Saudi crown prince orders release of over 2,000 Pakistani prisoners

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The morning after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman promised to deliver “whatever we can do” for Pakistanis living in the kingdom, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced that MBS had ordered the immediate release of over 2,000 Pakistani prisoners in Saudi jails.

Prime Minister Imran Khan at a ceremony held to welcome the crown prince at PM House on Sunday night had made a “special request” to MBS to look into the hardships of Pakistani labourers working in the kingdom, and to “look upon them as your own people”.

“There are some 3,000 [Pakistani] prisoners there and we just would like you to bear in mind that they are poor people who have left their families behind,” Khan had said.

MBS had responded by assuring the premier to consider him Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Prince Mohammad had continued: “We cannot say no to Pakistan … whatever we can do, we will deliver that.”

Prime Minister Khan in a tweet today said that the crown prince had “won the hearts of the people of Pakistan when he said, ‘Consider me Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia’ in response to my asking him to treat the 2.5 million Pakistanis working in KSA as his own.”

Fawad Chaudhry in a tweet today said: “As a sequel to Prime Minister of Pakistan’s request, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of KSA Mohammad Bin Salman has ordered the immediate release of 2,107 Pakistani prisoners from Saudi Jails.”

This was Prince Mohammad’s first state visit since becoming crown prince. Saudi Arabia has signed agreements worth $21 billion with Pakistan in various fields, including cooperation in power production, establishment of an oil refinery and petrochemical plant, promotion of sports and technical assistance in the standardisation sector.

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Opposition leaders to meet MBS today

After the government’s refusal to invite the opposition leadership to official engagements of the visiting royal, opposition senators will meet the dignitary today, Dawn has learnt.

Sources said a delegation headed by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani would meet the crown prince at noon at the invitation of the Saudi ambassador in Pakistan.

The delegation will comprise Leader of the House Shibli Faraz of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Leader of the Opposition and chairman of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Raja Zafarul Haq, parliamentary leader of the PML-N Mushahidullah Khan, parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Sherry Rehman, parliamentary leader of the PTI Azam Khan Swati and parliamentary leader of the senators’ group from tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Aurangzeb Khan.

Interestingly, the official list, seen by Dawn, shows the name of National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser also mentioned as a member of the delegation. Some opposition members of the National Assembly were of the view that the speaker should not have been a part of the Senate delegation if he could not arrange a similar meeting of his own members with the visiting dignitary.

Opposition parties have been criticising the federal government for not inviting their leadership to the official reception hosted in honour of visiting Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and termed it an “undemocratic and un-parliamentary” step.

The PPP and PML-N leaders had questioned the logic that was given by the government to keep the opposition away from the official engagements during the two-day visit of the Saudi crown prince and said they had never made any request to the government to invite them to any function.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry had stated through his official account on social media website Twitter that the opposition leaders who were facing corruption charges could not be invited to attend the reception for the Saudi crown prince.

“How can we invite the opposition to the (official) dinner? Their central leaders are either in jail or on bail or facing investigations. The remaining people do not have such kind of a (political) stature. So it is meaningless to invite or not to invite the opposition,” Chaudhry had said.

In the same Tweet, he had termed the present opposition “non-serious” and expressed the hope that a new political leadership might emerge from the opposition.

When contacted, PML-N parliamentary leader Musha­hidullah Khan confirmed that they had received an invitation from the Senate Secretariat for a meeting with the Saudi prince.

In reply to a question, he said there was no harm in meeting the crown prince as part of the Senate delegation as the government had nothing to do with this activity. Moreover, he said, so far he had not received any instructions from the party leadership in this regard.

PPP’s Sherry Rehman also said that at present she could not make any comment on the issue, but confirmed that she had received intimation from the Senate Secretariat regarding the meeting of the Senate delegation with the Saudi prince.

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