Three major areas of interests remain the pillars of Indo-Saudi relationship which are: Indian expats, oil supply and Hajj quota that reach almost 1,75,000 Hajj pilgrimage annually.
By Dr Waiel Awwad
When King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz visited India in 2006, both countries signed Delhi Declaration which was a turning point in the bilateral relationship between the Saudi kingdom and India. Ever since ,many high level bilateral visits took place which led to more investments, economic, military, security and arms deals.
With the tie upgraded to a strategic partnership, Saudi investment in India has increased in many sectors like IT sector, housing, tourism, infrastructures and energy. Saudi Arabia is the 4 th largest trade partner with India and the bilateral trade reached almost $28 billion last year and will double in the coming decades. It has also been a time of revival of India`s relation with West Asian nations. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the relationship with GCC strengthened and he visited many of these countries including the Saudi kingdom in 2016.
Three major areas of interests remain the pillars of Indo-Saudi relationship which are: Indian expats, oil supply and Hajj quota that reach almost 1,75,000 Hajj pilgrimage annually. The Indian Diaspora is the largest in GCC which is around 3 million Indians in Saudi Arabia out of 7 millions in GCC, which provide good revenues annually.
The number will grow as the crown prince has recently revealed an ambitious vision 2030 of 450 billion US Dollar plan to reshape Saudi economy and generate more than 1.5 million jobs in mining, industry ,logistics and energy. The Indian investments in Saudi Arabia will grow and also the number of expats.
In the oil sector, India is the 3rd largest consumer of energy in the world and Saudi provides a large portion of its need. Saudi Aramco is to invest in India’s oil refinery along with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
India is also fostering close security and defense ties with the Gulf States, which is a manifestation of trust in India by West Asia nations. On the other hand, India has a vital stake in peace and security in the region. There is around 7 million Expats living there with around 73 Billion US Dollar revenue annually. Around 65% of India oil requirement comes from the region 70% of its LNG and 20% of India global trade with the region. Hence India can fill the security vacuum left by US in securing strategic ties to ensure the stability of the region.
Crown Prince visit to India
The crown prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud (MBS), will be leading a large delegation in his tour to five Asian nations: Pakistan, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. It is a trip seen by many to distract the world attention from the allegation of his involvement in the dismembering, burning and dissolving by acid the body of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul- Turkey. The murder shook the world because of the brutality of the crime and denial of MBS involvement who go the name of Saw man, in reference to the electric saw used by the “killing squad “to chop the body of Jamal.
The trip is seen as a sign of reign of the crown prince inside the Al Saud kingdom and away to escape punishment with US president backing him to get away with the murder. If this happens, then the fight for justice to Jamal Khashoggi, will be fought by his colleagues and human right groups only.
The US has a great influence on determining who will be the king in Saudi Arabia and do American job globally with Saudi funding and promoting Islamization and extremism. Washington relay on Crown Prince for its policy in the region. With the Saudi led war on Yemen, anti-Iran bloc and protection of Israel. Anti-Iran sentiment on its peak under MBS and USA president pushing for what is called the century deal to dilute the Palestinian cause, for which USA needs Saudi support.
This was evident in the last meeting in Warsaw where Washington tried to foster a bloc to face Iran and force the Palestinians for a deal with Tel Aviv. The meeting was boycotted by all Palestinians. It is Iran’s angle that will worry India, because of the balancing acts, New Delhi exhibit under with its soft power approach. Hence, taking the geopolitical scenario and its implication in the region, New Delhi has to keep the three at par and maintain a good relation with Tehran, Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
He will push for more lucrative investments, security and military cooperation to woo New Delhi to Riyadh camp away from Tehran which is facing USA pressure and sanctions after the latter pulled out of the nuclear deal.
The Crown Prince MBS is projected as the liberator of Saudi women, trying to reshape the economy and open the society, while he is keeping behind bar, women activists who fought for women cause inside the conservative Saudi Arabian society.
And on the other hand MBS is opening the country to singers and dancers from Arab countries and the West like Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, Chris Rock, Ragheb Alama, Majida al Rumi and many others to let the people dance to their songs, publicly in front of the global media to improve his image as reformer and project him as the moderator of Saudi Arabia.
However, it will take him decades to change the mindset of Saudi which is intoxicated with Wahhabi doctrine. There is a revival of the menace of terrorism in south Asia in Afghanistan in particular like Al Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist groups will pose a challenge to the subcontinent. Riyadh still enjoys great influences over these groups and supported them in Syria, Yemen and inside Pakistan to use them against Iran.
Counterterrorism measures and intelligence sharing is of a prime importance to fight this threat. Saudi closeness to Pakistan may be a discussed by Indian leaders during the visit to expose Islamabad alleged linkage to terror attacks in India and Riyadh must use its influence over Islamabad to end its support to groups acting against India’s sovereignty.
The visit may not have an impact on the outcome of the general election in India and the relation between the two countries will foster irrespective of who captures power in the Centre. India, must assure that Saudi money doesn’t fall in the wrong hand that can create sectarian violence in the country and disturb the harmony among different faiths. There has to be a mechanism agreed upon between the two sides to build the trust and merely lips assurances will not be sufficient.
The sole benefit of this trip will be private companies by signing lucrative contracts for joint ventures in India. Finally, will there be a demonstration against MBS visit to India? I wonder.
(Awwad is a Senior journalist. The views express in the above artice are author’s personal)