Pakistan’s prime minister has started a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia to boost economic ties, the foreign ministry said.
The two countries are expected to sign new agreements to bolster trade and economic links during Imran Khan’s visit, which comes at the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia gave $6 billion to Pakistan in 2018 when Khan’s government came into power in 2018, but bilateral relations have since witnessed ups and downs. The two countries have a longer history of cooperation, and the kingdom is Pakistan’s main supplier of oil.
During his stay there, apart from meeting with Saudi leadership, Khan will also interact with Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia. Khan’s visit comes days after he recalled Pakistan’s ambassador following complaints by expat Pakistani laborers working in the kingdom who said their own embassy mistreated them.
Currently, Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa is also visiting Saudi Arabia. Bajwa was received by Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia Bilal Akbar and Saudi military officials in preparation for Khan’s trip.
In recent years, the relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia after decades of close economic, military and political cooperation suffered several fractures.
In August last year, Pakistan accused the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc of 57 Muslim-majority countries led by Saudi Arabia – of inaction over New Delhi’s decision to strip Indian-administered Kashmir of its special status in 2019.
With Kashmir being a key policy issue for Pakistan, Khan threatened to hold a rival meeting that would bypass the OIC – a move perceived as a challenge to Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in the Muslim world.
Riyadh responded by withdrawing $1bn of a $3bn interest-free loan it extended to Pakistan in 2018, at a time when the South Asian nation was suffering dire economic conditions.
Although the issue was patched up within days, the diplomatic spat threatened to derail the Islamabad-Riyadh alliance.