Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s state visit to India early this week to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries marked a clear shift in regional dynamics.
His refusal to club his visit to New Delhi with a trip to Islamabad showed his keenness to focus on India and move away from the practice of looking at the relationship through the prism of Indo-Pakistan rivalry.
The Crown Prince also joined India in renouncing terrorism and asking countries to stop supporting terrorism against other nations, dismantle terrorist infrastructure where it exists, and act against terrorists.
The visit comes as Saudi Arabia seeks to shift from its oil-dependent economy to other emerging areas to boost trade and investment in the country.
India and Saudi Arabia spoke about how an early free trade agreement between India and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries can be implemented to further enhance trade and commerce ties.
The Crown Prince, popularly known as MBS, participated in the two-day G20 summit in New Delhi before beginning his state visit on September 11.
Earlier, MBS attended a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden to announce the India-Middle East-Europe corridor project. The project proposes to boost trade and investment, energy and digital cooperation and connectivity between India, West Asia and Europe.
“The relationship between us is in our DNA in Saudi Arabia. India is our friend. They helped us build Saudi Arabia over the past 70 years. There is a lot of Saudi work in India,” the Crown Prince said. “This trip will highlight the Saudi work done here in India and ensure that our relationship is maintained and improved for the sake of both countries.”
At their Strategic Partnership Council meeting, a discussion was held on how to enhance cooperation in areas from trade and investment to digital technology and climate change to defence and security and cultural ties.
Two sides signed joint agreements on energy, petrochemicals, renewable energy, agriculture and industry, IT and communications, digitisation and electronic manufacturing, and social and cultural sectors.
The Modi-MBS talks were held when both sides were engaged in expanding their strategic options. Both India and Saudi Arabia have good relations with the US. But they are building ties with other countries to develop their economies and project themselves as attractive investment and production hubs.
Saudi Arabia is the second-largest producer of oil in the world. As the custodian of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, it is also widely regarded as the leader of the Islamic world, especially among Sunni Muslims. Saudi Arabia is one of the major sources for India’s energy needs and hosts over 3 million Indians who work and live there.
Under MBS, who is effectively seen as the ruler, Riyadh is trying to look beyond the US, its chief security provider, to develop strong ties with other countries such as Russia and China.
In recent years, China’s footprint in the Gulf and West Asian countries has been increasing. China’s political clout has also risen after its successful mediation in bringing a diplomatic rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March.
But Riyadh does not want to foreclose its options and has reached out to India to strengthen the strategic partnership. Another factor that may have prompted the Saudis to strengthen ties with India stems from the strain in its relations with erstwhile ally and Gulf neighbour, the United Arab Emirates.
Saudi-Emirati ties have strained as they struggle to establish supremacy in the GCC. India enjoys strong ties with the UAE and in recent months has deepened and widened them to cooperate in a range of areas. India is also keen to develop ties with Saudi Arabia to expand its options in the Gulf and the Arab world.
Meanwhile, Pakistan seems to have become upset at the development in Indo-Saudi ties. In 2019, when the Crown Prince visited India, he included Pakistan and China in his itinerary. This time, he dropped both, perhaps because of India’s sensitivity.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, referring to the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor, said that building it is not necessarily a bad thing. But Pakistan has been largely become more of a spectator than an active player in such networks due to its “internal issues” and “inadequacies,” it said.
It said despite India’s “atrocious human rights record” in Kashmir, the West and its Muslim brothers are eager to do business with India.
“The sad reality is that in the international arena, economic heft overshadows morality,” the newspaper added.
Source : Money Control