Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan (left) and Pakistan Army chief general Qamar Javed Bajwa (right) in Islamabad.  (AFP )
Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan (left) and Pakistan Army chief general Qamar Javed Bajwa (right) in Islamabad. (AFP )

Saudi Prince Salman flies back home ahead of India visit today

  • A visit to New Delhi by Saudi prince, immediately after a stop in Islamabad, was not acceptable to India
  • India and S. Arabia are looking to ramp up defence cooperation along with conducting joint naval exercises

NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s efforts to use Saudi Arabia to neutralize a diplomatic onslaught by India following last week’s Pulwama attack was checkmated by New Delhi with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) going home for a day before arriving in New Delhi on the second leg of a three-nation Asian tour.

India conveyed to the Saudi authorities that a visit to New Delhi by Crown Prince Salman, also known as MBS, immediately following a stop in Islamabad, would not be acceptable to India, a person familiar with the matter said.

The Saudi crown prince then went home for a day before reaching India late Tuesday in what is seen as a de-hyphenation of relations between India and Pakistan.

Saudi investment in India is different from the investment of $20 billion in Pakistan, given that the Indian economy is a very robust economy and any money put into India was not a “bailout" of any kind, said the person mentioned above.

The visits by MBS to Pakistan, India, and China, as well as other countries was planned before the 14 February Pulwama attack in which a suicide bomber killed more than 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel. The Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack. On Friday, India announced plans to diplomatically isolate Pakistan but the visit by MBS and the signing of pacts that enable $20 billion in investments has been highlighted by Pakistan media and the government as a sign that India’s designs had not succeeded.

In New Delhi, people familiar with the development underlined that India’s ties with Saudi Arabia had undergone a great deal of evolution from past years when ties with India were seen through the prism of Pakistan.

In the case of India’s dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, the Saudi position has evolved to an understanding that it is a bilateral issue between the two South Asian countries, the person mentioned above said. “ I don’t think they buy the Pakistani narrative" on Kashmir any more, the person said.

MBS, who arrives in India late on Tuesday, will be given a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host him at lunch and President Ram Nath Kovind will host an official banquet, said T.S. Tirumurti, secretary economic relations, in the Indian foreign ministry. “Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner in our extended neighbourhood. The Riyadh Declaration of 2010 had forged a strategic partnership between India and Saudi Arabia," Tirumurti said, adding that since the 2016 visit to Riyadh by Prime Minister Modi, “there has been an intensification of our engagement".

Saudi Arabia has now identified India among eight countries with which it wants to intensify its strategic partnership in the political, security, trade and investment and culture spheres, Tirumurti said. “As part of this engagement, we are finalizing the setting up of Strategic Partnership Council between the two countries at the ministerial level. We are confident that this will give greater thrust to our strategic partnership and take forward our discussions in a focused and action-oriented manner. This engagement has already begun between authorities concerned of both countries in select sectors of mutual interest especially in trade, investment and economic issues," he said.

Both sides are looking at ramping up collaboration in the energy sector with Saudi Arabia’s Aramco looking to partner the United Arab Emirates’ Adnoc in putting up the Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Project Ltd. This is a $44 billion joint venture between companies of India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Tirumurti said.

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