India-Saudi Arabia Ties Set For Enhancement

The maiden visit of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to India this week, signifies a new dynamism in Indo-Saudi ties. Mohammad Bin Salman was accompanied by a large delegation; had decided to not fly directly to New Delhi from Islamabad respecting Indian sensitivities in the aftermath of the Pulwama terrorist strike. The Crown Prince called on President Ram Nath Kovind and held delegation level talks with Prime Minister Modi and met with Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj.
A Joint statement issued, expressed commitment to enhance cooperation in fighting terrorism and enhancing strategic invesments. Mr. Modi underlined the problem of cross-border terrorism faced by India. The Joint Statement said, “terrorists and supporters of terrorism should face all out pressure from the international community.” Echoing the sentiments, the Crown Prince expressed Saudi’s readiness to cooperate with India in tackling terrorism, including through sharing of intelligence.
The two leaders noted the possibilities for enhancing Indo-Saudi commercial ties. Mohammad Bin Salman said that India and Saudi Arabia “have common goals in the energy, and agriculture sectors and they “will diversify this spirit to other sectors.”He further stated that commercial relations have been “diversified to petrochemical sector” and that the Kingdom has since 2016 invested US $44 billion in the Indian market. The Indian Prime Minister highlighted the significant growth in Indo-Saudi commercial ties and stated that the two sides have agreed to device a formal mechanism to facilitate Saudi strategic investments in India. He underlined that economic reforms under the ‘Saudi Vision 2030’; ‘Make in India’ and ‘Start-Up India’ programmes are complementary to each other.
India and Saudi Arabia signed five agreements including a Memorandum of Understanding on investing in the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund established by India in 2015. Another MoU for cooperation in the field of Tourism and a third on cooperation in housing sector were also signed. The two sides agreed to establish “Strategic Partnership Council” to monitor progress in bilateral ties in different areas including politics, security and economy.
Riyadh and New Delhi have developed close bilateral relations since the 2006 visit of King Abdullah to New Delhi as Chief Guest for the Republic Day celebrations. The signing of ‘Delhi Declaration’ during that historical visit and the ‘Riyadh Declaration’ in 2010 has further strengthened the bilateral ties. The visit of Prime Minister Modi in 2016 proved a breakthrough moment in strengthening bilateral ties with a focus on cooperation in fields like counter-terrorism and strategic investments. This has resulted in significant jump in Foreign Direct Investment from Saudi Arabia since 2016 and frequent intelligence sharing to prevent terrorist activities.
Prime Minister Modi has met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman several times since May 2014. Mr. Modi and Crown Prince Mohammad had met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in November 2018. The frequent exchange of bilateral visits and use of multilateral forums to exchange views and discuss issues of mutual interests have contributed in a better political understanding between New Delhi and Riyadh.
A culmination of the growing political engagements and strategic cooperation is the emergence of Saudi Arabia as India’s leading partner in West Asia. The Kingdom is not only the primary source for crude oil to India, it is home to one of the largest Indian expatriate communities in the world. It is the fourth largest trading partner of India and a country willing to invest in the Indian market. The Kingdom has been supportive of India’s fight against terror and appreciates its position as a regional power in South Asia. It is for these reasons that the Indian Prime Minister described Saudi Arabia as one of India’s “valuable strategic partners” of the twenty-first century.
Dr. Mohd. Muddassir Quamar, Strategic Analyst On West Asia.