A New Trajectory In India–Saudi Relations

 The visit of Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir to New Delhi; close on the heels of the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is significant given the current state of bilateral relations between India and Saudi Arabia. According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the Saudi Minister was on an official visit to follow up on important matters that were discussed during the visit of Crown Prince Bin Salman to New Delhi last month.

Al- Jubeir called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and held a meeting with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Interestingly, the visiting minister had a short “pull-aside” meeting with Mrs. Swaraj recently in Abu Dhabi where India had participated in the plenary session of the Council of Foreign Minister’s conference of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). India was invited to attend the conference as the “guest of honour” country.

The increased frequency of engagements between Indian and Saudi leaders is symbolic of the urgency the two countries attach to realise the potentials in bilateral relations. India and Saudi Arabia share strong economic ties with annual trade touching US$ 27.5 billion in 2017-18. Both sides desire to take this forward and tap the opportunities to enhance bilateral trade and investments. Saudi Arabia is among the top five trading partners of India and has in the past five years emerged as one of the leading foreign investors in the Indian market. During the recent of visit Crown Prince Bin Salman, Riyadh also indicated that Saudi Arabia intends to bring more investments in India and in the next few years invest up to US$ 100 billion in various sectors of Indian economy. The possibility of initial Saudi investment in National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) of India was also discussed.

Saudi Arabia has emerged as a leading partner for India in its fight against terrorism. One of the masterminds of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, Fasih Mohammad who had fled to Saudi Arabia and was living in the country on a Pakistani passport was extradited to India by Riyadh upon New Delhi’s request and DNA verification. Several others found to be involved in terror funding networks through ‘hawala’ channels have been identified and deported to India over the years. Intelligence sharing thus has emerged as a key area of cooperation between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia and India have developed close defence and security ties in recent years. They have agreed to begin joint military exercises between all three branches of the armed forces. Exchange of personnel for training and joint defence manufacturing are other areas where the two sides are looking to develop ties.

The heightened tensions between India and Pakistan in the wake of the Pulwama attack and strong Indian response, and visit of al-Jubeir to Islamabad last week has raised speculations that Saudi Arabia has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan. New Delhi, however, has been clear in its stand that the state of Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India and the Kashmir issue is an internal matter. India maintains that dialogue with Pakistan cannot be resumed until Islamabad stops funding, supporting and harbouring terrorist groups. Further, it has stated that there is no question for any third-party mediation to resolve the Indo-Pak problem as all issues are bilateral.

India appreciates Saudi Arabia’s role as a regional and Islamic power and lauds its commitment to fight terrorism both inside its own territory and in larger regions of West and South Asia. India and Saudi Arabia have agreed on the need to “work together for irreversible, verifiable and credible steps against all terrorists without any discrimination.” While bilateral ties have flourished in the last five year, the commitment to jointly fight terror in South Asia adds a new trajectory in Indo-Saudi relations.

Script: Dr. Mohd. Muddassir Quamar, Strategic Analyst on West Asia