Pakistan in damage-control mode after Salman postpones his visit by a day

“They are covering up for the fact that the Crown Prince has postponed his Pakistani visit by a day, possibly to express unhappiness over what happened in Pulwama,” said former envoy Talmiz Ahmad

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry

Dhairya Maheshwari

Pakistan is all set to roll out a red carpet for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after his two-day visit to the south Asian country was postponed by a day due to reasons not revealed by the Imran Khan-led government.

Pakistan’s foreign office confirmed in a statement on Friday that Salman would now visit the country on February 17-18. “The visit programme remains unchanged,” said the statement. Earlier, Salman was scheduled to arrive in Islamabad on February 16. No explanation has been given for the modification in Salman’s itinerary.

Pakistan’s Board of Investment (BoI), which reports directly to Prime Minister Imran Khan, also offered no specific explanation for the change of dates.

As per local media reports, the BoI on Friday also sent out a notification to the invitees of the Pakistan-Saudi Business conference (originally scheduled to take place on Feb 17) that Salman’s visit had been postponed due to “unavoidable circumstances.”

In India, there is a strong perception that Salman postponed his Pakistan visit to “express displeasure” over the recent terrorist attack in Pulwama, which was carried out by Pakistan-backed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

“They are covering up for the fact that the Crown Prince has postponed his Pakistan visit by a day, possibly to express unhappiness over what happened in Pulwama,” said Talmiz Ahmad, India’s former envoy to Saudi Arabia.

Ahmad said that countries of the Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, were unhappy with Pakistan over its backing of state-backed extremist elements.

“This is based on a very clear understanding that Pakistan is the source of extremism in the region, which is of great anxiety to the Gulf countries. That is why their political relationship with India has extended,” said Ahmad.

The former Indian ambassador noted that cooperation between the two countries in the field of counter-terrorism had started in 2008, after the terrorist attack in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

“Once the Crown Prince is in India, we must be conveying this message very clearly,” he added.

A red-carpet welcome

The politically and economically significant visit of Salman to Pakistan comes at a time when the country’s economy is reeling under a balance of payments crisis.

BoI chairperson Haroon Sharif was quoted as saying in Pakistani media that at least three “mega government-to-government agreements,” with total worth more than $10 billion, will be signed during Salman’s visit. Overall, Salman is expected to pledge more than $20 billion in investment in Pakistan during the visit, as per Karachi-based daily Dawn.

According to local media reports, Salman would be received by Prime Minister Imran Khan at the airport, after his airplane, escorted by Pakistani Air Force jets, lands in Islamabad. A 21-gun salute will also take place upon his arrival, as per Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain.

Unprecedented security arrangements have been made in Islamabad and Rawalpindi for the two-day visit, with mobile services suspended during the duration of his stay and Section 144 imposed in both the cities.

A team of Saudi royal guards will be stationed at the PM House as Salman will become the first state guest to stay at the official residence of the Prime Minister. A total of 1,000 checkpoints have been set-up across the twin cities and all police leaves have been cancelled, reports Pakistani media.

Reportedly, two C-130 aircraft flew in seven BMW 7 Series luxury sedans and one Land Cruiser for Salman to move around during his visit. It is further being reported that 750 rooms in eight of Islamabad’s hotels have been booked to accommodate the delegates accompanying Salman.

After concluding his visit to Pakistan, Salman will be headed to India for a visit over February 19 and 20.

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Published: 16 Feb 2019, 6:41 PM