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Sharif leverages personal relations with Saudi Arabia, resets ties soured by Imran Khan

New Delhi, May 4, 2022- In Shehbaz Sharif — the Pakistani Prime Minister, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has reposed massive confidence. Within a fortnight of taking over as the Prime Minister, Sharif made his first foreign visit to Riyadh to reset ties with the kingdom which had been strained by his predecessor Imran Khan.

Saudi Arabia was one of the initial countries to have recognised Pakistan after the partition of India and has historically maintained good relations with ample moral and financial support to Islamabad.

Sharif’s visit resulted in Saudi Arabia providing an $8 billion package to Islamabad to prop up its dwindling foreign exchange reserves and revive its sinking economy. Pakistan is in the grip of high inflation, depreciating rupee and a crumbling economy, scouring around for emergency funds, including from the International Monetary Fund.

Geopolitical analyst Mark Kinra told India Narrative that Sharif has used his personal contacts to strengthen relations with the Saudis.

Kinra says: “The Sharif family has had deep ties with the Saudi royal family for decades. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif along with Shahbaz Sharif and other relatives moved into exile in Saudi Arabia after he was ousted in a coup by General Pervez Musharraf in 2000. They lived in the Kingdom until 2007. Sharif family owns properties and runs businesses in the Kingdom, which makes them a preferred candidate for the Kingdom in serving the interests for both the parties.”

By agreeing to this enormous package, which includes doubling of the oil financing facility, providing additional money and rolling over the existing debt, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has snuffed out the lingering bitterness between the two governments created during Imran Khan’s tenure as Prime Minister from 2018 till April 2022.

Kinra adds that the Sharif family is re-setting ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which got soured during the tenure of Imran Khan.

“Imran Khan not only aligned himself with Turkey but also tried to delegitimise Saudi Arabia as the leader of Muslim world, thereby creating new fronts, which triggered Saudi Arabia,” says Kinra.

In solidarity with Sharif, the Kingdom has also come down heavily on the rowdy supporters of Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) who had humiliated Sharif on two occasions during his official visit to Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has arrested five Pakistanis and will put them on trial for “violating the regulations” and “disrespecting” the sanctity of the mosque.

Last Thursday, PTI supporters belted slogans of “chor, chor”, or “thief, thief” at Sharif and his entourage at the Masjid-e-Nabawi–the Prophet’s Mosque, considered to be the second-holiest site in Islam, causing acute embarassment to Pakistanis globally.

For the second time on Friday, Sharif was once agains shouted at by disgruntled Pakistani supporters of Imran Khan. They shouted at him when he was entering a Saudi building under heavy security.

Videos of PTI supporters manhandling Baloch leader and Narcotics Control Minister, Shahzain Bugti, and chanting slogans against Information and Broadcasting Minister, Marriyum Aurangzeb, in Saudi Arabia have gone viral on social media, showing PTI and Imran Khan in poor light.

Pakistan has formally requested the Saudi Arabia government to take “appropriate action” against Pakistani pilgrims, who embarassed Pakistan internationally at one of Islam’s holiest shrines.

Meanwhile, Pakistan too has filed cases in Faisalabad under the notorious ‘blasphemy laws’ against Imran Khan, former Minister Fawad Chaudhry, top PTI leaders and nearly 150 more for the ruckus at Masjid-i-Nabwi. The cases relate to defiling a place of worship, malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings by insulting its religion or religious beliefs and disturbing religious assembly. (Agency)

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