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Pakistan Army chief Bajwa in Saudi ahead of PM Khan's visit

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The Economic Times
04th May, 2021 23:52 IST

Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan's crucial trip to the kingdom.

Khan is expected to visit Riyadh on May 7 on the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Bajwa was received by Pakistan's recently-appointed Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Lt-Gen (retd) Bilal Akbar and Saudi military officials, officials said.

He is expected to meet top Saudi civil and military leadership in what seems to be part of the preparation of PM Khan's scheduled visit to Riyadh.

The visit of Bajwa and the upcoming trip of Khan is seen as significant as these developments suggest a thaw in ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have enjoyed longstanding strategic relationship, which in recent years met with certain road blocks. The first blow came in 2015 when Pakistan refused to send troops to join the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. The relationship returned to some normalcy after Islamabad joined the Saudi-led Islamic military alliance against terrorism.

However, the historic ties between the two nations suffered a serious setback in 2019 when Pakistan pledged support for a Malaysian initiative to build a rival bloc of Muslim nations and also organised a summit.

Though Pakistan withdraw from the summit after Saudi Arabia warned of serious consequences, the relationship between the two countries became so tense that Islamabad had to return USD 3 billion loan to Riyadh.

It was rare that Saudi Arabia asked for the return of loan as on previous occasions it had either rolled over the loan or converted into grant.

Later, behind the scenes hectic efforts were made to normalise the frayed ties, leading to revival of high level contact and a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Khan and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in March. It was the first contact between the two leaders in 15 months.

It is believed that the change of leadership in Washington also had a sobering impact on Bin Salman as US President Joe Biden withdrew support to the Yemen war and also looked determined to not ignore the issue of human rights in Saudi Arabia.

The Biden administration's intention to revive the Iran nuclear deal also pushed Saudi Arabia to revisit its strategy.

Pakistan, on the other hand, need cheap Saudi oil and investment as it struggles to stabilise its economy. Bin Salman visited Pakistan after Khan came to power and promised investment of over USD 20 billion in different projects.

Officials said Khan would try to expedite Saudi investment in an oil refinery which Bin Salman had promised to build.

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