While many pulled out of the ongoing Saudi investment summit citing the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Pakistani PM Imran Khan chose to rub shoulders with the Saudis to seal a bailout package. Social media reacts.
Pakistani authorities announced on Tuesday that Prime Minister Imran Khan managed to secure a $6 billion (€5.25 billion) bailout package from Saudi Arabia to avoid further deterioration of the South Asian country's economy.
"A MoU (memorandum of understanding) was signed between Finance Minister Asad Umar and the Saudi Finance Minister Muhammad Abdullah Al-Jadaan. It was agreed Saudi Arabia will place a deposit of USD 3 Billion for a period of one year as balance of payment support," Pakistan's Foreign Office said in a statement.
It was further "agreed that a one year deferred payment facility for import of oil, up to $3 billion, will be provided by Saudi Arabia. This arrangement will be in place for three years, which will be reviewed thereafter."
The agreement was signed on the sidelines of the second edition of the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
A number of world leaders had boycotted the Saudi summit, also called "Davos in the desert." The reason behind staying away from the high-profile investment conference was the criticism over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi royal family has come under sharp scrutiny over the journalist's killing, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claiming on Tuesday that the Saudis had "planned" Khashoggi's assassination.
But Khan, who won the July 25 general election and was inaugurated as prime minister in August, chose to look the other way on the Khashoggi killing.
Read more: Opinion: Imran Khan's dangerous victory
Speaking to The Independent newspaper earlier this week, Khan said that although the murder of one of Saudi Arabia's biggest critics "shocked" him, the reason he was visiting Riyadh was "to take this opportunity because we are a country of 210 million people and we have the worst debt crisis in our history."
"We are desperate for money," Khan added. "Unless we get loans from friendly countries or IMF, we actually won't have foreign exchange to either service our debts or to pay for our imports, so unless we get loans, or investment from abroad, we'll have real, real problems," the Pakistani PM stressed.
A 'mercenary trade off'
Pakistan's human rights defenders, however, criticized the premier's decision to turn a blind eye to Khashoggi's "brutal" murder and cozy up with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman at a time when the international community is trying to mount pressure on the two.
In a sarcastic tweet on Tuesday, journalist Umar Cheema said: "#IK lets the world know he's desperate."
Former Pakistani Senator Farhatullah Babar said that PM Khan's visited Riyadh at a time when "new evidence in Khashoggi case ensnares [the] House of Al Saud."
"Kingdom's isolation and rattling monarchy may seem to create space for financial bailout. Remember, trade offs that are mercenary in character intrinsically unsustainable, will haunt Pakistan for long," Babar tweeted.
Pakistani TV anchor Syed Talat Hussain also lashed out at PM Khan for seeking a financial loan from the Saudis.
"Even those countries that are drowning don't say publicly 'we are desperate for funds.' It is graceless and denigrates the country. PM Imran [Khan] has said this and it is absolutely embarrassing," Hussain tweeted.
A 'diplomatic success'
But Khan's supporters lauded the premier for securing a much-needed financial bailout package. They argue that their country cannot afford a conflict with Riyadh, which has been one of Pakistan's biggest financiers for decades.
"$6 billion in aid from Saudi Arabia. Thank you. Good work by @ImranKhanPTI. Pakistan has to delicately manage complex regional dynamics and an insatiably hungry youth-based economy. This is a fine start. But this only buys oxygen for reform. The real test is reform," Mosharraf Zaidi wrote on Twitter.
Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Movement for Justice) party projected the premier's meetings with Saudi officials as a great diplomatic success.
"Prime Minister @ImranKhanPTI meets Saudi Crown Prince Mohd Bin Salman, discusses matters related to mutual interests," said PTI's official Twitter account.
Moeed Pirzada, a TV anchor, took a dig at the former ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), for hoping that Khan's Saudi Arabia trip would be unsuccessful.
"Imran Khan, the skipper, you have played well! But I am feeling bad for all those in opposition, liberal fringes and media, who had high hopes of throwing out this govt. before December. Guys, you are gone, finished, history (that too only in N Media Cell)," Pirzada tweeted Tuesday.
A compromise on neutrality?
It is yet to be seen whether Khan's Riyadh visit was a success or a failure, but some rights activists and political analysts already fear that the Saudi cash will increase the kingdom's influence on Pakistan.
Sectarian conflict is rife in Pakistan, with Saudi Arabia and Iran engaged in a protracted proxy war in the South Asian country.
While Riyadh promotes its version of Wahhabi Islam — by supporting hardline Sunni groups, political parties and religious seminaries — Tehran, too, propagates Shiite Islam in the Muslim-majority nation through various channels.
Islamabad's ties with Tehran have been tense for quite some time, and PM Khan's decision to deepen relations with Saudi Arabia could raise eyebrows in Iran.
The sectarian strife in Pakistan has been ongoing for some time now, with militant Islamist groups unleashing terror on the minority Shiite groups in many parts of the country. Most of these outfits, including the Taliban, take inspiration from the hardline Wahhabi ideology.
"For Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalists, the country is already a 'Sunni Wall' against Shiite Iran," Siegfried O. Wolf, an expert at the University of Heidelberg's South Asia Institute, told DW in an interview.
Reacting to the latest Saudi bailout package for Pakistan, Michael Kugelman, a Washington-based South Asia analyst, wrote on Twitter: "Will the #Pakistan govt [government], which had initially telegraphed a desire for a more neutral position in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry, now need to revert to the norm and pivot closer to Riyadh? Could there be implications for Pakistan's energy/trade ties w/ #Iran?"