ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif arrived in Madinah on Thursday to kick off his three-day visit to the Kingdom at the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.
The delegation accompanying the premier comprises newly appointed Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, Shahzain Bugti, Mohsin Dawar, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqi, Chaudhry Salik, and four members of PM Shehbaz Sharif’s personal staff.
Taking to Twitter, PM Shehbaz Sharif said that his visit will “renew and reaffirm” ties between the two countries. He said that he will hold wide-ranging discussions with the Saudi leadership.
“Today, I am embarking on a visit to Saudi Arabia to renew & reaffirm our bonds of brotherhood & friendship. I will have wide-ranging discussions with Saudi leadership. KSA is one of our greatest friends & as Custodian of the Two Holy Places, has a special place in all our hearts,” PM Shehbaz Sharif wrote.
$3.2b financial assistance
Pakistan has decided to seek an additional package of $3.2 billion from Saudi Arabia to jack up the total facility to $7.4 billion from the existing $4.2 billion during the current visit of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, top official sources confirmed while talking to The News on Wednesday.
“We are going to request the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to increase the amount of the deposit from $3 billion to $5 billion and double the Saudi Oil Facility (SOF) from $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion, so the total package could be increased up to $7.4 billion during the visit of premier Shehbaz Sharif.”
When one of the top officials of the Finance Division was contacted and inquired about the proposed package from Saudi Arabia, he replied: “We are requesting for deferred payment facility and enhancing the credit extended for forex support.”
Pakistan will also make a request for rollover of the existing package of $4.2 billion for one year till June 2023 in order to align it with the IMF programme as Islamabad has already asked the Fund to extend the existing Extended Fund Facility (EFF) for nine months till June 2023 coupled with increasing the size of the programme from $6 billion to $8 billion.
Saudi Arabia had already given $3 billion deposits to Pakistan and an oil facility on deferred payment worth $1.2 billion during the tenure of the last PTI-led regime. The deposits were given in December 2021, while the Saudi Oil Facility (SOF) started in March 2022 and so far, $100 million have been disbursed.
Saudi Arabia had placed stringent conditions on the last package amount of $4.2 billion and linked it to the IMF programme.
The IMF programme is expected to be revived by the end of June 2022 if all things are settled, as Islamabad requires a breathing space for three months period.
PM Shehbaz Sharif’s Saudi Arabia visit
PM Shehbaz Sharif’s KSA visit is his first visit abroad after assuming office earlier this month, as per the Foreign Office.
In a statement, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Asim Iftikhar said Wednesday PM Shehbaz would visit Saudi Arabia from April 28-30, and he will be accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising key members of the cabinet.
However, the FO had not given any details about this high-level delegation amid speculations as to who would be accompanying the prime minister. The number of the members of the delegation is missing as well.
“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 spokesperson had said.
Iftikhar said Pakistan and KSA are bound by a fraternal relationship marked by mutual trust and understanding, close cooperation, and an abiding tradition of supporting each other. The people of Pakistan hold the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in the highest esteem.
“The bilateral relationship is complemented by close mutual collaboration at regional and international fora. Saudi Arabia is a member of the OIC Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is home to more than two million Pakistanis, contributing to the progress, prosperity and economic development of the two brotherly countries,” he added.
The spokesperson further noted that regular high-level visits are a key feature of this special relationship.
Iftikhar added that the prime minister’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.