Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday arrived in Saudi Arabia
where he will discuss energy, security, and trade cooperation with
leaders of the world's largest crude exporter.
Indian ruling party and government officials said the visit is also
part of a diplomatic effort to put pressure on arch rival Pakistan by
forging ties with some of Islamabad's closest allies.
Modi is expected to sign trade agreements, including contracts to
secure investment for infrastructure projects, and offer security and
military cooperation, such as training and joint exercises, the
India, which imports around 80 percent of its oil needs, is keen to
take advantage of low crude prices by signing overseas deals that will
help secure supplies to meet its growing demand.
The Saudi Press Agency reported Modi's arrival but gave no immediate details on the visit.
Indian foreign ministry official Shri Mridul Kumar said Modi was also
expected to discuss means "to ensure the well being" of 2.96 million
Indian expatriates in Saudi Arabia who send over $10 billion in
remittances every year.
The Indian premier's visit is just over seven months after he
travelled to another Pakistan ally, the United Arab Emirates, and signed
a security cooperation agreement that includes regular meetings between
top security advisers.
"It's simple. We have to do everything to deal with Pakistan - use
economics, strategy and emotional ties to win the hearts of Islamabad's
friends," said Ram Madhav, national general secretary of Modi's ruling
Bharatiya Janata Party.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan have fought three wars since
independence in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. New Delhi has long
accused Islamabad of sponsoring a separatist movement and militancy in
the Himalayan region. Pakistan denies the charge and accuses India of
occupying Kashmir and fomenting trouble in its restive provinces, like
New Delhi has been frustrated that often its ties with countries have
been coloured by concerns about its relationship with Pakistan. One
foreign ministry official said the Saudis tended to bring up Pakistan
during discussions with India.
Government officials described Modi's diplomatic push as an effort to
"de-hyphenate" India from Pakistan, especially as New Delhi tries to
play a bigger geopolitical role in Asia to counter China's influence.
Stronger relationships with Pakistan's allies can help India get a
more sympathetic hearing on global and regional forums and put pressure
on Islamabad to rein in militants.
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia and the United States imposed joint
sanctions targeting the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group
blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
In Washington on Friday, where Modi was attending a summit on nuclear
security, Indian government spokesman Vikas Swarup welcomed the move.
"Countries working against terror entities - particularly entities
that have targeted India repeatedly - is I think a welcome development,"
he told reporters.
Until now, India's relationship with Saudi Arabia has been driven
primarily by trade and the Indian diaspora in the Middle East. Saudi
Arabia is India's top energy supplier and home to more than 3.5 million
Over the past few years, there has been some cooperation on security
between the two countries, with Riyadh deporting four most wanted
fugitives to India.
Modi will look to broaden those ties, with one foreign ministry
official saying healthcare, education, religious tourism and labour
reforms would also be key talking points.
Still, there are limits to what New Delhi can hope to achieve. The
relationship between Pakistan and the Saudis goes back decades, based in
their shared Sunni Muslim heritage.
Saudi Arabia has long been a source of financial aid for Islamabad.
In 2014, the Saudis gave Pakistan $1.5 billion as a "gift" to shore up
its foreign reserves. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spent time
in political exile in Saudi Arabia in the 2000s, after he was ousted in a
But Indian officials said the timing was right for Modi's visit, as relations between Riyadh and Islamabad enter a rough patch.
Pakistan declined to provide ships, aircraft and troops to the
Saudi-led fight to halt Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen last year.
It has also sought to avoid taking sides in the escalating dispute
between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
"Pakistan knows that relations with Saudi have come to a low. That
doesn't mean that India can fill that gap," said Zahid Hussain, a former
newspaper editor in Pakistan. "But certainly this is part of Modi's
diplomatic offensive in the region."