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December 14, 2019

Confusion clouds PM’s visit to Saudi Arabia

National

December 14, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Confusion clouds Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to Saudi Arabia as government spokespersons are denying any such plan whereas media reports attributed to official sources claim he will fly today to "assuage Riyadh's reservations."

Three days ago, PM was about to fly Riyadh but the programme had to postpone after meeting couldn't be set up with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, it has been learnt. "The plane was put on standby in afternoon. PM cancelled scheduled engagements in anticipation of his departure to Riyadh. All was set. Only nod from Riyadh was awaited that we didn't receive till 10pm hence plan to fly was adjourned," said an official with reference to the late Wednesday's activities.

Another source confirmed that travel security arrangement generally called "route" was made on Wednesday evening for PM's departure to airport but it was later communicated that the plan had been postponed. Incidentally top intelligence chief flew to Riyadh early on Wednesday whereas Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi returned that day after discussing "the latest developments at regional and international level" with Saudi counterpart.

Foreign Office is clueless about PM's purported visit, even if there any plan exists. "Ideally, the information should have come through FO but unfortunately we are relying on titbits in media," said an official. Most of the information in media circles is coming from the embassies of two countries, he said with reference to Iran and Saudi Arabia. Whoever journalist is close to whoever embassy is reporting whatever that embassy has to say on the matter under question, according to the FO official.

Special Assistant to PM on Information Dr. Firdous Ashiq was rather more direct as she said there is no programme of Saudi visit. "He will fly Bahrain on Monday and from there on to Switzerland," she said, denying that he will go to Saudi Arabia before visiting the above-mentioned countries. She expressed ignorance about the report that the premier was set to fly late Wednesday but adjourned the plan after the appointment was not set up with the Saudi crown prince. "I have no information and can't comment," said FO Spokesperson Dr Faisal as he was contacted to know about PM's likely visit. He said after Bahrain and Switzerland, PM is likely to attend Kuala Lumpur summit.

This summit is perceived to be at the heart of ongoing unease between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. An English daily has reported quoting an Arab source that PM's likely visit is aimed to assuage Riyadh's reservation which is not happy with Imran Khan's decision to attend the summit, a brainchild of Malaysian PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani would also be in attendance. Indonesian President Joko Widodo was also expected to attend but he is now sending a representative after succumbing to pressure, according to a newspaper report.

For Saudi Arabia, this summit to be held on Dec 18-20 is a potential counter-weight of Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The summit was conceived in September this year during a trilateral meeting of Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia's heads of governments on the sidelines of New York General Assembly sessions. Setting up of an Islamic TV channel was also announced after that meeting.

"President Erdogan, PM Mahatir and myself had a meeting today in which we decided our 3 countries would jointly start an English language channel dedicated to confronting the challenges posed by Islamophobia and setting the record straight on our great religion - Islam," Imran had announced through a tweet.

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