Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman meets with Pakistani leader Imran Khan in Islamabad. Photo: Handout via AFP

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan signed a raft of investment agreements on Sunday worth up to US$20 billion, as Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the oil-rich Gulf kingdom’s de facto ruler, launched his Asia tour.

Pakistan is facing a serious balance-of-payments crisis and hopes the deals – seven separate agreements and memoranda of understanding – will help to stabilize its economy.

The crown prince, widely known as MBS, is staging the high-profile three-country visit five months after he came under intense pressure following the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

He received a warm welcome in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan thanked longtime ally Saudi Arabia for its support, adding: “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are now taking this relationship to a level which [they] never had before.”

Khan has already visited Saudi Arabia twice since coming to power last summer.

Earlier on Sunday, MBS was greeted with a 21-gun salute and was warmly embraced by Khan and powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa as he stepped on to a red carpet flanked by an honor guard at a military airbase near Islamabad.

The two-day visit to Pakistan comes amid high regional tensions: India and Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran – both bordering Pakistan – have accused Islamabad of backing militant groups that have carried out suicide attacks in their territory in recent days.

Hours ahead of the crown prince’s arrival, Pakistan dismissed New Delhi’s accusations as “well-rehearsed tactics from [the] Indian playbook after such incidents in the past.”

MBS will travel to India after his Pakistan visit, where he will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

He is expected to finish the trip with a visit to China on Thursday and Friday.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse

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