Pakistan ‘Very-Keen’ To Strengthen Ties With Iran; Experts Question the Saudi Factor

PM Imran Khan says that Pakistan attaches great importance to its relations with Iran, and he will seek closer relations between the two neighbours during his upcoming visit to Tehran. Many experts have questioned PM Khan whether Pakistan can come out of the looming shadow of Saudi Arabia?

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He made the remarks in a Thursday meeting with Iranian Ambassador to Islamabad Mahdi Honardoost, during which the two sides discussed arrangements for Imran Khan’s first-ever visit to Iran.

“Pakistan attaches great significance to its neighbours, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran, which shares many interests and commonalities with Pakistan,” the prime minister said.

Highlighting the importance of his upcoming visit to Tehran, Imran Khan appreciated the Iranian president’s official invitation which would give him a chance to visit the “friendly and brotherly” country of Iran.

He also expressed hope that the two-day trip could help deepen and enhance bilateral relations between the two Muslim states.

Before arriving in Tehran for bilateral talks with top Iranian officials, the Pakistani PM is expected to have a brief stop-over in the holy city of Mashhad on April 21, the day when Shia Muslims around the world celebrate the birthday anniversary of Imam Mahdi, the 12th and the last Shia imam.

Following his party’s victory in the July 2018 general elections, Imran Khan was scheduled to visit Iran and Saudi Arabia, respectively, on his first overseas trip as prime minister. In a meeting with the Iranian envoy the next month, Khan expressed readiness to “play a constructive and positive role” in mediation between Tehran and Riyadh, but he later cancelled his trip to Tehran for unknown reasons.

The premier visited Saudi Arabia in October, and less than four months later, he hosted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and an entourage of over 1,000 in Islamabad. During the visit, the Saudi crown prince offered Pakistan a $6 billion aid package in a move that was described as an attempt to improve Riyadh’s international image amid the Jamal Khashoggi scandal.