India, S Arabia Discuss Strategic Co-operation

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed various issues, including trade, investment and counter-terrorism, with the top Saudi leadership in Riyadh on Sunday.

Prime Minister Modi, who arrived in the Saudi capital on Saturday for a two-day visit, held separate meetings with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Foreign Minister Adel Aljubeir and Health Minister Khalid A Al Falih, as he tried hard to inject a new momentum in bilateral ties. During those meetings, the visiting premier made clear that India considers the West Asian nation as one of its strategic partners in the region.

Senior spokesperson of the Indian Ministry OF External Affairs Vikas Swarup said that Modi and King Abdul Aziz agreed to explore ways for expanding strategic co-operation between the two “friendly” nations. According to the spokesperson, the Saudi king assured his guest that Riyadh would ensure the South Asian country’s energy security, apart from strengthening economic ties.

Meanwhile, the Indian PM thanked Riyadh for imposing sanction on Pakistani individuals and terrorist entities, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), during the recently held Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, indicating that his ongoing visit has a clear strategic focus on Pakistan. According to sources close to the Indian ministry, Prime Minister Modi also urged the Saudi leadership to isolate Pakistan for its policy of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

Earlier on Sunday, the PM met a group of 30 Saudi and Indian businessmen and invited CEOs of top Saudi companies to invest in Indian defence, energy, railway, health and agriculture sectors. He assured the Saudi investors that they would enjoy various facilities for strengthening trade ties. “We have to look beyond the buyer-seller relationship. Because that will be an obstacle in the path of progress,” Modi told the CEOs.

Indian foreign policy experts are of the opinion that India has started trying to loosen the Saudi-Pakistani ties, as the regional balance of power between Saudi Arabia and Iran shifts in Tehran’s favour. Although Saudi Arabia (and West Asia) is not geographically located in India’s neighbourhood, the region plays an important role in the South Asian country’s economic growth. The West Asian nations’ changing attitude towards Pakistan has also encouraged Prime Minister Modi to cultivate ties with trips to the region. Eight months after visiting the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Modi once again headed to the region to revive New Delhi’s close relations with Saudi Arabia. Pakistan was also the target during his visit to the UAE – the first by an Indian prime minister to the country in 34 years.

Interestingly, Riyadh is cautious in balancing ties between India and Pakistan. Ahead of Modi’s arrival, the Saudi foreign minister tried to alleviate Pakistan’s concerns about budding Indo-Saudi ties, saying that Saudi Arabia’s “relations with Pakistan do not come at the expense of (its) relations with India”. Despite the Saudi minister’s attempt to balance Riyadh’s ties with New Delhi and Islamabad, Modi urged the Saudi leadership to corner Pakistan because of Riyadh’s changing attitude towards Islamabad. India is well aware of the fact that the once close Saudi-Pakistani relationship has deteriorated since Islamabad’s refusal to send troops in Yemen and join the Saudi-led “coalition against terrorism” of 34 Islamic nations. As the Saudi-Pakistani relationship has hit a troubled patch, India takes the opportunity to isolate Pakistan in its own backyard by strengthening ties with the West Asian nations.

India is ready to join hands with any ally that can act as a counterweight to Pakistan in the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia does the same with Iran, with the two countries competing for power and influence in the Persian Gulf region. As the regional balance of power between Riyadh and Tehran threatens to unravel in Iran’s favour, India has repeatedly emphasised the importance of political stability of the region. New Delhi believes that only a “politically stable” West Asia can counter threats posed by the Islamic State (IS) terror outfit and also by the nexus between state actors (read Pakistan) and nuclear traffickers. Speaking at the Nuclear Security Summit on Thursday, US President Barrack Obama urged the global community to step up efforts in order to prevent “madmen” from the IS and other terror groups from obtaining nuclear weapons. On Sunday, Prime Minister Modi made the same request to the Saudi leadership, stressing that the Pakistani nuclear traffickers should not be allowed to help terror outfits in obtaining nuclear weapons.

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