PM Nawaz Sharif in Saudi Arabia for Gulf crisis talks

Prime minister to meet with Saudi king in Jeddah days after Islamabad called for dialogue to end the diplomatic crisis.

Pakistan has so far resisted declaring support for either the blockade or Qatar’s rejection of the allegations against it [Reuters]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday arrived in Saudi Arabia for high-level talks, his office said, with the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf high on the agenda.

Sharif was travelling with Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, top foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz and several other senior officials, a statement said.

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The prime minister will hold talks with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud in Jeddah, the country’s second city, and will also attend a dinner hosted by the king in his honour.

His meeting comes a few days after the Saudi king met Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who is leading mediation efforts to patch a major rift in the wake of the severing of diplomatic ties and blockade of Qatar by several Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Last week, Pakistan’s lower house of parliament passed a resolution calling for “all countries to show restraint and resolve all differences through dialogue”.

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Pakistan has so far resisted declaring support for either the blockade or Qatar’s rejection of the allegations against it, which include allegedly sponsoring “terrorist” groups.

Analysts say the country has been walking a diplomatic tightrope, given its close ties to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar itself – all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

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On Sunday, Pakistan’s foreign office strongly rejected reports by some media in Turkey that it had sent troops to Qatar to aid a Turkish contingent of soldiers due to arrive there.

Nafees Zakaria, spokesperson for Pakistan’s foreign office, said the reports were “completely fabricated and baseless”.

“These false reports appear to be part of a malicious campaign aimed at creating misunderstanding between Pakistan and brotherly Muslim countries in the Gulf,” he said.

Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia was “in context of the emergent situation among GCC countries”, his office said.

Last year, Pakistan signed a landmark 15-year deal with Qatar for the import of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), mainly meant to help the country to meet its massive electricity shortfall by providing fuel for thermal power plants.


Saudi Arabia is home to at least 1.9 million Pakistani expatriate workers, with the UAE hosting 1.2 million Pakistanis and Qatar 115,000, according to government data.

Those expatriate Pakistanis have a significant impact on their country’s economy,  with foreign remittances playing an important role in bolstering Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves.

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Saudi Arabia tops the list of countries with the highest remittances to Pakistan, with $4.52bn in funds sent home by Pakistanis in the current fiscal year, according to Pakistan’s central bank.

The UAE comes in next at $3.47bn, with Qatar appearing much further down the list with only $304m in remittances.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera English’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

Source: Al Jazeera