Saudi FM Prince Faisal bin Farhan al Saud meets Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad for talks on a range of issues including Covid-19 travel restrictions, conflicts in Kashmir, Palestine, Yemen and Afghanistan.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have discussed how to ease Covid-19 travel restrictions, which have stranded around 400,000 Pakistani expats back home, foreign ministers of the two countries told reporters.
Both sides also spoke about multiple issues on Tuesday, agreeing to continue to work together on Kashmir, Palestine, Yemen and Afghanistan conflicts.
Islamabad took up the issue of Pakistani expats with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al Saud, who is on a one-day visit to Pakistan.
Saud is the first high profile Saudi official to arrive in Pakistan after fissures in their historically friendly ties earlier this year.
His Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a joint news conference in Islamabad that around 400,000 of over two million Pakistani expats in Saudi Arabia had been stranded at home due to travel restrictions.
"They are facing challenges, you know the travel restrictions and you know the issues of vaccination," he said.
Saudi Arabia, which bars direct travel from Pakistan, has only approved the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, so anyone arriving without one of those shots is required to quarantine at a cost many Pakistani workers say they cannot afford.
Most Pakistanis have received a Chinese vaccine, although Saud said his government had given Covid-19 shots to 1.7 million Pakistani workers.
The Pakistani workforce in Saudi Arabia contributes $7 billion, or a quarter of the country's total annual remittances.
"We talked about the challenges that Covid-19 has imposed on all of us. It has imposed challenges, travel restrictions, all of these we are working on," Al Saud said.
Would-be Pakistani expatriate workers, desperate to obtain a Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca Covid shot so they can travel to work in Saudi Arabia, have been holding violent protests, at times storming vaccination centres.
Pakistan has lately started allowing people under 40 who have to travel for jobs abroad to obtain the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccines, of which the country has limited supply obtained through the COVAX system.
We also discussed pressing issue of flight and visa restrictions & I requested the FM for his personal patronage in easing these restrictions for Pakistanis, especially our expatriate workers who are stranded in Pakistan due to the pandemic, and cannot return to Saudi Arabia. https://t.co/LcA8KSFF0x— Shah Mahmood Qureshi (@SMQureshiPTI) July 27, 2021
The ministers also spoke about a range of issues, agreeing to continue to work together on regional issues including disputed Kashmir, Palestine, Yemen and Afghanistan conflicts.
"Afghanistan of course was an issue of discussion and we will continue to work together to try and facilitate security and stability throughout both of our regions and we are, I think, committed to that and I hope we continue to work together," said Saud.
Qureshi said the ministers had a "good discussion on the evolving situation in Afghanistan" and shared a mutual approach and objective in the matter.
The ministers also spoke about technology as a part of strengthening ties "beyond the traditional areas that we have now into much broader investment and much broader cooperation," Saud said.