By Mehreen Zahra-Malik
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia loaned $1.5 billion to Pakistan last month to help Islamabad shore up its foreign exchange reserves, meet debt-service obligations and undertake large energy and infrastructure projects, Pakistani officials have told Reuters.
The Saudi assistance has contributed to a sharp recovery of the Pakistani rupee, which rose to a nine-month high of 97.40 from 105.40 against the dollar between March 4 and 12, its strongest rally in 30 years.
â€œOn a personal guarantee of the prime minister, Saudi Arabia has given $1.5 billion, which has helped bail out the rupee,â€ one senior Pakistani government official close to the deal told Reuters, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to disclose the source and purpose of the funding.
The governor of the Saudi central bank declined to comment, and officials gave no details of the loan terms.
Another top official who is based in Lahore said the money went into an account known as the Pakistan Development Fund set up to channel money from â€œfriendly countriesâ€ like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
â€œWe have a promise of a total $3 billion, of which $1.5 billion has been received so far,â€ the second official said. â€œMost recently, we got $750 million from the Saudis.â€
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has long enjoyed close relations with the Saudi royal family. After his second term as prime minister was ended by a military coup in 1999, he was sent into exile in Saudi Arabia.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the Saudi financier and member of the House of Saud, has described Sharif as â€œSaudi Arabiaâ€™s man in Pakistanâ€.
Pakistani Finance Minister Ishaq Dar confirmed on Wednesday that $1.5 billion was received under the development fund but declined to comment on the source.
â€œWhy do you want to expose our friends?â€ he told reporters. â€œThe countries who have helped us donâ€™t want us to disclose the source.â€
Dar announced the creation of the new fund on February 18, the same day Saudi crown prince and deputy prime minister Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud concluded a three-day-visit to Pakistan.
Pakistanâ€™s new army chief, General Raheel Sharif, also met King Abdullah and top Saudi military commanders during a trip to the kingdom two weeks before the new account was set up.
Other high-profile Saudi visitors to Pakistan this year have included Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal and Prince Salman bin Sultan, the countryâ€™s deputy defense minister.
According to the finance ministry, gross official reserves -including the latest injection of $1.5 billion – stood at $9.52 billion on March 11. A third loan tranche of $550 million from the International Monetary Fund, expected before the end of March, will push reserves close to $10 billion.
Pakistan is expected to receive $150 million from the Islamic Development Bank in March, as well as $150-200 million under the Coalition Support Fund, reimbursements for assistance in the U.S.-led coalitionâ€™s Afghanistan war effort.
Pakistan will also launch eurobonds of $500 million in May and plans to raise billions of dollars in privatization revenue by June.
An increase in foreign investment and remittances by overseas Pakistanis have also helped lift the rupee. Remittances increased by 11 percent to $10.2 billion during the first eight months of this fiscal year.
The finance ministry has also attributed the currencyâ€™s recovery to punitive action against exporters withholding export receipts abroad and warnings to foreign exchange speculators.
(Editing by Maria Golovnina and Nick Macfie)