New Pakistan PM visits Saudi Arabia to renew ties, sparks protests in Madinah

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Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, is visiting Saudi Arabia this week in a bid to strengthen ties with the Kingdom and possibly gain more financial support, in what is his first foreign trip since assuming office earlier this month.

Landing in the Islamic holy city of Madinah yesterday, where he and his delegation were welcomed by regional officials, Sharif stated on Twitter that “Today I am embarking on a visit to Saudi Arabia to renew & reaffirm our bonds of brotherhood and friendship”. He added that the Kingdom “has a special place in all our hearts”.

The itinerary of the Prime Minister’s visit was not revealed, but he was expected to pray at the Prophet’s Mosque in the holy city, and a statement by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry clarified that the visit will last until Saturday. According to the statement, talks between officials and the leadership of both countries are expected to focus “on advancing economic, trade and investment ties and creation of greater opportunities for the Pakistani workforce in Saudi Arabia”.

OPINION: After decades of status quo, can Pakistan remain a neutral player on the world stage?

There are also predictions that Islamabad may seek financial aid from Riyadh by requesting additional deposits in Pakistan’s Central Bank due to the intense pressure on its external account. Trips by Pakistani premiers to the Kingdom – always the first destination as a priority – have often resulted in such financial agreements.

Upon his landing in Madinah and his passing through the Prophet’s Mosque, however, Sharif and his delegation were heckled and bombarded with chants of “thieves” and “beggars” by crowds of Pakistanis who oppose his premiership and his ousting of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was forced to step down after a no-confidence vote earlier this month.

Many see Shehbaz Sharif, who is the brother of three-time former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, as the return of rule by corruption-ridden and dynasty-like families and elites who dominated Pakistani politics for decades, prior to Imran Khan’s premiership.

The Sharif family also has close ties with Saudi Arabia itself, as they were hosted by the Kingdom during their exile from Pakistan, which lasted from 2000 to 2007. How well Shehbaz Sharif could utilise those personal ties is questionable, however, as power dynamics in Riyadh have been altered ever since, by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s consolidation of power over the past five years.

READ: Pakistan strengthens intelligence cooperation with Saudi

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