Wed, 20 Mar 2019

Saudi Arabias de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, has arrived in Islamabad for a state visit, with officials hoping he will sign lucrative investment deals that could shore up Pakistans ailing economy.

Bin Salman was greeted on February 17 with a booming 21-gun salute at a military air base near Islamabad, the first leg of his Asian tour.

The crown prince, widely known as MBS, was welcomed by Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa as he stepped onto a red carpet flanked by an honor guard.

The trip comes amid high tensions in the region. India has accused Pakistan of having a hand in a recent suicide attack that killed 44 Indian paramilitary police in the disputed Kashmir region. Islamabad denies involvement.

Bin Salman is set to hold meetings with Khan, Bajwa, and President Arif Alvi during his two-day visit, and the two sides are expected to sign investment agreements worth more than $10 billion.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has in recent months helped Pakistan's economy to prop up its rapidly dwindling foreign exchange reserves with a $6 billion loan, giving Islamabad breathing room as it negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

Imran Khan was one of the few foreign leaders to attend an international investment conference in Saudi Arabia in October that was largely boycotted after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a fierce critic of bin Salman, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Riyadh initially denied the murder, but now claims the journalist was killed in an unauthorized operation.

After Pakistan, bin Salman will travel to India, where he will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. He is expected to finish the trip with a visit to China on February 21 and 22.

Based on reporting by Reuters, dpa, AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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