As the PM Imran Khan stepped into Madina barefoot, offered Maghreb prayers at Riyadhul Jannah, and held a bilateral meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz in Jeddah, there was speculation as to what Khan’s primary purpose was for choosing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as his first official foreign trip, and what the country can expect out of these talks.

The whispers on the street hint that one purpose behind the talks was to snag a loan from Saudi Arabia for the Pakistani economy, which is in desperate need of some breathing space. If this is true, although there has been no confirmation so far, then there are many factors to consider. A loan from Saudi Arabia would not be such a bad idea if it meant Pakistan could avoid another IMF bailout, which always costs us far more than it benefits us. However, nothing is free, and a Saudi loan could have its own implications attached to it. Before accepting economic assistance, the Pakistan finance ministry should assess if it comes with some heavy strings attached to it, that may upset the precarious balance Pakistan has maintained in it Middle East relations . Unfortunately, the situation is such that Pakistan will have to take a loan from somewhere, whether it is the IMF or USA or KSA. The only question that now matters is which carries the lowest price.

However, it would be rash for us to carry assumptions that this visit was purely economy-based. There are many deep-seated reasons why the PM must’ve chosen KSA as its first visit. With India’s energy partnership with KSA, and Modi’s two trips to Jeddah since 2014, it was of utmost importance for the new government to reiterate its closeness with Saudi Arabia, especially since KSA did not veto Pakistan’s inclusion in the FATF in June. With India increasingly expanding its economic opportunities with KSA, it is important for Khan to demonstrate to KSA that there is potential for trade of exports with Pakistan too.

Khan’s visit to KSA may look like a twist to those of us who were used to seeing Saudi Arabia as close safe-hold for former PM Nawaz Sharif, who also sought his exile there. But perhaps that is precisely why Khan chose KSA as his first official trip. Doing so dispels the notion that KSA were allies with the Sharif family, and instead reiterates that friendship was between countries, not families.