Riyadh: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday is part of a broader diplomatic offensive to put pressure on arch rival Pakistan by forging ties with some of Islamabad’s closest allies, government officials have said, according to news agency Reuters.
The PM 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, they said.
The visit comes just months after he travelled to another major 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, General Secretary of the ruling BJP.
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 (unnamed by Reuters) said the Saudis tended to bring up Pakistan during discussions with India.
Government officials described the PM’s diplomatic push as an effort to “de-hyphenate” India from Pakistan, especially as Delhi tries to play a bigger geopolitical role in Asia to counter China’s influence.
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 Indian expatriates and labour reforms would also be key talking points.
Still, there are limits to what the PM 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.
But Indian officials said the timing was right for PM 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.”