In the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, India expressed its reservations to the Saudi authorities over the India visit of the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) directly from Pakistan. According to sources, the Crown Prince Salman’s visit to India, immediately following a stop in Islamabad, would not be acceptable to India.
Therefore Salman, in what can be seen as de-hyphenation of relations between India and Pakistan, has returned to Saudi Arabia from Pakistan before reaching India on Tuesday night. Wednesday is the main day of engagement here after which he will leave for China.
Salman and PM Narendra Modi will oversee the signing of five Memorandum of understandings (MoUs) across investment, energy and housing sectors, confirmed the Secretary, Economic Affairs in the External Affairs Ministry, TS Tirumurti. Saudi Arabia will also join the International Solar Alliance.
“We are confident that this visit will open a new chapter in India-Saudi bilateral relationship,” he said.
“India has been identified as one of the eight strategic partners with whom Saudi Arabia intends to deepen partnership in areas of political, security, trade and investment and culture,” said Tirumurti.
“As part of this engagement, we are finalizing the setting up of ‘Strategic Partnership Council’ between the two countries at ministerial level. We are confident that this will give greater thrust to our strategic partnership and take forward our discussions in a focussed and action-oriented manner,” he said.
The sources said the two sides are looking at joint exercise between the two navies besides significantly ramping up overall defence cooperation. The source added that Saudi Arabia has been providing India information and intelligence about various terror networks. The two countries had inked a pact on the exchange of intelligence related to money laundering and terrorism during Modi’s visit to Riyadh in 2016.
Adding that “there has been an intensification of our engagement”, since Modi’s visit to Riyadh in 2016, Trimurti said that “both sides are looking at ramping up collaboration in the energy sector with Saudi Arabia’s Aramco looking to partner the United Arab Emirates’ Adnoc in putting up the Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Project Ltd. This is a $44 billion joint venture between companies of India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE”, he added.
In reference to cross border terrorism, Trimurti furthered, “Saudi Arabia has strongly condemned and denounced the terrorist attack on Indian security forces in Pulwama on 14 February. We appreciate Kingdom’s cooperation in security and counter-terrorism areas over the years.”
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 the delegation-level talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Crown Prince on Wednesday.
MBS, who arrives in India late on Tuesday, will be given a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host him at lunch in the Hyderabad House while President Ram Nath Kovind will host an official banquet in honour of the visiting dignitary.