Amid a drastically altered environment in the larger region, with the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan a month ago, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Faisal bin Farhan al Saud, on Sunday met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in New Delhi and discussed the situation in the country.
After the meeting, Jaishankar said they had a “very useful exchange of views” on the issue of Afghanistan, along with the Gulf and the Indo-Pacific.
“A cordial and productive meeting with Saudi FM HH @Faisalbinfarhan. Discussed our cooperation in the political, security and socio-cultural pillars of our strategic partnership,” the External Affairs Minister tweeted.
Saudi Arabia, which was one of three countries to have recognised the Taliban in its previous regime between 1996 and 2001, has, since mid-August, been extremely calibrated about its statements on Afghanistan.
Ten days ago, on September 9, al Saud had “stressed the Kingdom’s support for the Afghan people and the future choices they make for their country without any external interference”, according to a statement by the Saudi Foreign Ministry.
This statement from Riyadh was perceived as a message to the regional players, including Pakistan and Iran, along with China and Russia.
A cordial and productive meeting with Saudi FM HH @Faisalbinfarhan.
Discussed our cooperation in the political, security and socio-cultural pillars of our strategic partnership.
Very useful exchange of views on Afghanistan, the Gulf and the Indo-Pacific. pic.twitter.com/0cYq6I5VUU
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) September 19, 2021
But when it comes to the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia is not the power that it was 25 years ago. While post-9/11, Saudi businessman turned al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden caused reputational damage to the Saudis, in recent years, more recently, Qatar had stolen the show as a negotiating venue for America’s talks with the Taliban.
Saudi Arabia, however, enjoys a special relationship with Pakistan as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has engaged with India’s neighbour in recent years.
The Saudi Foreign Minister had visited Pakistan in the last week of July, before Kabul was taken over by the Taliban.
New Delhi is hoping that Riyadh will be able to exercise its influence over Pakistan in controlling the Taliban.
From India’s perspective, Saudi Arabia has emerged as an important partner in the Gulf as both have expanded their bilateral ties in political, economic and strategic fields.
For the first time since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his intervention at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe on Friday, raised questions on the “acceptability” of the new “system” in Afghanistan and flagged concerns that the change of power there took place without negotiations, and was not inclusive.
New Delhi is learnt to have impressed upon the visiting Saudi Foreign minister about the importance of these redlines, when it comes to the Indian government’s approach towards Taliban.
In the official statement about the meeting between Jaishankar and the Saudi Foreign minister at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, “This is the first ministerial visit from Saudi Arabia to India since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Both ministers discussed all issues related to their bilateral relationship and regional and international issues of mutual interest.”
The statement said the two ministers reviewed the implementation of the Strategic Partnership Council Agreement signed between the two sides during the visit of PM Modi to Saudi Arabia in October 2019.