’s Press Information Department (PID) on February 17, 2019, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (C) reviews a guard of honor at the Prime Minister House in Islamabad. HANDOUT / PID / AFP

As part of a grandiose welcome for the Saudi delegation, Pakistani air force jets escorted the crown prince’s flight when he entered the country’s airspace yesterday. During his visit, Saudi Arabia signed agreements with Pakistan worth $20 billion (pounds 15 billion), Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned broadcaster, quoted the crown prince as saying.

Pakistani officials had been expecting the Saudis to announce eight investment agreements, including a $10 billion petrochemicals complex the coastal city of Gwadar, where China is building a port.

In Islamabad, the crown prince was also due to meet representatives of the Afghan Taliban to discuss peace negotiations to end the 17-year war in that country, Pakistani government and Taliban sources said.

Saudi Arabia’s state arms producer and a French government-majority firm signed an agreement yesterday on a joint venture to boost the kingdom’s navy, amid calls to halt weapons sales to Riyadh over its role in Yemen.

The deal with France’s Naval Group was intended to provide “state-of-the-art systems”, a statement said.

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