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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's extravagant Pakistan visit delayed 'for unknown reasons'

Saudi Arabia's crown prince is due in Pakistan [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 February, 2019

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The Saudi crown prince's visit to Pakistan is one of the biggest in recent years.
A hugely-anticipated state visit to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be delayed by a day, Islamabad announced on Saturday.

No reason was given for the delay by the Pakistani foreign office, which added that preparations had been made for the crown prince.

"The visit programme (itinerary) remains unchanged," the foreign office said in a statement.

Cash-strapped Pakistan is planning an extravagent welcome for the Saudi crown prince, in one of its biggest state visits in recent years.

Thousands of doves have been collected from cities across Pakistan, which will be released at a welcome ceremony along with thousands of balloons.

Pakistan's government is mobilising some 300 Land Cruisers for the visit, while 750 rooms at eight luxury hotels will also be reserved for the crown prince's entourage, according to Dawn newspaper.

The crown prince will also fly in his own gym and other luxuries on two C130 military cargo planes, according to Pakistani and Gulf media.

Prince Mohammed is due to sign off a huge $10-billion refinery and oil investment in the Pakistani port of Gwadar - one of the biggest cash injection Islamabad's history.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly "turning east" and wooing countries such as Pakistan and China following recent diplomatic crises involving the bullish crown prince. 

"Riyadh is trying to break its regional isolation by utilising Pakistan's need for economic support," said Ali al-Bakeer, an Ankara-based political analyst and researcher.

"The Pakistani authorities are probably aware of the crown prince's intentions in this regard, which is why they will try to strengthen their relations with other players, such as Turkey, Qatar, maybe Iran."

The move comes after the crown prince's reputation was sullied in Europe and North America following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, human rights abuses, and Riyadh's ruthless military campaign in Yemen. 

"No matter how much money Saudi Arabia is going to spend while it heads eastwards, it will not shield Prince Mohammed if the US and EU are not satisfied with the Khashoggi case," Bakeer added.

"At the end of the day, Saudi money can buy some economic and political influence in southern Asia but this substitute the US traditional role in protecting and security."

Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, by a team of intelligence and army officers considered close to the crown prince.

Although Riyadh has denied any official link in the murder of Khashoggi - a critic of Prince Mohammed - US and Turkish intelligence have linked the killing to the crown prince.

Crown Prince Mohammed in also expected to meet members of the Taliban during the tour.

Saudi Arabia is one Pakistan's strongest military and political allies, particularly since efforts by both countries to undermine the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. 

Riyadh and Islamabad were also among the few countries in the world to recognise the Taliban government in the mid-1990s, until the fundamentalist regime was overthrown following a 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

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