Here’s why the Indian Army Chief’s Middle East visit is a positive sign
December 7, 2020 6:35 PM
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman calls the shots in the House of Saud and is the final word on his country’s foreign policy.
The timing of the Indian army chief’s visit assumes greater importance as it comes at a time when Saudi Arabia’s ties with Islamabad aren’t as affable as before.
By Farooq Wani
Though New Delhi has always enjoyed cordial diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, there has been negligible interaction between the militaries of the two countries. But with Indian army chief Gen MM Narvane visiting Saudi Arabia is a development that clearly indicates that New Delhi and Riyadh are both anxious to establish a far more comprehensive relationship between the two countries. This is certainly a positive sign.
The timing of the Indian army chief’s visit assumes greater importance as it comes at a time when Saudi Arabia’s ties with Islamabad aren’t as affable as before. And for this, Islamabad has nobody but itself to blame, because despite being one of the biggest beneficiaries of Saudi financial aid, it still decided to shift allegiance to Turkey, which is openly challenging Riyadh’s supremacy in the community of Islamic nations. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi went to the extent of threatening Riyadh by saying that if it didn’t convene an OIC meet on Kashmir then Islamabad would go ahead and get other Islamic nations to do so. And Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa who made an attempt to pacify the House of Saud by a personal visit to Riyadh, wasn’t even granted audience with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman!
The most telling and recent manifestation of deteriorating relations between Saudi Arabia and Islamabad was the former demanding return of a $3 billion loan along with a $3.2 billion oil credit facility extended to Islamabad in late 2018 to help it overcome its balance of payments crisis and come out from financial morass. In the past, the House of Saud has been very accommodative in matters concerning loan repayment as far as Pakistan is concerned and thus its insistence for timely return of the $3 billion loan (which is not at all a substantial amount for Riyadh) was something that Islamabad didn’t expect.
So, Islamabad’s public display of its discontentment over Saudi Arabia not taking a pro-Pakistan stance on Kashmir has backfired because in addition to the humiliation caused, Riyadh has its own long laundry list of complaints with Islamabad, mainly linked to it toeing Ankara’s line and the Imran Khan government’s tilt towards Iran. But with geopolitical events moving at a fast pace, driven mostly by China’s unilateral and aggressive moves on several fronts in the cover of the pandemic and all key powers in Eurasia concentrating on the shape of things to come after the change of guard in the US, the differences between Riyadh and Islamabad has burst out in the open in an unexpected manner.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman calls the shots in the House of Saud and is the final word on his country’s foreign policy. The Saudis along with the UAE and most other Arab countries have realised that in the present-day context, nations can no longer afford to cocoon themselves into isolated clusters based on religious lines or ethnicity. So, while being part of groupings like OIC is fine and certainly beneficial when it comes to dealing with matters common to all members, but each nation has to formulate its own foreign policy that is independent of organisation or association that it may be a member of!
OIC member states have realised India’s growing stature in international diplomacy and economic growth as well as its lucrative market of 1.25 billion people, not to forget its large Indian expat population that provides skilled manpower to Arab nations. On the military front, India’s strong response to Chinese intrusions in Ladakh has also enhanced the country’s image within the international community. Indian diplomacy too is doing well- the friction caused by the Nepal government claiming Kalapani area died down with Gen Narvane visiting Nepal where he was conferred the prestigious rank of honorary army chief of Nepal army.
Thus, army Chief Gen Naravane’s visit to Saudi Arabia and UEA are being seen as part of the Indian government’s outreach to West Asia and many experts are of the opinion that this move will lead to further strengthening of ties with other Arab nations in the days to come. Moreover, since New Delhi is also being seen as an influential peace-maker as well as a reliable partner in the field of security cooperation amid the rapidly changing scenario in West Asia, its outreach is naturally receiving a positive response and remarkable reciprocation.
(The author is Kashmir based senior journalist and is Political Analyst and TV Commentator. Views expressed are personal.)