Saudi Arabia vows counter-terror help for India and billions in investment

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he expected Saudi investments in India to be worth US$100 billion (S$135 billion) over two years. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI - Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said his country would work with India to counter terrorism and expected Saudi investments in India to be worth US$100 billion (S$135 billion) over two years.

This came as he sought to walk a fine balance between South Asian neighbours and rivals India and Pakistan.

The Crown Prince arrived in India on Tuesday (Feb 19) after a visit to Pakistan amid growing tensions in the Indian sub continent. India has accused Pakistan of having a direct role in a suicide attack in the Pulwama district of Kashmir on Feb 14 in which more than 40 Indian soldiers were killed. Pakistan has denied the charge.

"The common concern is terrorism and extremism. We will cooperate with India and neighbouring states to ensure future generations are safe. We applaud India's role in this matter," said the Crown Prince in short remarks after talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The announcement of US$100 billion in investment was welcomed by Mr Modi during the talks, said officials.

The Crown Prince flew back to Saudi Arabia from Pakistan and then travelled to India on Tuesday, keeping in mind Indian sensitivities.

But his visit to Pakistan during which US$20 billion in investment was pledged, apart from praise for its counter-terror efforts, came amid growing anger in India against Pakistan over the Pulwama attack. India has vowed to internationally isolate Pakistan.

Still, Mr Modi, in keeping with India's growing ties with Saudi Arabia, broke protocol to greet and hug the Crown Prince at the airport on Tuesday.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke protocol to greet and hug Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the airport on Feb 19, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

After their talks, Mr Modi called Saudi Arabia "one of India's most important strategic partner", but also focused on the issue of terrorism.

He said at a joint media session: "It is very important to destroy terror infrastructure and to punish terrorists (and) those who support their activities.

"We agreed that in order to combat the menace of terrorism effectively, there is a need to put pressure on countries that support terror in any form."

Ties between India and Saudi Arabia, the largest supplier of oil to India, have been strengthening for years, with Mr Modi giving special emphasis to India's ties with the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Mr Modi visited Saudi Arabia in 2016 during which the two countries agreed to pursue closer cooperation in security, intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism

Saudi Arabia has also identified India, one of the world's fastest growing economies, as among eight strategic partners with whom it intends to deepen partnership in political, security, trade and investment, as well as cultural areas.

There are also close linkages with 2.7 million Indians working and living in Saudi Arabia,and bilateral trade reaching US$27.5 billion last year.

The two countries on Tuesday also signed agreement in five areas including tourism, housing, investment and information and broadcasting.

Still, India's main opposition Congress wondered why the prime minister had rolled out the red carpet for the Saudi prince.

"National interests v/s Modiji's 'hugplomacy' breaking protocol, grand welcome to those who pledged USD 20 billion to Pakistan and praised Pakistan's 'anti-terror' efforts. Is it our way of remembering martyrs of Pulwama?" Congress's chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala said in a tweet.

Analysts said that in spite of the sentiment in India, Saudi Arabia remained important for India, including in the area of energy security.

"It's very clear it is a balancing act. They don't want to be seen to be preferring India over Pakistan or Pakistan over India. They don't want to get involved in it. They have their own considerations. They know India is becoming a big power and want to have close ties. Ties with Saudi Arabia is very important for India," said former Indian ambassador to Palestine and Gulf expert Zikrur Rahman.

"They want to bring Pakistan into their camp against Iran. It has nothing to do with India. But yes, the timing of the visit was bad."

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