Leaving aside protocol norms and as a special gesture, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud turned up along with his entire cabinet at the King Khalid International Airport to receive Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who arrived in the oil-rich kingdom on a three-day official visit on Wednesday.Also present at the airport were Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Deputy Premier Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh Region Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, the deputy crown prince, second deputy premier and minister of interior, a number of princes, ministers, and senior officials. A smartly turned out contingent presented guard of honour and national anthems of both the countries were played.
Later Premier Nawaz and the Saudi monarch held extensive talks covering bilateral relations, regional and international issues at the King’s Palace in the Saudi capital. They emphasised the importance of Pak-Saudi relations and vowed to strengthen them further in various fields.
The prime minister expressed the confidence that during the reign of King Salman relations between the two countries would touch new heights. The Saudi ruler said his country attached great importance to its relations with Pakistan and would like to see them further strengthened. He said Saudi Arabia would like Pakistan to prosper and develop.
Premier Nawaz said that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were tied in bonds of shared faith and enjoyed excellent relations since the independence of Pakistan. Being the custodian of the two holy mosques the Saudi king has a special place in the heart of each Pakistani, he added.
He said Pakistan would like to further strengthen ties with its brotherly Islamic country in all fields, particularly trade, investment, energy, infrastructure development and several others. The Saudi monarch said his country would be happy to strengthen its relations with Pakistan in all fields. He particularly mentioned the need for increased interaction between the business communities of the two countries.
The two leaders also discussed matters relating to the region and agreed that terrorism and extremism were common enemies and the two countries would continue to cooperate with each other in field of security.
The prime minister thanked the Saudi leadership for providing valuable assistance to Pakistan in time of need. He also extended an invitation to the Saudi king to visit Pakistan which he accepted.
This is Premier Nawaz’s first visit to the oil-rich kingdom since King Salman bin Abdulaziz assumed the throne. This is also the prime minister’s first official visit to Saudi Arabia since assuming office in June 2013. During the trip, he will also perform Umrah in addition to meeting members of the Pakistani community in Saudi Arabia.
The premier’s entourage includes Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, his special assistants Irfan Siddiqui and Syed Tariq Fatemi and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
According to Gulf News, Riyadh will press Premier Nawaz to boost the number of Pakistani troops in the kingdom to fight militants, including the Islamic State. However, Islamabad is cautious about broadening its security relationship with Riyadh.
“There is uncertainty in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia deals with the wider Islamic State-related challenge,” a former national security adviser to Nawaz, Mahmoud Durrani told Gulf News. “Pakistan has to be careful to avoid getting embroiled in a relationship with the Saudis which only exposes us to new controversies.”
Riyadh is concerned about Islamic State, which has taken over large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, seeking to target the kingdom.
“The Saudis are very keen to boost their security apparatus, and Pakistan as a friend with a history of services to the kingdom is of great interest,” a western diplomat said. However, the two countries face challenges in their bilateral relations as the simmering issue of foreign funding to madrassas topped an agenda of the National Action Plan to wipe out terrorism.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2015.