PM’s visit to Saudi Arabia aims to assuage Riyadh’s reservations


ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan will visit Saudi Arabia on Saturday to reassure the kingdom’s leadership that ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia remain firm despite Islamabad’s engagement with other Muslim countries.

The visit, an Arab source disclosed, has been recently planned after signals from Riyadh that it was not happy with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to attend the Kuala Lumpur summit being held in Malaysia from Dec 18-20.

The Kuala Lumpur summit is the brainchild of Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Tun Mahathir Mohamad. Other leaders participating in the summit are Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. Indonesian President Joko Widodo too was expected to attend the summit, but he has reportedly succumbed to pressure and one of his representatives would now attend the meeting.

Although it is too early to say how this initiative fares, the Saudis are already seeing the summit as an attempt to present an alternative to the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The increasingly dysfunctional OIC works under the de-facto leadership of the Saudis.

Pakistan, meanwhile, is very keen on the summit. The Foreign Office, in one of the statements, said: “The KL summit would provide Pakistan with an opportunity to exchange views and find solutions to challenges facing the Muslim world, particularly the governance, development, terrorism, and Islamophobia. The summit will also provide us an opportunity to foster cooperation in diverse areas with the participating countries.”

The plan for the summit was finalized during a trilateral meeting involving Turkey, Pakistan, and Malaysia in September in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA session.

PM Khan earlier dispatched Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to mollify Riyadh, where he met his counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah. According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the two foreign ministers besides talking on the bilateral agenda also “discussed the latest developments at regional and international arenas”.

FO spokesman Dr. Mohammad Faisal, at his weekly briefing on Thursday, while responding to questions about PM Khan’s expected visit to Saudi Arabia, said: “High-level political exchanges between the two countries are the hallmark of this brotherly bilateral relationship. You have witnessed the high frequency of leadership level exchanges, especially since last August. The prime minister has undertaken at least three visits to KSA since May this year. Any further information about any future visit will be shared accordingly.”

The prime minister had over the past few months attempted to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, much like past efforts in this regard, the latest initiative too did not get much success. Dr. Faisal, responding to a question on the mediation project, said: “We continue to make sincere efforts.”

Doha talks

Spokesman Dr. Faisal said Pakistan was hoping that the ongoing talks between the US and Taliban would conclude successfully and that would lead to an intra-Afghan dialogue and reduction of violence.

The resurrected US-Taliban dialogue started last Saturday. The discussions have so far been on reduction in violence and the intra-Afghan dialogue that would follow an agreement between the two sides.

A spokesman for the Taliban’s Political Office Suhail Shaheen said that the two sides have had talks in “good and positive” atmosphere and were now breaking for consultations. He said their negotiations would resume after a few days.

Dr. Faisal, meanwhile at the weekly media briefing, urged all parties to the conflict to be “watchful of the role of spoilers who do not wish to see an end to the Afghan conflict”.

“Our policy regarding Afghanistan is clear and the prime minister has reiterated it several times that there can only be a political solution to the Afghan conflict. It is heartening to note that all the global powers are now coming to this conclusion as well,” he added.


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