By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Saudi Arabia signed agreements worth $20 billion during the visit of its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, to cash-strapped Pakistan.
Bin Salman arrived in the South Asian country for a two-day state visit earlier on February 17 — the first leg of his Asian tour that will also include stops in neighboring India and China.
The crown prince said at the 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.
Most of the deals signed focused on energy projects, including a $10 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex in the port city of Gwadar.
Memoranda 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.
Earlier on February 17, Bin Salman was greeted with a booming 21-gun salute at a military air base near the Pakistani capital.
The crown prince was welcomed by Khan and Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa as he stepped onto a red carpet flanked by an honor guard.
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 44 Indian paramilitary police in the disputed Kashmir region. Islamabad denies involvement.