–Imran Khan will travel to Riyadh on Oct 23 to participate in Saudi investment moot, hold meetings with Saudi royal family
–PM expected to push Saudi royals for financial assistance ahead of IMF talks, express Pakistan’s support to Kingdom in wake of controversy over Jamal Khashoggi incident
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia – his second in less than five weeks – is not only aimed at seeking financial aid from the Kingdom before the government sits with the IMF to discuss the bailout plan, but also to express solidarity with the Saudis in wake of the chaos following Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance and apparent killing, Pakistan Today has learnt.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Foreign Office announced that PM Khan will visit Saudi Arabia to attend the Future Investment Initiative Conference (FIIC) on the “special invitation of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz”.
According to the FO, the premier is expected to travel to Riyadh on October 23 to participate on the first of the two-day conference. The conference, which will host businessmen and “representatives of hi-tech industry” from around the world, will serve as an “opportunity to interact with important business leaders who are interested in investing in Pakistan”, the statement said.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan’s participation in first day of the conference is aimed at projecting Pakistan’s economic and investment potential and the [premier’s] vision of the country in the five years to come,” the press release read.
PM Khan will also meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to discuss “matters of mutual interest”.
The prime minister’s participation in the conference signifies Pakistan’s “solidarity with the Kingdom in its efforts to become emerging hub of international business and investment”, the press statement added.
According to diplomatic sources, Pakistan aims to achieve multiple objectives during PM Khan’s visit to the Kingdom, even though most of the big names who were due to attend the investment moot have bailed out over the Khashoggi issue.
“The PM’s visit is an attempt to seek financial aid, with the aim to avoid the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout programme, or at least negotiate with the Fund from a position of ‘strength’,” said a source.
The visit will take place two weeks before the start of talks with the IMF for a bailout package, scheduled for Nov 7.
Pakistan faces grave challenges in meeting its international financial obligations, as the country’s gross official foreign currency reserves have further decreased by $219 million to $8.1 billion.
Such low reserves have weakened the country’s negotiating position with the IMF that is demanding steep currency devaluation and double-digit interest rate.
The visit also comes as Pakistan’s central bank warned this week that inflation would likely double in the coming year — hitting 7.5 per cent — while the country’s growth target rate of 6.2 per cent would likely be missed.
“The prime minister will try to convince the Saudi royal family to approve some financial assistance, as the country is looking to get at least $5 billion in cash from Saudi Arabia and China.”
Pakistan faces a total financing gap of $12 billion for the remainder period of the current fiscal year that it wants to fill by exploring various options.
The news of the second visit to Saudi Arabia came a day after Premier Khan disclosed that his government may still avoid going to the IMF. He gave the statement during a meeting with the media bodies held on Wednesday. However, on the same day, Finance Minister Asad Umar told a private news channel that the IMF programme was still on the government’s agenda.
Meanwhile, the FIIC moot hosted by the Saudis, has been boycotted by United Kingdom, United States and France.
Pakistan briefly weighed in on the incident earlier this month, calling on Turkey and Saudi Arabia “to jointly address the matter”.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Thursday he would not attend the conference. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde dropped out on Wednesday, closely followed by the heads of two of France’s biggest banks.
Wall Street’s biggest names withdrew earlier this week, as did some of Europe’s top executives in finance.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, hasn’t been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Turkish officials have told CNN he was killed inside the consulate. Saudi authorities have so far maintained that Khashoggi left the consulate the same day, but they have provided no evidence to support the claim.
The Saudi conference, known as “Davos in the desert”, is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to transform the oil-dependent economy.
PAKISTAN TO STAND BY SAUDIS:
Diplomatic sources have said that despite US pressure building on Riyadh, Pakistan would stand by the Saudis “as its ties with the Kingdom were strategic in nature”.
“Pakistan wants to tell the world that it stands by Saudi Arabia and its people in their testing times,” the sources said, adding that during his recent visit to the Kingdom, Prime Minister Khan had told the Saudi king that Pakistan would use its good offices with Tehran and Ankara to bridge misunderstandings between the Muslim Ummah.
The sources added that Imran Khan had also dropped a hint on the possibility of Pakistan playing a role in ending the Yemen crisis by engaging the Iranian leadership to broker a peace deal between the warring factions.
The sources added that Pakistan was already using its influence to bridge ties between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the Qatari deputy prime minister-cum-foreign minister had quietly visited Pakistan on Friday.
Asked to explain the nature of the Qatari dignitary’s visit, the sources said that the Qatari royal had visited to express gratitude to Pakistani government for allocating a special block of wildlife for hunting purpose to the Qatar’s Royal family which was previously dedicated to the Royal family of United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“This special gesture was approved following a request made to the prime minister by Qatar’s royal family. Pakistan agreed to the request and also accommodated the UAE royals with an alternative arrangement,” the sources said.
Qatar had recently helped Turkey manage the downward slide of its currency, Lira, against dollar price, by putting US$ 15 billion to help surge foreign exchange reserves of Turkey.
Asked if Pakistan was also seeking any such arrangement from Qatar, the diplomatic sources said no such discussion had taken place as yet.
The sources viewed the move as a ‘wise and timely measure’ to grasp on an opportunity for Pakistan to cultivate more influence among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.