Islamabad, February 17: Amid heightened Indo-Pak tensions, cash-strapped Pakistan on Sunday received Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, whose maiden trip to Islamabad was delayed by a day for unknown reasons.
Unease ran in the government circles in Islamabad that the Saudi prince might call off the trip due to security reasons after building up of tensions between Pakistan and India following a terror attack on soldiers in Kashmir on Thursday, according to officials privy to the developments.
But there was a sigh of relief when the Foreign Office announced on Friday night that the de-facto ruler of the Gulf Kingdom will arrive on Sunday. 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. The crown prince was given a 21-gun salute upon arrival.
As Muhammad bin Salman, colloquially known as MBS, stepped down from the aircraft after landing at the Nur Khan Air Base in Rawalpindi, he was warmly welcomed by Prime Minister Imran Khan. The premier's cabinet members and Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa were also present at the air base to receive the Saudi guest.
In a break from protocol, Prime Minister Khan personally drove the Saudi crown prince to PM House, where a welcome ceremony was held in his honour. From Islamabad, Prince Salman, who is also Saudi Arabia's defence minister, will arrive in India on February 19 on his first official visit. Counter-terrorism and energy security are expected to top the agenda for discussions during the two-day trip.
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.
Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir landed at the air base ahead of the crown prince's arrival in a separate airplane. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was present on the tarmac to welcome his Saudi counterpart.
The crown prince was due to reach Pakistan on Saturday, but his arrival was delayed for a day. No reason was given for the rescheduling of the planned arrival of the prince. However, the duration of two-day was not curtailed, nor the meetings and investment plans. 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.
This is his first official visit to Pakistan since his elevation to the position of crown prince in April 2017. 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 singed so that they are implemented on time. Special arrangements were made in Islamabad to accord a warm welcome to the prince and his entourage on their arrival.
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 arrangements were made and the routes leading to Red Zone where all important government offices and diplomatic missions were located was sealed for common public. 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 inner most 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. A holiday was declare 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.
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