NEW DELHI: The Pulwama attack is expected to widen the contours of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s maiden visit to India this week.
India will be looking for some “strong language" on terrorism besides announcing steps to boost counter-terrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia in a joint statement expected to be issued at the end of Prince Salman’s visit, two people familiar with the development said on Sunday.
After last week’s Pulwama attack in which at least 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed by a suicide bomber driving a vehicle rigged with explosives, terrorism has emerged as a major talking point for India during discussions scheduled during the Prince’s visit starting Tuesday.
The India trip was to be dominated by talks on increasing Saudi investments in India’s energy sector, with oil giant Saudi Aramco looking to invest in refineries in India besides retailing of fuel. New Delhi has also been hoping for investment from Saudi Arabia in its National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) on the lines of investments by the United Arab Emirates.
But following the Pulwama attack, India is hoping for some “strong language" on terrorism in the joint statement as well as an expression of the intention of increasing counter-terrorism cooperation, one of the people cited above said.
Prior to his India visit, Prince Salman is visiting Pakistan. He arrived in Islamabad on Sunday. After India, he is scheduled to travel to China on the third and last leg of his Asia trip. Two short stops initially scheduled for Sunday and Monday in Indonesia and Malaysia were deferred on Saturday.
To be sure, India is aware of the special nature of the relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is seen as a key benefactor. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has already made two trips to Saudi Arabia since taking office in August. Pakistani troops are known to provide protection to members of the Saudi royal family. With the US pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, Saudi Arabia is once again looking to nuclear-armed Pakistan for security in the event of Iran developing an atomic bomb.
Given this, New Delhi is aware that explicit and public support from Prince Salman on India’s position on cross-border terrorism is unlikely to happen. In 2016, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Riyadh, there was no reference to “cross-border terrorism" in the joint statement – an allusion to terrorism emanating from Pakistan. However New Delhi is hoping to sensitize Saudi Arabia on its concerns so that Riyadh understands the need for India to take any step required to respond to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, said the second person cited above. Any boost to counter-terrorism cooperation with Riyadh will be welcomed by New Delhi since it could mean an increased sharing of intelligence between the two countries.