As MBS arrives, Pakistan seals Saudi ties with $20bn in deals

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has led a delegation to Islamabad that agreed deals worth more than $20bn, providing much-needed investment for a faltering Pakistani economy struggling with a looming foreign reserve crisis and slowing domestic growth.

Amid much fanfare, Prince Mohammed was greeted on Sunday by Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Nur Khan airbase, where he was accorded a 21-gun salute for his first visit to the country since becoming heir to the throne in 2017.

The two leaders held direct talks in Islamabad, followed by the signing of investment deals in the areas of petrochemicals, energy, minerals, sports and other sectors.

At a state dinner in honour of Prince Mohammed, Khan hailed the strong ties between the two allies, adding: “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are now taking this relationship to a level, which we never had before.

“A relationship where it will now be investment between the two countries which will mutually benefit from it.”

Prince Mohammed echoed Khan’s comments.

“We believe Pakistan is going to be a very important country in the coming future, and we want to be part of that,” he said.

The crown prince, who wields tremendous influence and power over policy in Saudi Arabia, valued the deals signed on Sunday at $20bn.

Those agreements include plans to build an oil refinery and petrochemical complex in the southern port city of Gwadar, the possible acquisition of two liquified natural gas-powered power plants by Saudi companies, and up to $4bn in alternative energy and mining deals, analysts and the chief of Pakistan’s Board of Investment told Al Jazeera.

Security was tightened across the Pakistani capital on Sunday for the crown prince’s visit.

Checkpoints were set up across Islamabad, with mobile phone signals restricted in certain areas. Saudi and Pakistani flags flew throughout the city, alongside portraits of Khan and the crown prince.

Prince Mohammed stayed at the Prime Minister House, a lavish government-owned residence that Khan has refused to occupy since his election last year in an effort to cut government expenditures.

The crown prince is expected to fly out from Islamabad on Monday, after meeting the Pakistani army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and President Arif Alvi. Visits to India and China are next on his itinerary as part of his three-country Asia tour.

In addition to key members of his cabinet, including Petroleum Minister Khalid al-Falih, the crown prince was accompanied by a number of Saudi businessmen, who are expected to hold meetings with Pakistani counterparts ahead of a planned investor conference.

Haroon Sharif, head of Pakistan’s Board of Investment, said he expected technical feasibility studies to begin immediately and take up to 18 months.

“All of these projects are of medium- to long-term,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The memorandums of understanding are just the beginning. The real test is when the technical analysis starts.”

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