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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

‘Can’t say no to Pakistan’: Saudi Crown Prince orders release of 2,100 prisoners

Visiting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has ordered the immediate release of over 2,000 Pakistani prisoners in the Kingdom’s jails, Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Monday.

world Updated: Feb 18, 2019 23:14 IST
Agencies
Agencies
Islamabad
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan greets Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his arrival at Pakistan Air Force’s Nur Khan Base in Rawalpindi.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan greets Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his arrival at Pakistan Air Force’s Nur Khan Base in Rawalpindi.(REUTERS)
         

Visiting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has ordered the immediate release of over 2,000 Pakistani prisoners in the Kingdom’s jails, Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Monday.

Prime Minister Imran Khan at a ceremony held to welcome the Saudi crown prince at PM House on Sunday night had made a “special request” to him on the Pakistani prisoners.

“There are some 3,000 [Pakistani] prisoners there and we just would like you to bear in mind that they are poor people who have left their families behind,” Khan said.

The Crown Prince, who was here on a visit, responded by assuring Khan to consider him Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

“We cannot say no to Pakistan ... whatever we can do, we will deliver that,” said the crown prince, who has been bestowed Pakistan’s highest civil award — Nishan-e-Pakistan — for his “outstanding support for reinvigorating Pak-Saudi bilateral relationship,” the Saudi crown prince announced, according to news agency PTI.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had told him that the prisoners are mostly poor labourers who have no real legal recourse. A large number of Pakistanis travel to the Middle East every year, with many working on construction sites or as domestic helpers.

Information Minister Chaudhry in a tweet said: “As a sequel to Prime Minister of Pakistan’s request, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of KSA Mohammad Bin Salman has ordered the immediate release of 2,107 Pakistani prisoners from Saudi Jails.” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also noted that the crown prince had “graciously agreed” to free the Pakistani prisoners “with immediate effect”.

“Cases of the remaining will be reviewed,” he announced.

The Saudi crown prince had arrived in Pakistan on Sunday on a two-day visit. He will also visit India and China.

Saudi Arabia on Sunday signed investment agreements with Pakistan worth $20 billion, soon after Prince Mohammed arrived in Pakistan on Sunday at the beginning of an Asian tour, which will include China. The visits are seen as an attempt by him to rebuild his reputation after the murder of Saudi critic and journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Pakistan has treated the crown prince’s visit as the biggest state visit since one by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015, soon after Beijing announced plans to invest tens of billions of dollars on infrastructure in Pakistan as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, according to news agency Reuters.

For his part, Crown Prince Mohammed gave a strong endorsement of Khan at a dinner held in his honor Sunday night. Khan faces increasing opposition at home while Pakistan’s alliance with the United States has weakened under President Donald Trump, who accuses the country of harboring terrorists to use as military and foreign policy tools. Pakistan denies those charges.

“Pakistan is facing a really great future today, with a great leadership,” Crown Prince Mohammed said, noting that the visit was his first trip east since becoming crown prince, and that Pakistan was the first stop on his itinerary. “We believe Pakistan is going to be a very, very important country in the coming future, and we want to be sure that we are part of that.”

Imran Khan and army chief, General Qamar Javed met Prince Mohammed as his plane landed at Islamabad’s airport Sunday night to a 21-gun salute, and the prime minister then personally drove the prince to the capital in his Mercedes sedan. At the end of his visit on Monday, Imran Khan also drove the prince back to the airport.

Before Sunday’s dinner, the two countries signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) for bilateral cooperation worth $20 billion in deals that would help cash-strapped Pakistan get some relief from a serious balance of payments crisis

Saudi Arabia has in recent months helped keep Pakistan’s economy afloat by propping up rapidly dwindling foreign reserves with a $6 billion loan, giving it breathing room as it negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

First Published: Feb 18, 2019 18:54 IST

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