Shahbaz Sharif and Faisal Bin Salman Al Saud hold talks in Madinah on Thursday. Twitter photo
Pakistan Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday — his first foreign trip since assuming office — on a three-day visit at the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Madinah Governor Faisal Bin Salman Al Saud and high-level Saudi officials received the prime minister and his delegation.
The prime minister was accompanied by key cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, Narcotics Control Minister Shahzain Bugti, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif.
Shahbaz Sharif leaves for Saudi Arabia.
Federal Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain, Maulana Tahir Ashrafi and MNAs Mohsin Dawar and Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui also joined Shahbaz on the official visit.
Prior to his departure, Shahbaz tweeted: "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 [the] Saudi leadership," he said, calling the kingdom one of Pakistan's "greatest friends," and the country "has a special place in all our hearts."
In his video message before embarking on his three-day official visit to Saudi Arabia Shahbaz said the people of Pakistan hold the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in the highest esteem.
He said, “we are profoundly grateful to Saudi Arabia for its consistent support to Pakistan in its difficult hour. For its part, Pakistan always stood by Saudi Arabia and will always stand shoulder to shoulder with our Saudi brethern.”
He said the visionary Saudi leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has worked assiduously to achieve greater progress and prosperity for the people of Saudi Arabia.
The prime minister said he looks forward to his interactions with the Saudi leadership to review our multifaceted bilateral cooperation and to take this special relationship to new heights.
Shahbaz was sworn in earlier this month after parliament ousted his predecessor Imran Khan in a no-confidence vote.
Shahbaz Sharif arrives to board a special plane for Saudi Arabia in Islamabad. Twitter photo
He inherited crippling national debt, galloping inflation and a feeble rupee, but has vowed to use "Pakistan speed" to hurry along development projects and jump-start an economic recovery.
He also conveyed his sincere wishes to Pakistani expatriates in the kingdom, who have always contributed enormously to the economic development of Pakistan. He said they are our key partners in further fortifying Pakistan-Saudi relations.
Talks will focus "on advancing economic, trade and investment ties and creation of greater opportunities for the Pakistani workforce in Saudi Arabia," according to a statement from Pakistan's foreign ministry. Saudi Arabia hosts more than two million Pakistanis, the statement said.
Shahbaz is the younger brother of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and the family has close ties to Saudi royals.
Sharif and Shahbaz, along with other relatives, went into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000 after a coup ousted Shraif the previous year.
They did not return to Pakistan until 2007.
"The Sharif family have traditionally had very good relations with the kingdom and this visit serves (Shahbaz Sharif's) interest" in showing that to his domestic audience, said Saudi political analyst Ali Shihabi.
Shahbaz may seek a $7.4 billion financial assistance package from the kingdom in the shape of cash deposits and oil on deferred payments, including rollover of the existing $4.2 billion facilities that are expiring by the end of this year.
Finance Minister Miftah Ismail is also a part of the official entourage. Senior ministry officials said that the government would seek $2 billion additional cash deposit in addition to the rollover of the existing $3 billion facility, which would mature by the end of this year.
They said this time the country was seeking the loan for a longer than one year period, in addition to relaxation in terms of the previous agreement.
In October last year, Saudi Arabia had announced giving $3 billion in cash deposit for one year and oil on deferred payment equal to $1.2 billion annually.
However, the oil facility became operational only in March this year when the country lifted $100 million equivalent oil. The request will also be made to double the oil on deferred payments limit to $2.4 billion, according to the officials.
The net additional financial assistance is $3.2 billion in the shape of cash deposits and oil on deferred payments.
The last PTI government had obtained $3 billion cash at 4 per cent interest rate and the oil on deferred payments at 3.8 per cent rate for one year, according to the terms agreed between both countries.
During the meeting, the premier also discussed job-creation opportunities in the kingdom for Pakistani expatriates. Earlier, upon his arrival at the palace, the premier was warmly welcomed by the crown prince. He was also given a guard of honour.
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