Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is scheduled to depart on his first foreign visit to Saudi Arabia this week, the information minister said.

The three-day visit is expected to take place from April 28 to 30. Prime Minister’s Office said the visit would “further strengthen” the existing strategic cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. PM Sharif is scheduled to hold talks with the Saudi leadership. He will also perform umrah.

“Saudi Arabia’s visit has great strategic importance and avenues of cooperation in various sectors, including agriculture and industrial zones will be explored,” the information minister said.

The visit attracted considerable media attention following reports in local TV channels that the national airline PIA has been asked to hold the Boeing 777 on standby for the visit and that Sharif would travel to the kingdom with a big entourage. The tentative entourage list shared by the local media included names of 74 people including 15 federal ministers/parliamentarians and political party heads (alliance members), 16 family members, and at least 16 staff members.

The list showed that some of the family members will join the prime minister from London and Doha.

Responding to the queries, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said that “Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, his cabinet members, and even allies are visiting Saudi Arabia at their own expense instead of burdening the national exchequer.”

She also clarified no journalist would accompany the prime minister. The government’s response came after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Fawad Chaudhry claimed that the prime minister is taking a heavy entourage at state expense to Saudi Arabia on a commercial flight.

Sharif, 70, is the younger brother of former premier Nawaz Sharif. He was elected as prime minister on April 11 following a political crisis that led to the ouster of Imran Khan in a no-confidence vote.