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Pakistan Honors Saudi Crown Prince After $20 Billion Deals


Pakistan Fighters Escort Saudi Crown Prince Into Islamabad
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Pakistan has conferred its highest civilian honor on the Saudi crown prince after he signed investment deals worth $20 billion the previous day on the first stop of an Asian tour that will also include visits to neighboring India and China.

President Arif Alvi awarded Muhammad bin Salman the Nishan-e-Pakistan (Order of Pakistan) during a ceremony at the presidential palace in Islamabad on February 18.

The crown prince's next stop will be India, Islamabad's archrival, and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on February 18 that Riyadh would take steps to "de-escalate" rising tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi.

Pakistan has recalled its ambassador from New Delhi for consultations amid growing tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, the Foreign Office in Islamabad said on February 18.

Pakistan is facing a balance-of-payments crisis and hopes the deals closed over the crown prince's two-day visit -- seven separate agreements and memorandums of understanding -- will stimulate its flagging economy.

The crown prince said at the February 17 signing ceremony in Islamabad that the $20 billion figure "will grow every month and every year."

"Saudi Arabia has always been a friend of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has been a friend in need," said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry also said on Twitter that the crown prince had "ordered the immediate release of 2,107 Pakistani prisoners."

However, Saudi Arabia has yet to comment on the Pakistani announcement of a prisoner release.

The situation of thousands of Pakistanis held in jails across the Middle East is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where there is a perception that the prisoners are mostly poor laborers who have no real legal recourse.

Most of the deals signed in Islamabad focused on energy projects, including a $10 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex in the port city of Gwadar.

Memorandums of understanding were also inked for investments in minerals and agriculture, Khan said.

Pakistan enjoys close ties with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which has in recent months helped the Pakistani economy in propping 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.

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 death 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.

His tour comes amid high tensions in South Asia, with India accusing Pakistan of having a hand in a recent suicide attack that killed at least 41 Indian paramilitary police in the disputed Kashmir region. Islamabad denies involvement.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, Dawn, and Al-Arabiya
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