File image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudia Arabia
File image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman | Bloomberg
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New Delhi: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the issue of Pakistan-based terror will be on top of his agenda, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.

The Crown Prince arrives Tuesday on his first official visit to India and is due to hold talks with Modi Wednesday.

India, the sources said, will push for the mention of ‘cross-border terrorism’ or ‘something nearer to that concept’ in its joint statement with Saudi Arabia, in an effort to call Pakistan out.

Isolating Pakistan

This visit of the Crown Prince comes less than a week after 40 CRPF soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Pulwama by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed.

PM Modi is expected to raise the issue under the India-Saudi counter-terrorism cooperation framework, during the two leaders’ summit-level bilateral meeting on Wednesday.

It will mark India’s first step towards diplomatic isolation of Pakistan, ThePrint has learnt.

Also read: As Pakistan’s leverage with US, China, Saudi Arabia grows, is it even possible to isolate it?

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Facing Saudi-Pak ties

Even as Saudi Arabia condemned the terror attack in Kashmir, the Crown Prince did not cancel his trip to Pakistan. But in what is seen as a signal to India, he returned to Saudi Arabia from Pakistan and will then fly to India, apparently to avoid hyphenating the neighbours.

On the contrary, he vowed to invest $20 billion in Pakistan during his meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as part of his three-nation tour.

“Consider me as Ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia…We cannot say no to Pakistan, whatever we can do, we will deliver that,” the Crown Prince said.

He left Pakistan on Monday evening and will arrive in India on Tuesday night.

India understands that owing to the closeness between Islamabad and Riyadh, it will not be an easy task to pit friends against each other. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are considered to be key strategic partners of the US in its conflict with Iran.

However, sources point out that India is also aware of the fact that considering the large-scale investments that Riyadh has planned in Pakistan, it will not let jihadi elements hijack its trade interests and create disruptions.

During the visit, India and Saudi Arabia are expected to announce enhancement in their defence cooperation with focus on joint naval exercises that is expected to begin this year itself, T.S. Tirumurti, Secretary (Economic Relations), Ministry of External Affairs, told the media here on Monday.

Tirumurti also said that Saudi Arabia now considers India as one of its eight strategic partners. Amongst the eight in Asia it is India, China, Japan and South Korea while the remaining four are from Europe.

Talmiz Ahmad, India’s former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia said, “Saudi Arabia is now deeply concerned of the jihadi elements, many of whom are enemies of the KSA as well. And Pakistan needs those investments hence it will do something to ensure such activities are taken care of. Post the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the Saudis know that jihadi elements rising out of Pakistan are a real threat.”

India may also nudge Saudi Arabia to review its Kashmir policy, which the Saudis haven’t spelt out clearly except during then Indian External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2001.

Also read: Saudi Arabia crown prince set to visit India, but Israel PM Netanyahu cancels trip

Talks with Taliban

As Pakistan is beginning to play a key role in facilitating peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, Riyadh is as concerned as New Delhi on the imminent deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan.

Both India and Saudi Arabia would face a challenge in the event the US decides the immediate withdrawal of its troops from terror-hit Afghanistan.

“This is where India can play a role in telling the Saudis that it should tell the Taliban that it can return to mainstream provided it does not support jihadi activities in the region,” Ahmad said.

Oil diplomacy

PM Modi had last met the Crown Prince on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Argentina, in November 2018.

Both sides had at that time discussed the stalled $44-billion refinery and petrochemical project in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri, in which the Saudi Arabia-run oil giant Aramco and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company had picked up a 50 per cent stake.

The project got stalled due to land acquisition problems in that area. Sources said India is now looking to offer an alternate site for the project to the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia emerged as the largest supplier of oil to India in 2018, while India continues to be among the top three big oil importers from the region.

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