UPDATE: Saudi 'ready for $100bn investment opportunities in India'
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman touched down in New Delhi late yesterday.
After a brief hold-up, the crown prince began his two-day visit with the aim of increasing bilateral trade and investment and strengthening co-operation in renewable energy, defence and security – including counter-terrorism.
Breaking protocol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi received the crown prince at the airport, signalling the significance that India attaches to its strategic relationship with the kingdom. Prince Mohammed flew back to Riyadh on Monday evening after a two-day state visit to Islamabad, after India objected to his direct arrival from Pakistan amid heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
In Pakistan, the crown prince and Prime Minister Imran Khan signed several investment deals and agreements, worth $20 billion (Dh73.45bn), in the South Asian country's power, mining and petrochemicals sectors.
Tensions between India and Pakistan rose after a suicide bombing on Thursday that killed at least 40 police in India’s northern state of Kashmir, forcing the Saudi delegation to step in to calm the situation.
India accused Islamabad of being behind the suicide blast claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group. Pakistan denied the charges.
Sources at India’s Ministry of External Affairs claimed Saudi Arabia was no longer accepting Pakistan’s narrative on Kashmir and cross-border terrorism and said that India was set to raise the issue of Pakistan’s alleged support of terrorist organisations during talks between Mr Modi and the crown prince expected to take place today.
The joint statement to be issued after the talks is also likely to have a strong reference to the issue of terrorism and strategies to defeat it.
India and Saudi Arabia will also be looking at joint exercises between the two navies, besides significantly ramping up overall defence co-operation.
The Secretary for Economic Affairs in India’s External Affairs Ministry, T S Tirumurti, said the sides were expected to sign five agreements in areas of investment, tourism, housing and information and broadcasting during the Saudi leader’s visit.
“We are confident that this visit will open a new chapter in India-Saudi bilateral relationship,” he said.
Referring to cross-border terrorism, he said: “Saudi Arabia has strongly condemned and denounced the terrorist attack on Indian security forces in Pulwama on February 14.
“We appreciate the kingdom’s co-operation in security and counter-terrorism areas over the years.
India had been identified as one of the eight strategic partners with whom Saudi Arabia intended to deepen its partnership in the areas of politics, security, trade and investment and culture, Mr Tirumurti said.
“As part of this engagement, we are finalising the setting up of a Strategic Partnership Council between the two countries at ministerial level.
“We are confident that this will give greater thrust to our strategic partnership and take forward our discussions in a focused and action-oriented manner,” he said.
External Affairs officials also said Saudi Arabia had been providing India information and intelligence about various terrorist networks.
Mr Modi will host a lunch in at Hyderabad House on Wednesday in honour of the crown prince.
Prince Mohammed is expected to end his trip with a visit to China scheduled to take place on Thursday and Friday.