Mediation trumps business as Saudi Crown Prince heads to New Delhi

Saudi visit comes amid bitter divisions between India and Pakistan over militant attack in Kashmir

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s two-day trip to India was meant to be about business but a terror attack changed the plan.

A suicide bombing on Thursday left 41 Indian soldiers dead in Kashmir, leading the Saudi delegation to calm the situation between India and Pakistan, two of its close allies.

Prince Mohammed will arrive in New Delhi from Islamabad on Tuesday morning as part of his three-nation tour.

Trade, investment and counter-terrorism were meant to be at the core of the talks.

"Our objective is to try to de-escalate tensions between the two countries, neighbouring countries, and to see if there is a path forward to resolving those differences peacefully,"  Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir said.

India accused Islamabad of being behind the suicide blast claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group. Despite Pakistan denying the charges,  bad feeling has escalated between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

More Indian soldiers were killed on Monday as the security forces conducted an operation against Jaish-e-Mohammad militants in response to the deadliest attack in the Himalayan region in decades.

Despite the tense backdrop to Prince Mohammed’s visit, India is keen to push ahead with the business talks.

In Pakistan, the crown prince and Prime Minister Imran Khan signed investment deals and agreements worth $20 billion (Dh73.45bn) in the South Asian country's power, mining and petrochemicals sectors.

Given India’s strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to break protocol to receive Prince Mohammed at the airport.

India's government said the Saudi royal will be accompanied by a high-level delegation, including ministers, senior officials and leading businessmen.

Prince Mohammed will also meet Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

epa07378543 A handout photo made available by the Saudi Royal Court shows Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaking next to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (L) during a reception in Islamabad, Pakistan, 17 February 2019 (issued 18 February 2019). The crown prince of Saudi Arabia arrived on 17 February in Pakistan, where he is expected to announce multi-billion-dollar investments to help the kingdom's traditional ally tide over financial crisis amid declining foreign exchange reserves.  EPA/BANDAR ALGALOUD HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth-largest trading partner. Bilateral trade was $27.5bn during the 2017-18 financial year.

“Saudi Arabia contributes significantly to our energy security needs by supplying about 20 per cent of India’s crude oil requirements,” the government said.

India, on average, imports about 25 million barrels a month from Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is India’s second-largest supplier of crude oil after Iraq.

Recently, state-owned Saudi Aramco, in partnership with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, entered a joint venture worth $44bn with India's Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical Project Ltd.

About 2.7 million Indians live and work in Saudi Arabia, which makes it community the largest expatriate group in the kingdom. More than 175,000 Indians also make the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia every year.

Prince Mohammed is expected to wind up his foreign tour with a visit to China scheduled to take place on Thursday and Friday.