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Saturday, December 04, 2021

Beyond Pakistan

India and Saudi Arabia are finally consolidating a partnership on the basis of shared interests

By: Editorial |
November 1, 2019 3:57:28 am
India Saudi relations, Modi in Saudi Arabia, Modi Riyadh visit, New Delhi Riyadh relations, express editorial Saudi arabia The Saudis sought to maintain a balance in their relations with India and Pakistan, which has long demanded religious solidarity and unending financial support from Riyadh.

The expansion and institutionalisation of strategic cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Riyadh, the second in three years, marks the consolidation of a partnership that has long struggled to realise its full potential. Efforts to end the prolonged mutual indifference began during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee when his foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, traveled to the Kingdom in early 2001. Five years later, King Abdullah visited Delhi, the first visit to India by a Saudi monarch in half a century, to announce a new phase in bilateral relations. Progress in building the partnership, however, remained elusive. It seemed confined to India buying oil from the Kingdom and exporting manpower. There were the beginnings of counter-terror cooperation but the Pakistan factor continued to cast a shadow over the relationship — until recently.

The Saudis sought to maintain a balance in their relations with India and Pakistan, which has long demanded religious solidarity and unending financial support from Riyadh. India, in turn, seemed hesitant to adopt a bolder approach towards Saudi Arabia amidst the lingering obsession with the Pakistan question in engagement with the Kingdom. As recently as in February, when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, visited Delhi, the question of India’s tensions with Pakistan figured quite prominently. This time around, the joint statement issued at the end of PM Modi’s visit made no reference to Pakistan. This was long overdue. It is rooted in Delhi’s long overdue realist appreciation that Saudi Arabia has a lot more on its mind than protecting Pakistan in the name of religious solidarity; and that it is possible to build a solid partnership with Saudi Arabia on the basis of shared interests.

Within its immediate neighbourhood, Saudi Arabia has been struggling to cope with an assertive Iran and Turkey, both of whom seek to undermine the authority of the Saudi monarchy within the Kingdom and the region. If Iran mobilises the Shia militancy against the Kingdom, Turkey chips in with its support to Sunni radicals threatening the House of Saud. To make matters worse, the long-standing ally of the Saudis — Washington — increasingly looks unreliable. Meanwhile, the rapidly growing Saudi population can no longer be kept pliable with a rigorous diet of religious orthodoxy and generous subsidies from oil revenues, no longer the source of perennial comfort. To cope with these challenges, Saudi Arabia has begun serious social and economic reforms at home and diversification of its security and commercial partnerships abroad. Delhi has recognised the urgency of seizing this moment and building a strong security and economic partnership. The agreements signed during the PM’s visit include the establishment of a strategic partnership council, deepening energy interdependence, and expanding defence and security cooperation bilaterally as well as in the Indian Ocean region. The challenge for Delhi now is to translate this bold new agenda with Saudi Arabia into quick and tangible results.

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