Saudi Arabia has ordered the release of 2,107 Pakistani prisoners held in jail after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan appealed to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS).
Confirmed on Twitter by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the move comes amid Bin Salman’s first official visit to Pakistan yesterday, the first stop of an Asia tour widely seen as an attempt to rebuild his reputation after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
HRH Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman has graciously agreed to free 2107 Pakistani prisoners in Saudi Arabia with immediate effect. Cases of the remaining will be reviewed. People of Pakistan thank HRH for responding immediately to Prime Minister Imran Khan's request.
— Shah Mahmood Qureshi (@SMQureshiPTI) February 18, 2019
The Crown Prince was given a royal welcome, with his delegation accompanied by Pakistani JF-17 fighter jets as his plane entered Pakistani airspace. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan’s army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, greeted MBS on the red carpet of a military airport in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, before Khan personally drove the crown prince to the capital Islamabad.
In a press conference Khan called on MBS to treat the 2.5 million Pakistanis working in the Kingdom “as his own”, to which the crown prince said he would be the “ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia”.
Saudi officials have yet to comment on the announcement of the prisoners’ release. Thousands of Pakistanis – mostly working class labourers – are locked up in jails across the Middle East, with their ongoing plight proving a sensitive issue in Pakistan.
The Saudi crown prince’s visit marks a deepening of ties between the two allies, whose relationship has in the past centred on oil-rich Saudi Arabia propping up Pakistan’s economy in return for Islamabad lending its powerful army to the Kingdom and its royal family.
Yesterday, MBS also confirmed that the two countries had signed investment agreements worth $20 billion, adding that the figure was likely to grow.
“It’s big for phase 1, and definitely it will grow every month and every year, and it will be beneficial to both countries,” said the crown prince, adding: “We have been a brotherly country, a friendly country to Pakistan. We’ve walked together in tough and good times, and we [will] continue.”
The tour will also see MBS embark on a charm offensive after he was condemned for his alleged role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, analysts say. Many in the West blamed the crown prince for the killing, which triggered the Kingdom’s biggest political crisis for a generation. He has denied any involvement.
Bin Salman – who will be visiting India and China later this week – had also planned to visit Indonesia and Malaysia during the tour, but those trips have been postponed, according to officials.