• MBS, PM sign agreement on establishment of SPSCC • Agreements addressing the treatment of criminals, and crime signed • They agree MoUs around combating drug trafficking; as well as financing energy, infrastructure, transportation, water and communication projects
JEDDAH/ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan signed agreements Saturday to improve ties, after months of strained relations between the close allies over the disputed region of Kashmir.
Although the kingdom was the first foreign country Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan visited after his 2018 election, Riyadh appeared frustrated with Islamabad last year. And while the wealthy nation has supported Pakistan with billions of dollars in aid and loans in recent years, observers say the kingdom is also keen not to upset India, a key business partner and importer of Saudi oil.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and prime minister Khan, who arrived Friday for a three-day visit, held talks in which they stressed "the importance of expanding and intensifying the horizons of cooperation."
The country's state news agency added officials from both countries signed two agreements in the western city of Jeddah addressing the treatment of criminals, and crime.
They also agreed two memorandums of understanding around combating drug trafficking; as well as financing energy, infrastructure, transportation, water and communications projects.
The nations also agreed to establish a higher coordination council.
During his trip Khan -- who has visited six times, most recently in December 2019 -- will focus on improving ties with Riyadh and the needs of the roughly 2.5 million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia.
Last year, the kingdom recalled $1 billion of a $3 billion loan to cash-strapped Pakistan, and an expired multi-billion-dollar oil credit facility to Islamabad has not been renewed, a diplomatic source told AFP in September.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was given a warm welcome by Saudi officials in the western coastal city of Jeddah.
He was greeted by Saudi Arabia's de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the airport, before holding talks with Saudi officials at Jeddah's Al-Salam Palace.
"They affirmed the depth of relations between the two brotherly countries and underscored the importance of expanding and intensifying aspects of bilateral cooperation and coordination," a Saudi statement said.
But Khan's visit appeared to have restored cooperation between the two Islamic countries that are both heavily engaged in the "war on terror" which requires effective intelligence sharing. "The two sides stressed the need for concerted efforts by the Islamic world to confront extremism and violence, and reject sectarianism," the Saudi statement said.
"During the meeting, it was agreed to further strengthen, deepen and diversify the
existing bilateral political, economic, trade, defence and security ties," a Pakistani statement said.
"The talks were marked by exceptional cordiality and a commitment to fortify the upward trajectory in the bilateral relationship," it added.
Pakistan has close links with Saudi Arabia, but it also maintains close ties with Iran and represents Tehran's consular interests in the United States.
For decades, Pakistan has tried to balance its strong relationship with Saudi Arabia and its ties with Iran, with which it shares a near 1,000-kilometre (625-mile) border. In 2019, Khan travelled between Saudi Arabia and Iran in a bid to calm animosities between the rival Muslim powers.
His visit to Jeddah comes as Saudi Arabia and Iran hold secret talks in Iraq, the first significant effort to defuse tensions since the regional powers cut ties in 2016 after Iranian protesters, infuriated over the kingdom's execution of a Shiite cleric, attacked Saudi diplomatic missions.
"The prime minister of Pakistan's visit to Saudi Arabia is an important milestone in bilateral relations," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan tweeted Saturday.
"The kingdom is keen to further strengthen relations between the brotherly countries as well as enable broader economic cooperation."
According to a statement issued by the prime minister’s office, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have affirmed commitment to deepen Pakistan-Saudi relations in all fields.
“The two leaders also witnessed signing of a number of bilateral agreements/memoranda of understanding (MoU), including agreement on cooperation in the field of combating crimes; agreement on transfer of convicted individuals (prisoners); MoU on combating illicit traffic in narcotic drugs; psychotropic substances and precursor chemicals; and framework MoU for financing of projects (totaling up to US$ 500 million) in energy, hydropower generation, infrastructure, transport and communication and water resource development.
“After the meeting, the prime minister and the Crown Prince signed the Agreement on Establishment of the Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council (SPSCC). The Council, co-chaired by the prime minister and the Crown Prince, is designed to impart strategic direction to the development of Pakistan-Saudi relations.
“The prime minister expressed the hope that the SPSCC will play a catalytic role in fostering enhanced bilateral cooperation in all fields
“Earlier, Prime Minister Khan also met with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Jeddah, and held wide-ranging talks on bilateral, regional and international issues.
“He conveyed sincere regards to the custodian of the two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and thanked the Crown Prince for his gracious invitation to him to visit the Kingdom.
“The prime minister expressed gratitude for affording him the opportunity to visit the two Holy Mosques during the special days of Ramazan.
“The two leaders reaffirmed the strong and historic bonds between the two countries rooted firmly in shared beliefs, common values, mutual trust and longstanding tradition of mutual support.
The prime minister reiterated Pakistan's abiding support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Kingdom, and expressed special reverence accorded to the Land of the Two Holy Mosques by the people of Pakistan.
“During the meeting, it was agreed to further strengthen, deepen and diversify the existing bilateral political, economic, trade, defence and security ties.
Special emphasis was laid on increasing Saudi investments in Pakistan, collaboration in the field of energy, and increased job opportunities for Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia.
“The prime minister appreciated the Crown Prince's recently launched "Green Saudi Arabia and Green Middle East" initiatives and hoped to build upon the synergies between the vision of the Crown Prince and his own environment-related initiatives including the "10 Billion Trees Tsunami".
“Acknowledging the positive and constructive role of more than two million Pakistani diaspora in the Kingdom, the two leaders discussed ways to maximise mutual benefit from cooperation in the human resource sector.
“The prime minister thanked the Saudi leadership for taking considerate measures for the welfare of Pakistani expatriates during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Views were exchanged on regional and international issues.
“The prime minister outlined his vision of a peaceful neighborhood to advance the objectives of national economic development.
“Highlighting the situation in the IIOJK, the prime minister stressed the importance of peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
“The prime minister also highlighted Pakistan's consistent efforts to support peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
“The prime minister lauded the Crown Prince for the Kingdom's efforts and initiatives aimed at reinforcing and further promoting regional peace and security.
“The prime minister extended an invitation to the Crown Prince for visiting Pakistan."—Agencies
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021