New Delhi, February 19 (Agencies/New Indian Express): In a special gesture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday received at the airport here Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, signifying the importance India attaches to the visit by the leader of the powerful Gulf nation.
The Crown Prince arrived here on a less than 30-hour visit, a day after concluding his high-profile tour of Pakistan where he said dialogue was the only way to resolve “outstanding issues” between India and Pakistan.
After his arrival, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted, “A new chapter in bilateral relations. Breaking protocol, PM @narendramodi personally receives HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia as he arrives on his first bilateral visit to India!”
The Saudi leader had returned to Riyadh from Pakistan.
He and Modi will hold extensive talks on Wednesday during which India is likely to strongly raise the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
According to a warm welcome, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday not only received the Crown Prince at the airport in Islamabad but also drove him to PM house.
During their talks on Wednesday, Modi and Salman are also expected to look at ways to enhancing defense ties, including having a joint naval exercise, official sources said.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the Crown Prince will leave New Delhi around 11:50 PM on Wednesday.
His visit comes in the backdrop of the escalating tension between India and Pakistan following the Pulwama terror attack carried out by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror group in which 40 CRPF were killed.
In a joint statement, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on Monday called for avoiding “politicisation” of the UN listing regime at a time when India was stepping up efforts to brand the JeM terror group’s chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
The joint statement said the Saudi Crown Prince stressed that dialogue is the only way to ensure peace and stability in the region to resolve “outstanding issues” between India and Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said in Islamabad Riyadh will try to “de-escalate” tensions between India and Pakistan in the wake of the Pulwama attack.
Official sources said Saudi Arabia was no longer accepting Pakistan’s narrative on Kashmir and cross border terrorism and that India will forcefully raise the issue of Pakistan’s support to terror groups during delegation level talks between Modi and the Crown Prince.
They said the joint statement to be issued after talks between the two sides is likely to have strong reference about terrorism and ways to deal with it.
Official sources said there has been a “change” in the way Saudi Arabia looked at relations between India and Pakistan and that the powerful Gulf nation has a better understanding of the cross-border terrorism.
The sources said the two sides are looking at joint exercise between the two navies besides significantly ramping up overall defence cooperation.
India’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia was $27.48 billion in 2017-18, making Saudi Arabia its fourth largest trading partner.
Saudi Arabia is also a key pillar of India’s energy security, being a source of 17 percent or more of crude oil and 32 percent of LPG requirements of India.
Recently, Saudi ARAMCO in partnership with ADNOC of UAE has agreed to partner in Ratnagiri Refinery and Petro-Chemical project Ltd which is a joint venture of $44 billion.
Indian partners are IOC, BPCL and HPCL.
The Crown Prince is expected to travel to China from India.
Importance Of Vist
Ambassador Talmiz Ahmad former Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia spoke to The New Indian Express on the Saudi Prince’s visit. Here are his observations:
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s first state visit to India which began on February 19 is important for both sides. From the point of view of the kingdom, the Prince is refurbishing his global image after the crisis relating to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
From the Indian side, the Prime Minister is facing elections in an environment of deep communal polarization. So, after the visit, he will be able to proclaim to certain sections of the electorate that he remains a prominent leader on the global scene, and that a country as important as Saudi Arabia is willing to engage deeply with him.
These are the domestic considerations of both sides. If you take a slightly broader view, the visit is a follow up to the Prime Minister’s visit and the regular high-level and steady engagement we have had with Saudi Arabia over the past 10 years.
I believe the Mumbai attack changed the perception of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. It made it very clear that the problem of violence India was facing had nothing to with the Kashmir issue and everything to do with Jihad, something that we had been saying for a fairly long time, but which had fallen on deaf ears till then. So, from that day, there has been steady improvement in security cooperation between the two nations.
It began with the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia in February 2010, when we agreed to pursue a strategic partnership and boosted our cooperation in counterterrorism substantially. Our ability to share terror-related information in real time remains a key aspect of the relationship.
Going further, we have a lot to say to each other, and do a lot more. High-level visits have the advantage of focusing the political and bureaucratic leadership on issues that need to be addressed.
The first important issue is energy cooperation. India is a major buyer of Saudi oil, and Saudi Arabia has indicated that they want to invest in the Ratnagiri refinery. This would be a major step forward. I understand that there are some difficulties due to local resistance. But I am hoping it happens.
Also, we are looking at projects in Saudi Arabia, and the Crown Prince has announced this mega city, Neom, which will provide opportunities for Indians.
The other aspect is the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030. Among other things, this looks at employment of young people in the private sector. The Saudi government is no longer capable of employing all the people who are emerging from schools and colleges, and in order to equip them to be self-employed, they need to be trained. India can do a lot when it comes to the development of the services sector there, as well as in honing the skills of young Saudis. The main sectors where India has acknowledged expertise are IT, health, education, and leisure and tourism.
We are an acknowledged world leader in the small and medium enterprises sector too. So, here too, India can contribute to the Vision 2030 programme that the Crown Prince has developed and projected to the international community.
Beyond energy and security, we also have defense cooperation. The progress here is very slow. The idea is that India should contribute to the development of the Saudi defencs sector through tripartite cooperation between Saudi Arabia, UAE and India.
I understand that the primary interactions are taking place with the Indian private sector. But obviously the government will take a look to see what progress is being made in that area.
The last point, which will probably be discussed privately during this visit, is India’s legitimate concerns over the security situation in West Asia. Saudi Arabia has never asked India to pick and choose its partners, and India has the extraordinary achievement of being close to all the countries in the region.
The two countries with which India has substantial historical economic and political ties are Iran and Saudi Arabia. They have been at loggerheads with each other for several years. The concern that we have here is that there are issues on both sides, and the situation has been deteriorating by the day. The problem is that there are no initiatives to get the two nations talking to each other.
I am not talking about mediation, India does not do mediation and does not believe in mediation. I am talking about India initiating a diplomatic process, which would build confidence between these two estranged nations. They have been neighbors for a long time, and for long periods they have shared a camaraderie. It is true that after 2011 there has been a certain estrangement, but it is something that should be addressed diplomatically by the countries concerned, and India is well placed to help them initiate this.
This is vital to India too since it has a high stake in ensuring stability in the region. We have our cooperation in the energy and economic sectors, we have logistical connectivity projects from Iran to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia, and, above all, we have the presence of an 8.5-million-strong Indian community in the region. So, obviously if there is any conflict, a large number of them would be caught in the crossfire.
With the US exercising less of an influence in the Gulf these days, the space is now available for India to put together a diplomatic peace initiative for the region. This is the need of the hour, and everything else pales into insignificance.
The Crown Prince visited Pakistan and Malaysia before coming to India. Saudi Arabia has announced that they will be investing in Pakistan with which it has a strong relationship that goes back to Cold War days. They were both allied with the US and fought with the US in the global jihad in Afghanistan too. So, they have been strategic and defence partners for a very long time.
Now that Pakistan has a new government which is under political and economic pressure, it is not unnatural for the Kingdom to provide investments. We must recognise that many of the countries traditionally close to Pakistan have been very concerned about the rise of extremism in the country, which threatens the region as a whole. This explains why China is so keen on investing in Pakistan. It also explains why Saudi Arabia and UAE are doing the same.
Earlier, the US used to play this role, by providing the political and economic support for successive regimes in Islamabad. I think with the US indicating its unhappiness through some of the tweets of President Donald Trump, it has become even more urgent for other countries to step in. That is how I would read the Saudi initiative with regard to Pakistan. I don’t think it has any element that could be a matter of concern for India. This is a direct relationship between them built on their own concerns.
The other area where India, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan share a common interest is Afghanistan. Pakistan and India obviously have very differing views on Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia has been involved with Afghanistan for a very long time. Saudi Arabia recently played a major role in bringing some sections of the Taliban to the conference table, and facilitated the dialogue between them and the US, which is keen on withdrawing their troops from Afghanistan. The aftermath in Afghanistan once the Americans end their destructive presence there will be a major challenge for all the three nations.
Both Pakistan and India will put across their viewpoints to Saudi Arabia. What we have to say – and I think Saudi Arabia will find this very sensible – is that we need Afghanistan to be united. We need its governmental institutions to be strengthened, and we need to address the scourge of extremism and violence. I don’t think Saudi Arabia will disagree with this position one bit.
A key point. Pakistan does have a certain commitment to the Taliban, but the Taliban of 10 years ago and the Taliban of today are fundamentally different. They have splintered, and large sections may be amenable to a political process. India will have to shape its own initiative in Afghanistan, but I believe that if we make the right presentation to Saudi Arabia, we may find them interested in our gameplan and the vision that we have of a secure Afghanistan at peace with itself.
(Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi receives Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the Delhi airport)