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Imran Khan Receives Saudi Crown Prince in Islamabad as India Vows to Isolate Pakistan in Diplomatic World

The crown prince's arrival comes amid a vow by India to isolate Pakistan internationally following the deadliest attack in Kashmir in decades.

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Updated:February 17, 2019, 11:09 PM IST
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Imran Khan Receives Saudi Crown Prince in Islamabad as India Vows to Isolate Pakistan in Diplomatic World
Crown Prince stepping down from his aircraft in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Image: Video grab)
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Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan along with cabinet members, Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other high-profile officials received Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at Nur Khan Airbase.

The crown prince was welcomed with a 21-gun salute by a contingent of the Armed forces amid much fanfare in the capital. A formation of JF-17 thunder jets and F-16 fighter jets escorted the plane of the Saudi royal after its entry into the Pakistani airspace.

This is his first official visit to Pakistan since his elevation to the position of crown prince in April 2017. MBS's visit assumes significance as it risks being overshadowed by escalating tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.

The trip comes days after a suicide bomber killed 40 CRPF personnel in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama. New Delhi has accused Pakistan of having a hand in the bombing and vowed to punish Islamabad, which denies involvement.

Cash-strapped and in need of friends, Pakistan is welcoming the crown prince with open arms for a visit during which he is expected to sign investment agreements worth more than $10 billion. With this, Salman will begin his tour of South Asia and China.

According to official media, the crown prince is accompanied by a high-powered delegation, including members of Saudi Royal family, key ministers and leading businessmen.

During his visit, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will sign a number of agreements and MoUs in diverse sectors.

According to Advisor to PM on Trade, Razzak Dawood, agreements worth between USD 10-15 billion will be signed, including one about Saudi investment to build an oil refinery. The refinery once ready will help to save about USD 1.25 billion in imports bills.

The two sides will also set up an advisory council led by the crown prince and the prime minister of Pakistan to follow up the agreement signed so that they are implemented on time.

A four-tier security arrangements have been made for the prince. The outer most tier will be manned by police, the second by paramilitary Ranger, the third by the army and the fourth and innermost by the royal guards of the prince.

The prince will also use about 130 royal guards. A 235-member delegation of the Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), led by Pakistan's former army chief General Raheel Sharif, is in the capital to ensure foolproof security.

Saudi Arabia has in recent months helped keep Pakistan's economy afloat by propping up its rapidly dwindling foreign exchange reserves with a $6 billion loan, giving Islamabad breathing room as it negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

Analysts say the crown prince's trip is being treated by Islamabad as the biggest state visit since Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015, soon after Beijing announced plans to invest tens of billions of dollars on infrastructure in Pakistan as part of China's global Belt and Road initiative.

The visit marks a deepening in ties between allies whose relationship has in the past centered on oil-rich Saudi Arabia backing Pakistan's economy during difficult periods, and in return Pakistan's powerful army lending support to Saudi Arabia and its royal family.

As the guardians of most holy sites in the birthplace of Islam, the Saudi royal family carries vast religious clout in Pakistan, a staunchly conservative and mainly-Muslim nation of 208 million people.

"What is happening in this relationship is a renewal of Pakistan's commitment to help protect the royal family and the order as it exists in Saudi Arabia," said Mosharraf Zaidi, Senior Fellow at Tabadlab, a Pakistani think tank focused on global and local public policy.

"On the flip side, there is reassurance that Saudi Arabia will not only continue to serve as a strategic friend who will help shore up Pakistan's finances when needed, but it's also going to become a participant in the wider investment in Pakistan."

Pakistan is shutting down its airspace and has stepped up security in Islamabad for the crown prince, who is set to become the first guest to stay at the Prime Minister's House.

Pakistan's new populist premier, Imran Khan, has refused to use the residence in a bid to save taxpayers' money.

Pakistani hopes for further investment opportunities from Saudi Arabia were dealt a blow on Saturday when the government announced that the Pak-Saudi Business Conference had been "postponed".

Pakistani officials have already flagged up that Saudi Arabia will announce eight investment agreements, including a $10 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex in the coastal city of Gwadar, where China is building a port.

Big portraits of MBS, King Salman, Prime Minister Khan and President Alvi have been erected on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad. Banners and posters inscribed with slogans of Pak-Saudi friendship and fraternity have also been put on display along the roads.

A big portrait of the crown prince, 120 feet tall and 45 feet wide, was also installed on the parliament building.

Elaborate security arrangement was made and the routes leading to Red Zone where all important government offices and diplomatic missions were located was sealed for common public. A holiday was also declared for Monday to avoid tension for workers and students as more than 1,000 security check points were set up in the city and at entry places.

But the crown prince's arrival comes amid a vow by India to isolate Pakistan internationally following the deadliest attack in Kashmir in decades.

Saudi Arabia on Friday said it stood with India's fight against terrorism and extremism and denounced as "cowardly" the attack carried out by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror group in Jammu and Kashmir that killed 40 CRPF soldiers.

New Delhi is demanding Islamabad act against the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group, which has the backing of the Pakistani state, over the bombing. Islamabad denies playing a role and has called for an investigation.

In Islamabad, the crown prince is expected to meet Khan and Pakistan's army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa. He is also likely to meet representatives of the Afghan Taliban militant group to discuss peace negotiations to end the 17-year civil war in Afghanistan, Pakistani government sources say.

(With inputs from Reuters)
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