Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is either very naive or plain disingenuous. In his first response to India holding Pakistan responsible for the February 14 Kashmir attack, he demanded “actionable evidence” and asked what his country had to gain from a terrorist attack in India from its territory. He should know that Pakistan does not have credible deniability on this attack. The Jaish-e-Mohammad, which took responsibility minutes after the devastating suicide bombing, is based in Pakistan’s Punjab province. To say that the JeM was banned in 2002 is not good enough. After the 2016 Pathankot attack, also the JeM’s handiwork, the Pakistan government took the Jaish leader, Masood Azhar, into protective custody. PM Khan appeared reasonable when he said he was prepared to discuss terrorism with India. But if he really understands that his country stands to lose from terrorism, the first thing to do is to crack down on the JeM, Lashkar-e-Toiba, and other such groups flourishing in his country. Shortage of evidence has never been the problem for Pakistan in tracing the perpetrators of terrorist attacks in India. In the 26/11 case, it had its own investigation, but still did nothing. The problem is that Pakistan believes using terrorists as proxies is the most effective way to achieve its regional strategic objectives.
The arrival of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at this moment is an opportunity that India must use well. India’s relations with Saudi Arabia are wide-ranging, from trade and investment to defence and security. In 2010, the two countries enhanced their ties to the level of a “strategic partnership”. The Islamic kingdom is India’s fourth largest trading partner. Bilateral trade is in the region of $28 billion. India imports 19 per cent of its oil requirement from Saudi Arabia. As the country with the third largest Muslim population, there is a religious-cultural aspect to India’s ties with the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites. The Indian workforce in Saudi Arabia tops 3 million. Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India will no doubt seek to build on this already strong relationship.
What India needs to press home to the Saudi Prince is that his praise for Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism on his visit to Islamabad earlier was tone deaf. It is no secret that Islamist extremism was exported and funded from Saudi Arabia. The JeM, a Sunni Deobandi group, has drawn both money and ideology from al Qaeda and Taliban. If MBS, as he is known, is truly the reformer he claims to be, India must hold him to his agenda. The entire region is a powder keg because of the terrorist groups that operate from Pakistan, launching attacks in Iran one day and India the next. And with the ISI created Taliban hoping to regain power in Afghanistan in a negotiated deal with the US, the situation in South Asia is extremely fragile. If MBS wants India-Pakistan tensions to de-escalate, as he declared in Islamabad, he must start by advising his Pakistani hosts to take the steps the world has been asking them to.