‘Saudi silence on Kashmir due to better understanding of Indian position’: Sources

‘Saudi silence on Kashmir due to better understanding of Indian position’: Sources

The story first appeared in ETV Bharat

On the last Tuesday of October Prime Minister of India met with the King and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. The issues they discussed did not include Kashmir. The abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir was carefully avoided. Was it a conscious decision from Saudi Arabia’s part and what does the joint statement issued  imply? Senior journalist and SWAM india member Smita Sharma who recently was in Riyadh to cover the Future Investment Initiative Forum, explains the answers to these questions in this article.

Riyadh: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi held official meetings with the King and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh on Tuesday, it is learnt that Kashmir did not come up in the wide-ranging discussions.

Without mentioning Kashmir the message sent out was ‘whatever India is doing is its own internal matter’ according to Indian officials. This, combined with the fact that Saudi has not spoken out against India on Kashmir amid heightened tensions with Pakistan post abrogation of Article 370, should be seen as the Kingdom’s ‘better political understanding of the Indian position’, claim officials.

Retired Indian diplomat Zikrur Rahman speaking to ETV Bharat

The joint statement issued after the formal talks said, ‘The two sides discussed regional and international issues of mutual interest, and reiterated their categorical rejection of all forms of interference in the internal affairs of countries, and the need for the international community to fulfil its responsibilities towards preventing any attacks on the sovereignty of States.’

PM Modi was a keynote speaker at the third edition of the Future Investment Initiative Forum in Riyadh popularly known as the Davos In The Desert. With the Kingdom seeking to diversify its oil-based economy, the two countries are keen to move beyond the buyer-seller relationship. And cooperation in security and defence industries have emerged as key pillars. With the inking of the strategic agreement, the focus is now on launching the Strategic Partnership Council.

It was during his visit to India this year in February when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman first mooted the idea of a Strategic Council which was followed by New Delhi proposing a structure.

MBS, as the Crown Prince is popularly known, is also the Defence Minister and Deputy PM and the de- facto ruler of the Kingdom. Under his vision 2030, Saudi is finalising strategic partnerships with eight countries of which it has penned agreements with four including UK, France and China. India is the fourth country that the Kingdom has penned the key agreement with.

The high-level mechanism chaired by PM Modi and the Crown Prince once launched will aim to hold a summit meeting once in two years and a ministerial-level annual dialogue. The Council will focus on two verticals including political-security-culture and society headed by foreign affairs ministers on both sides. The defence will be a subgroup under this umbrella.

The other vertical will focus on economic and investments and will be led by the Indian Commerce Minister and the Saudi Energy Minister on their respective sides and will also involve members of NITI Ayog.

India has such institutional mechanism arrangements at the highest level with Russia, Germany and Japan.

The priorities of the Council will include formulating ways to improve cyber and counter-terrorism cooperation, exchange of information, capacity building and strengthening of cooperation in combating transnational crime along with expanding and diversifying economic ties.

Terrorism was a key issue on the table as PM Modi met with the Crown Prince on Tuesday. ‘The two sides stressed that extremism and terrorism threaten all nations and societies.

“They rejected any attempt to link this universal phenomenon to any particular race, religion or culture,” said the joint statement. It further added, “Both sides expressed their rejection of all terrorist acts and stressed the need to prevent access to weapons including missiles and drones to commit terrorist acts against other countries.”

The statement also mentioned India’s condemnation of ‘terrorist acts against civilian installations’ in the Kingdom. Incidentally, following a drone attack mid-September on the state-owned Saudi Aramco refinery, Riyadh assured New Delhi that its oil supply would not be disrupted.

The Kingdom accounts for nearly 18 per cent of India’s oil imports and almost 30 per cent of its LPG requirements. The Kingdom’s top leadership took personal interest to ensure India was not affected.

The Energy Minister in Riyadh spoke to his Indian counterpart followed by close diplomatic contact on both sides. During his talks, PM Modi expressed his thanks for the same added sources privy to discussions.

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About Smita Sharma

Smita Sharma is a senior award winning independent journalist. She writes on foreign policy and security issues for various news organisations including ETV Bharat and Huffington Post. She was the Consulting Executive Editor for TV9 Bharatvarsh and Deputy Editor with The Tribune in the past. In more than 16 years of her journalism career she has also been a bilingual prime time anchor and foreign policy Incharge with leading TV news channels- India Today/ Aajtak/ CNN-IBN/ IBN7 and DD News. Her reportage of the Kashmir conflict in 2010 won the Ramnath Goenka Award. She is a an alumni of the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies (DKI-APCSS) in Hawaii.