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Saudi crown prince 'gifts Islamabad 2,100 Pakistani prisoners' during post-Khashoggi wooing visit Open in fullscreen

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Saudi crown prince 'gifts Islamabad 2,100 Pakistani prisoners' during post-Khashoggi wooing visit

Pakistan warmly welcomed the crown prince with a 21-gun salute on Sunday. [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 February, 2019

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The Saudi crown prince's trip comes as Riyadh attempts to strengthen its alliance with the kingdom's eastern allies following international uproar over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has ordered the release of more than 2,000 Pakistani prisoners being held in the kingdom's jails during a high-profile visit to Islamabad.

Pakistan warmly welcomed the crown prince with a 21-gun salute on Sunday, as the royal makes a landmark two-day state visit.

The trip comes as Riyadh attempts to strengthen his alliance with the kingdom's allies outside the West following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other PR disasters.

Bin Salman "ordered the immediate release of 2,107 Pakistani prisoners", after a request by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a post on Twitter.

The news comes as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan signed investment agreements worth $20 billion on Sunday.

Pakistan said it would confer its highest civilian honour on the Saudi crown prince on Monday – the Nishan-e-Pakistan (Order of Pakistan) – before he leaves for India, Islamabad's arch-rival.

Pakistan is facing a serious balance of payments crisis and hopes the huge deals signed over the two-day visit - seven separate agreements and memorandums of understanding - will boost its struggling economy.

Riyadh has propped up Pakistan's economy in recent months with a $6 billion loan as Islamabad negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

The fate of thousands of Pakistani labourers locked up in prisons across the Middle East is a sensitive political issue in Pakistan.

Large numbers of Pakistanis travel to the Middle East every year to work mainly as domestic helpers or in construction and the remittances they send back are vital for Pakistan's economy.

Saudi Arabia has yet to comment on the Pakistani announcement of a prisoner release.

Analysts have said the Saudi tour is part of a Gulf pivot to rising Asia as a growing oil market, but also a timely demonstration to the West that MbS is not an international pariah.

The crown prince's tour is expected to finish with two days in China on Thursday and Friday.

The brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October triggered the kingdom's biggest diplomatic crisis in years.

The CIA believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered an operation to kill Khashoggi and say his body was dismembered and removed to a location still publicly unknown.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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