Beyond oil – The Hindu BusinessLine

India’s efforts to woo Saudi Arabia have been one of its more notable foreign policy successes of the last decade. Launched by Manmohan Singh, the current government has continued the policy of courting Riyadh. At the same time, the Saudis have been one of Pakistan’s key supporters. Pakistan relies on Saudi Arabia for everything from aid and investments to military back-up and possibly clandestine assistance to develop nuclear technology. All the same, the desert kingdom has woken up to the fact that India is one of the world’s largest economies and will soon be the world’s second-largest oil market. From India’s side, the government has studiously ignored the furore over Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination — Prime Minister Modi even held a one-to-one meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G-20 Summit when he was being cold-shouldered by many world leaders.

Visits from desert rulers are always highly choreographed but the prince’s India trip, part of his first major tour outside the Middle East since Khashoggi’s murder, had more tense moments than usual. In the wake of the Pulwama suicide bombing, India was not happy that the Saudi-Pakistan joint statement called for not “politicising” UN terror listings at a time when India was trying to get Jaish chief Masood Azhar labelled as a ‘global terrorist.’ As expected, Prince Mohammed came bearing gifts, including a promise to collaborate on a $44-billion oil refinery, and said he expected total investment opportunities in India “to exceed $100 billion” in the coming two years. As an added bonus, he said the Saudis would free 800 Indians held in its jails.

India’s been performing an extraordinary diplomatic pirouette in West Asia, courting the Saudis, the Israelis and also the Iranians almost simultaneously. India has had historically deep ties with Iran and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj stopped over briefly in Teheran last week in the wake of the bombing in India and Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province. Similarly, the Saudis need both India and Pakistan. Prince Mohammed’s tour appears to be part of a Saudi “Look East” strategy because oil demand will rise in Asia in coming years. Prince Mohammed went from India to China, cancelling at the last minute stopovers in Malaysia and Indonesia. China is now Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partner. The Saudis are also talking to China about putting up a refinery in Gwadar, Pakistan, which is being developed as a key port by the Chinese. India obtains 20 per cent of its oil from Saudi Arabia and three million Indians work there. Both India and Saudi Arabia will continue to find it useful to cultivate each other — but India will have to press the Saudis harder on committing to the war against terror.

via Beyond oil – The Hindu BusinessLine

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