Saudi Arabia and India pledge to promote regional security
When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman landed in New Delhi, India was mourning the wanton killing of 40 security personnel by a suicide bomber at Pulwama in the terror-stricken state of Jammu and Kashmir a few days earlier. However, highlighting the importance attached to the royal visitor, Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally welcomed him at the airport. The prince reciprocated warmly, saying that he expected “good things” to emerge from this important encounter.
The spirit of warmth and mutual understanding continued through the visit. The two leaders have pledged to enhance their cooperation to combat terrorism and violence “to ensure that future generations are safe,” the crown prince said. Modi said they had agreed to “put pressure on countries that back terror … to end terror infrastructure and end support to terror groups.”
The visit of the crown prince has prepared the ground for Indo-Saudi relations to move beyond bilateral energy and economic ties to a substantial “strategic partnership,” in which the two countries would work together for regional peace and security.
India and Saudi Arabia are major countries of South and West Asia, linked for centuries by the waters of the Indian Ocean. They share a civilizational ethos, and enjoy a high level of personal comfort and mutual confidence. This is exemplified by the presence of a 3 million-strong Indian community in the Kingdom that is represented at all levels of the Saudi economy, and enjoys great respect for its work ethic and integrity.
The two countries also share a commitment to regional peace and stability and have identified extremist violence as the principal scourge that threatens the tranquility and wellbeing of their shared geographical space. Hence their pledge to jointly combat this bane by pressurizing its sources and bases of support, which are well-known and well-established in the heart of our region.
India and Saudi Arabia agree that long-term peace in Afghanistan will be possible only if the country is united and all political parties uphold the democratic process.
The visit has also provided the opportunity for the two countries to pursue a new area of collaboration: Afghanistan. Outside the public eye, Saudi Arabia has played a major role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, establishing the basis for their participation in the country’s political process.
But India and the Kingdom agree that long-term peace in Afghanistan will be possible only if the country is united and all political parties uphold the democratic process. This means that no group can be forcibly foisted on the people by outside powers. Afghanistan’s peaceful transition to unity and prosperity, based on the free exercise of the popular will of its citizens, should be the shared responsibility of India and Saudi Arabia, the two major countries of the region.
This takes us to the third area of Indo-Saudi cooperation for regional security. As major Asian countries, they have a wide variety of political and economic ties. About 20 years ago, during the visit to Riyadh of then-external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, they agreed that their bilateral relations were important in themselves and would not be influenced by their links with other countries in the region. This pattern continues to the present day and has ensured that their growing relations are not influenced by ties they have with others.
But, at the same time, their level of mutual trust is such that they can freely discuss any concerns they might have on issues relating to regional security and the sources of these anxieties. In this context, the Kingdom is well aware of India’s deep disquiet over the security scenario in the Middle East, the sense of an “existential” threat that major countries have from each other, and the absence of mutual trust that has precluded engagement and dialogue between them.
India, with its civilizational and strategic ties with all the principal countries of the Middle East, is well placed to initiate a diplomatic effort to promote mutual confidence so that the ground is prepared for the estranged countries concerned to engage with each other and address the issues that divide them.
This promises to be the best outcome of the crown prince’s visit to India.
• Talmiz Ahmad is an author and former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE. He holds the Ram Sathe Chair for International Studies, Symbiosis International University, Pune, India.