Imran Khan arrives in Saudi Arabia saying Pakistan ‘desperate’ for loans

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan Monday arrived in Saudi Arabia to attend an investment conference, saying his country was going through the worst debt crisis of its history.

“The reason I feel I have to avail myself of this opportunity [to speak to the Saudi leadership] is because in a country of 210 million people right now we have the worst debt crisis in our history,” he told British news website Middle East Eye, before departing for the kingdom.

“Unless we get loans from friendly countries or the IMF [the International Monetary Fund] we actually won’t have in another two or three months enough foreign exchange to service our debts or to pay for our imports. So we’re desperate at the moment.”

When asked by the interviewer, the Pakistan prime minister said he was concerned at the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but could not skip the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference because “we’re desperate” for possible Saudi loans to shore up Pakistan’s economy.

It is Khan’s second visit to Saudi Arabia in just over a month, but he has not succeeded in securing significant financial assistance to stave off a looming balance of payment crisis.

Finance Minister Asad Umar and Commerce Minister Abdul Razak Dawood are accompanying Khan, a statement from Khan’s office said on Monday, adding it “will give a chance to connect with those people who are interested in investing in Pakistan.”

Islamabad has already asked the IMF to open negotiations for the country’s second potential bailout in five years.

Khan, who took office in July, still has been seeking alternatives to the tough conditions the IMF is likely to impose for loans, limiting his vision of an Islamic welfare state.

The central bank’s foreign reserves dropped this month to $8.1 billion, a four-year low and barely enough to cover sovereign debt payments due through the end of the year. The current account deficit has swelled to about $18 billion.

Khan has blamed the previous government’s policies for the ballooning current account deficit.

He told the Middle East Eye that he was concerned over the “shocking” death of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“The Saudi government will have to come up with an answer… We wait for whatever the Saudi explanation is,” he was quoted as saying. “We hope there is an explanation that satisfies people and those responsible are punished.”

The conference dubbed as “Davos in the desert” will host leading businesspersons, investors, corporate giants, representatives of hi-tech industry and major media outlets at one platform, the Foreign Office of Pakistan said in a press statement earlier.

PM Imran’s participation on the first day of the conference is aimed at projecting Pakistan’s economic and investment potential as well as its vision for the next five years.

The conference provides an opportunity to interact with important business leaders who are interested in investing in Pakistan, the statement said.

The premier will also call on King Salman and meet Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Matters of mutual interest will be discussed.

The FII conference is now an annual feature in Saudi Arabia. The first FII was held last year, with participation of 3,800 people from 90 countries. This year’s conference is also likely to attract participation from a large number of leading figures.

PM Imran’s participation in the conference “signifies our solidarity with the Kingdom in its efforts to become an emerging hub of international business and investment”, the Foreign Office stated further.

The prime minister last toured Saudi Arabia on September 18.

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