Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman will be arriving in India on Tuesday night. He will be flying in directly from Riyad. He returned home after the Islamabad leg of his eastern tour when his six nation tour was abruptly shortened, with the Malaysia and Indonesia visits postponed.
This is the prince’s gesture of de-hyphenating India and Pakistan. The prince’s tour itinerary was tweaked at the last moment for reasons not yet announced. He was to fly to India after the south Asia leg of his tour, but since that got cancelled, he returned home.
This is a minor diplomatic point that India has scored.
MBS, as the prince is known, was given an over the top reception in Islamabad, with the Pakistani air force escorting his craft through its air space and Prime Minister Imran Khan personally playing the gracious host. Saudi Arabia has committed a 20 billion dollar package to Pakistan, a much needed help to the country which is in economic distress. India is seeking to underplay MBS’ Islamabad sojourn. India claims that it is one of the eight countries with whom Saudi Arabia has strategic partnerships, and thus, its level of engagement is on an altogether different plane from Pakistan’s.
The two countries are planning to hold combined naval exercises, which might be announced during the visit.
India is also hoping for a stronger commitment from Saudi Arabia in countering terror. The statement issued during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2016 visit did mention terror and that neither country would allow its soil to be used for acts of terror. But it did not mention cross-border terror, a term that can nail Pakistan.
Another major announcement that is likely to be made during the visit will be Saudi Arabia joining the International Solar Alliance, an association that was initiated by India to give an impetus to solar energy, and thereby renewable energy.
While Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trading partner (27.4billion dollar bilateral trade, an increase of 10 per cent over the last fiscal), the balance of trade is rather high, with India being the buyer. India gets 17 per cent of its crude oil and 32 per cent of its LPG form the Gulf nation. India will now try to invest in Saudi Arabia in three main sectors—its new Smart City plan for Neom, the proposed Red Sea Tourism Project and the entertainment sector.