What Saudi Prince’s first ever visit to India means for Indo-Pak relations, explained

Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke protocol on Wednesday to receive Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud at the airport. This is the prince’s first bilateral visit to India.

Speaking to Doordarshan News, the Prince said, “The relationship between India and the Arabian Peninsula is in our DNA… Today, we want to be sure that this relation is maintained and improved for the sake of both countries.”

What did Mohammed bin Salman do?

On Wednesday, the Prince was welcomed with a reception and Guard of Honour at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. President Ram Nath Kovind and Modi were also present.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs Raveesh Kumar said that in a meeting with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, the Saudi Prince “discussed adding momentum to strategic dimension of our relationship in various fields—from trade & investment to defence & security, and regional cooperation”.

Modi also presided over high-level diplomatic talks with the Saudi delegation on “areas of mutual interest”; they discussed trade and investment, energy, space research, as well as civil aviation among other things. Besides this, defence, counter-terrorism, and regional security—issues that have strong implications on Indo-Pak relations—were also on the agenda.

The Prince signed five Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) in the fields of trade, tourism, housing, and information broadcasting. He even signed the Framework Agreement on the International Solar Alliance (ISA), just like the Argentine President had done during his state visit.

This evening, Kumar announced, Saudi Arabia will invest a whopping $100 billion in petrochemicals, energy, agriculture, and refining. The government is considering this as a “huge vote of confidence” for the Indian economy.

What it means for Indo-Pak relations

Prince Mohammad bin Salman and his diplomats are walking a tight rope between India and Pakistan.

Quartz India reports that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have enjoyed a “historic closeness” since the Cold War. “The Pakistani Army protects the royal family, and the Saudi government often helps Pakistan’s struggling economy with money and cheap oil.”

The Saudi Arabian delegation further reinforced this relationship by signing investment agreements worth $20 billion with Pakistan, effectively bailing out the country from its financial troubles.

In a press meeting with Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, Prince Mohammad bin Salman said, “We cannot say no to Pakistan. Whatever we can do, we will deliver that.”

The Prince also lauded Pakistan for its efforts in combating terrorism and demanded that the United Nations’ (UN) terrorist list be observed neutrally.

With respect to the UN list, India has already made the third attempt to have Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar on it. When it had tried the same in 2009 and 2016, the US, UK, and France had backed it. However, China has blocked the proposal, while expressing “deep sympathies” for the Pulwama attack.

So far, India has not commented on the Prince’s visit to Pakistan.

According to NDTV, Saudi Arabia has promised to “de-escalate tensions between Pakistan and India” and said “dialogue is the only way to ensure peace and stability in the region”.

However, India said that unless violence on the Indo-Pak borders stops, no such dialogue will take place.

The Telegraph reports that because of the Pulwama attack, India did not want the Prince’s plane to arrive in New Delhi straight from Islamabad. Therefore, Saudi Arabia rerouted the Prince’s trip through Riyadh.

Why this visit holds significance

Beyond Indo-Pak relations, diplomatic visits are important for Saudi Arabia because it is being strongly critiqued all over the world, particularly in the West, for its role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Only the US hasn’t taken a hardline stance to Saudi’s involvement as yet.

However, the Prince’s visit benefits India as well. According to Quartz India, Modi has been lobbying the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for lower oil prices. Saudi Arabia is an OPEC member.

After India, the Saudi delegation was to visit Malaysia and China, but those trips have been rescheduled.

Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius

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