Beyond the official record: Saudi Arabia-India relations

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Dark areas emerged in the apparently cordial relations between India and Saudi Arabia during the visit of the Saudi Arabian foreign minister to India.

[Indias External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and KSA Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan. (Image tweeted by S Jaishankar)]

The Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Prince Faisal bin Farhan was on a three-day visit to New Delhi from September 19 to 21, 2021. His visit was widely hailed by the Indian press as a great success. The media obediently published the documents handed over by the Foreign Ministry and failed to report some unsavory developments that took place during the Saudi Foreign Minister’s visit to India.

Indian media brushed aside all boring developments and happily reported that Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan discussed a plethora of issues related to their bilateral relations, as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest. The two ministers reviewed the implementation of the Strategic Partnership Council Agreement signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in October 2019.

However, dark areas emerged in the apparently cordial relations between India and Saudi Arabia during the visit of the KSA Foreign Minister to India.

The first was that Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister chose Indian soil to declare that Cashmere is a controversial issue between India and Pakistan. It was tantamount to committing an act of sacrilege as New Delhi was quick to retort anyone who expressed such views.

Remember, hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raked the The question of Kashmir in his speech at the UNGAIndian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar struck him as he said he must adhere to the relevant UN Security Council resolutions regarding Cyprus. However, following the statement by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, New Delhi chose to remain silent and no one hated Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister for his unsavory comments.

Perhaps it should be mentioned here that the KSA in October 2020 issued a 20 saudi riyal banknote which showed Kashmir outside the Indian map. This was protested by India and the KSA quickly announced the withdrawal of the banknote. However, such an unintentional mistake could be seen as a definite program to annoy India.

India and Saudi Arabia have been moving closer for some time as their mutually beneficial interests synchronize. India is looking for investments to support the country’s sagging economy and the KSA sees India as a huge market for its oil exports. The economic attraction for both countries attracts and outweighs all other considerations.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, guardian of Islam and the world’s Muslims, turns a blind eye to atrocities against Muslims in India, while India, which hates sharia laws in Afghanistan, ignores the same laws implemented in Saudi Arabia.

Likewise, KSA opposes the Sufi variety of Islam practiced by Indian Muslims but prefers to remain silent, just like India which is against the Wahhabi – Salafi variety of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. Swan song for both countries is an economic consideration and the rest is a waste of time.

However, global politics began to change after the United States withdrew from Afghanistan. Every country is busy playing hard and international politics is no longer a zero-sum game. In this realignment, the KSA is looking beyond the United States by making inroads for a handshake with China.

This new scenario in international relations has started to emerge since Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman called for the return of Pakistan grants $ 1 billion in soft loans to his country was given to him earlier. This time, Pakistan did not beg for mercy but repaid the loan with help from China. However, this development for the KSA came with conditions.

After repayment of the loan to Saudi Arabia, China stopped importing oil from Saudi Arabia. This direct action by China has hit Saudi Arabia hard and it has lost a huge market for its oil exports. Saudi Arabia was the communist nation’s biggest oil supplier, but after this episode it lost its number one position in the world oil export market.

It all started after Pakistan unsuccessfully tried to counter Saudi Arabia’s control Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) by organizing a parallel event with the help of Turkey and Malaysia, accusing the KSA of abandoning the Kashmir cause.

Pakistan’s activity to challenge Saudi Arabia’s supremacy in the Islamic world enraged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman who, in an attempt to hijack Pakistan, demanded repayment of his loan granted to Islamabad. After Pakistan returned the loan to Saudi Arabia with help from China and Beijing stopped buying oil from Saudi Arabia, the rulers of the Islamic kingdom realized it could no longer antagonize China.

pakistani ‘absolutely notThe statement aimed at avoiding US policies also alarmed the KSA. According to media reports, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had a telephone conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan just before Saudi Foreign Minister Saudi Arabia, Faisal bin Farhan, does not visit India.It cannot be ruled out that Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister was in India to send the message that he is ready to explore a new alignment with China, and not to the detriment of the United States or Pakistan in twisting of arms.

The change in attitude of Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan in India sent a clear message that the old equations no longer work in Saudi-India relations. Now it is also becoming clear why Saudi Arabia is delaying its announced $ 100 billion investment in India in 2019.

In February 2019, during the visit to New Delhi, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that Saudi Arabia would invest more than $ 100 billion in India. He also agreed to align the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 with the Indian initiatives of “Make in India”, “Start-Up India”, “Smart Cities” and “Digital India”, etc.

However, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan during his recent visit to India never gave any reasons for the undue delay in the Saudi investments which were announced in 2019. His silence must be seen in the context of Saudi Arabia’s evolving relationship with the United States, Pakistan and China.

Previously, Pakistan was considered a titular state of Saudi Arabia because Islamabad ruled its government on the allocations given by Saudi Arabia. It doesn’t happen anymore. Pakistan is no longer a “delivery man” to America or Saudi Arabia. Previously all the US had to do was make a phone call to Riyadh which used to bend Islamabad and bend Pakistan. These are all stories from the past. After the United States left Afghanistan, these are the new developments that are happening on the world stage.

It is a time of reconfiguration among nations in search of new allies and leaving old ones. It’s also a time when nations rethink their dependence on the unreliable United States. It is also a time when the centrality of China is gaining importance and when the axis of the new world order revolves around Beijing.

These are times of change in international relations and tests for India. New Delhi, which until now was immune to either superpower, is now facing the heat of the ongoing reshuffle of the international order. It remains to be seen; how New Delhi can meet such challenges in the times to come.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at [email protected]]

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