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Saturday Feb 16 2019

Pakistan gets ready to welcome Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman

Pakistani commuters ride past billboards showing portraits of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (2R) and Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) displayed on a roadside — ahead of the prince's arrival — in Islamabad, Pakistan, February 15, 2019. AFP/Aamir Qureshi

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan was rescheduling flights, blocking-off luxury hotels, and — according to one report Friday — collecting 3,500 pigeons and colourful balloons to release during a welcome ceremony for Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Islamabad is hoping to sign a raft of investment deals and other agreements during the two-day visit, which begins Sunday and will include talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The crown prince, also referred to as MbS, had originally been due to arrive on Saturday but the Pakistan foreign ministry released a statement late Friday saying the visit had been delayed by one day, with the programme unchanged.

Banners heralding the crown prince were already lining the streets of the capital Friday, while a local newspaper reported that the authorities were trying to catch so many pigeons for a welcome ceremony that they were forced to collect birds from other cities.

Police, the armed forces, and the Saudi Royal Guards will provide security, a senior Islamabad police official told AFP.

The capital's "red zone", which houses Parliament House and the Presidency, was to be sealed off, while civil aviation authorities have been told to reschedule flights during the prince's arrival and departure.

Authorities in the capital said two five-star hotels had been ordered to cancel all advance bookings as the rooms will be reserved for the prince's entourage.

Earlier in the week, local media reported that the crown prince's personal belongings — including luxury vehicles and his own gym — were flown to Pakistan in two C130 aeroplanes.

The visit came as regional tensions spiked after neighbouring India accused Islamabad of harbouring militants behind a deadly attack in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly preparing to sign a record investment package with Pakistan, including a $10-billion refinery and oil complex for the strategic Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.

Pakistan's foreign office spokesman said Islamabad is seeking to sign a number of other deals, including one "combating organised crime".

Khan has been courting Pakistan's Gulf allies for months as he seeks to stave off an ongoing balance of payments crisis and reduce the size of any potential bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


The Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have together offered Islamabad some $30 billion in investment and loans.

The Kingdom and Pakistan are also participating in talks with the US and other countries seeking to bring the Taliban to the table for peace negotiations with Kabul after more than 17 years of war.

The Taliban have claimed their representatives will visit Islamabad on Monday after Salman leaves. 


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