New Pak PM to visit Saudi Arabia tomorrow

Pakistan`s new Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf will on Sunday embark on his first foreign visit to Saudi Arabia.

Islamabad: Pakistan`s new Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf will on Sunday embark on his first foreign visit to Saudi Arabia, days before the Supreme Court takes up two cases that could lead to his disqualification.

During the two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Pakistan, Ashraf will meet King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.

An unnamed Foreign Ministry official was quoted by the Dawn newspaper as saying that the purpose of the visit was to reiterate the importance Pakistan attaches to its relations with Saudi Arabia.

During a meeting with Saudi Ambassador Abdul Aziz Ibrahim Al-Ghadeer on July 2, Ashraf had expressed a desire to visit the kingdom.

"I am keen to visit the kingdom, the Holy Land," Ashraf was quoted as telling the Saudi diplomat in a statement.

Ashraf became the premier last month after the Supreme Court convicted his predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, of contempt and disqualified him for refusing to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Gilani`s last official trip was to Saudi Arabia.

He visited the kingdom to attend the funeral of Saudi crown prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz.

A diplomatic observer told the Dawn that it was plausible for any premier to undertake a foreign trip to strengthen bilateral relations under normal circumstances, but a premier "facing a survival crisis at home would go on an overseas trip only for something very pressing".

The report said Ashraf "could be looking for Riyadh’s blessings for a political bailout or urgent economic help to ease the financial crisis at home".

Saudi Arabia has been helping Pakistan with financial aid and has also been an important external actor in the country’s domestic milieu.

Saudi involvement in Pakistan was summed up by the kingdom’s ambassador to the US, Adel al Jubeir, who once said: "We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants."

The kingdom maintains strong ties with the main opposition PML-N and religious parties and groups. It also has cordial relations with Pakistan`s military leadership.

Pakistan`s apex court is set to resume hearing the case related to reopening graft charges against Zardari on July 25.

It will also take up challenges to a new contempt of court law on July 23.

Legal experts have said the new law was passed largely to prevent the disqualification of Ashraf.


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