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Bin Salman’s need for Pakistan hinders his ties with India

Billboards showing portraits of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (L) and Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) in Islamabad on 15 February 2019 [AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images]
Billboards showing portraits of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (L) and Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) in Islamabad on 15 February 2019 [AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images]

The much-hyped visit of Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman, to Pakistan and India concluded on Wednesday with him promising to extend full support to India in its battle against terrorism and calling for UN sanction against those who are involved in it.

In the first leg of his Asian tour, which included Malaysia and Indonesia, Bin Salman landed at Nur Khan air base in the Pakistani town of Rawalpindi last Sunday where he was received by Prime Minister Imran Khan, members of his cabinet and Army Chief Jawed Bajwa. Bin Salman was accompanied by an 1,100 strong entourage consisting of members of his cabinet, prominent businessmen and members of the royal family.

Later the prime minister drove the Crown Prince, heir-apparent and de facto ruler of Saudi, to the his house where a ceremony was held in his honour. The enthusiasm of Pakistan’s government was at full display over Bin Salman’s first visit which Khan tweet took the countries’ relationship to a level where it has never reached before. The heir apparent, he added, had won the hearts of millions of Pakistanis when he said that he could be considered Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Khan said Saudi is a real friend and it is true as it has stood by Pakistan even in times of hardship. Only last October Saudi offered Islamabad a $6 billion rescue package to support its tattered economy, this at a time when the kingdom was in the spotlight following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Turkey.

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As a gesture of goodwill, the President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, conferred the highest civilian award of Paskenta, Nishan-e-Pakistani on the Crown Prince and he was also presented a gold plated gun by a group of senators. In exchange, Bin Salman dedicated a hospital in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to the late Ferman Khan who scarified his own life to save 15 people, including nine Saudis, from floods in Jeddah in 2009.

Saudi and Pakistan also signed numerous investment agreements worth $20 billion, including one to establish an oil refinery in the city of Gwadar. These, Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said were not charity, but rather mutually beneficial investment.

It was also agreed that 2,107 Pakistanis who are being held in Saudi jails would be released. They are among the 3,309 currently incarcerated in the kingdom.

Bin Salman’s visit to India came at a time when locals were still mourning the wanton targeting of 40 Indian police forces at the hands of the Jaish-e-Mohammed in the town of Pulwama, disputed Kashmir. Many have already termed the visit a hallow exercise because of the silence and indifference displayed by the Crown Prince over the killing when he met leaders in Pakistan.

But still Prime Minister Description

Narendra  Modi went in person to the air port to receive the guest and hugged him. During his day-long engagement, Bin Salman attended a banquet hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind, held bilateral meeting with the prime minister and met Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. Five agreements were signed including cooperation in the fields of tourism, housing and broadcasting. The countries also agreed to enhance cooperation to combat terrorism.

In a joint statement, they discussed the potential investment of $100 billion in India in the field of energy, refinery, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture and minerals.

READ: Saudi to release 2,100 prisoners after MBS visit to Pakistan

Relations between Saudi and Indian have entered a new era in recent times and they can no longer be confined to  the areas of oil, remittance and pilgrimage but must now be seen in the changing regional and global scenario where they are strategic partners in various fields.

But this does not mean that the growing and deepening ties with one country would come at the cost of another, particularly in case of Pakistan with whom Saudi Arabia has always enjoyed a distinct relationship. India should harbor no wishful thinking that its growing tie with the kingdom will eventually bring Saudi Arabia out of Pakistan’s ideological fold. Pakistan is more important for Saudi Arabia. The kingdom wants Pakistan’s military at its disposal not for its own internal security or that of its regime, but for its battles further afield.

The changing situation on the ground in Afghanistan after the US’ planned withdrawal, has left Pakistan indispensable to Saudi, as the kingdom fears Iran’s growing in Kabul.

With this in mind, Saudi’s links to India can only be seen through its need for Pakistan in it’s ongoing proxy wars with its regional foe, Iran.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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