Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in Pakistan
In addition to holding talks with Khan, MBS is expected to meet army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and President Arif Alvi [BK Bangash/AP]
Saudi Arabia‘s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Pakistan for a two-day state visit during which officials say he will sign investment deals worth more than $10bn to shore up the South Asian nation’s ailing economy.
Prince Mohammed, also known as MBS, arrived in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, on Sunday, a day after he was originally scheduled to land. He was greeted by Prime Minister Imran Khan and given a red-carpet welcome with 21-gun salute.
Major roads in Islamabad were blocked off for Prince Mohammed’s arrival with more than 1,000 police checkpoints set up. Entry into the fortified diplomatic zone was banned, and the airspace over the city was shut down.
Saudi and Pakistani flags were on display throughout the city, alongside portraits of MBS and Khan.
Mobile phone and internet services were blocked in parts of the city. Monday has been declared a public holiday and schools and offices will be closed.
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Billboards and flags of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia up in Islamabad to welcome Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. 🇵🇰 🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/uametfII0c
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Analysts say Prince Mohammed’s trip is being treated by Islamabad as the biggest state visit since Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015, soon after Beijing announced plans to invest tens of billions of dollars on infrastructure in Pakistan as part of China’s global Belt and Road initiative.
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MBS will become the first guest to stay at the prime minister’s house, as Khan has refused to use the residence since coming into power last year in a bid to save taxpayers’ money.
In addition to holding talks with Khan, who has already visited Saudi Arabia twice since becoming prime minister last July, MBS is expected to meet army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and President Arif Alvi.
Saudi Arabia has in recent months helped keep Pakistan’s economy afloat by propping up its rapidly dwindling foreign exchange reserves with a $6bn loan, giving Islamabad breathing room as it negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.
During Prince Mohammed’s visit, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia “will be signing a number of agreements and MoUs related to diverse sectors, including investment, finance, power, renewable energy, internal security, media, culture and sports”, according to Pakistan’s foreign office.
That includes a $10bn refinery and petrochemicals complex in the coastal city of Gwadar, where China is building a port, as well as the possible acquisition of two major power plants by Saudi companies, officials and analysts told Al Jazeera.
Prince Mohammed’s trip comes amid high tensions in the region: India and Saudi Arabia’s archrival Iran – both bordering Pakistan – have accused Islamabad of backing “militant” groups which have carried out suicide attacks on their soil in recent days.
It will also apparently coincide with possible new talks between the Taliban and the United States on Afghanistan.
After Pakistan, MBS will travel to India, where he will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
He is expected to finish the trip with a visit to China on Thursday and Friday.
Two short stops initially scheduled for Sunday and Monday in Indonesia and Malaysia were postponed on Saturday without explanation.
Additional reporting by Asad Hashim in Islamabad
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies