New Delhi: Dealing with the new Taliban government and bolstering bilateral energy ties with India are going to be the topmost agenda items for Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah Al Saud, who arrives in New Delhi on a two-day visit late Saturday.
Prince Faisal will take up developments related to Afghanistan and the new Taliban government with his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval Sunday. On Monday, he is expected to call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Apart from the issue of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia also wants to discuss taking business and economic ties with India to the next level.
“The visit of His Highness Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah Al Saud, Minister of Foreign Affairs, comes as a continuation of engagements at the highest level between Saudi Arabia and India. The interactions between His Highness and Indian officials will focus on our multi-faceted cooperation with our strategic partner, including on trade, investment, energy, security, defence, health and others,” Saudi Ambassador to India Dr Saud Mohammed Alsati told ThePrint.
Ambassador Alsati added that the two countries “enjoy a great equation that has been in existence over many centuries”.
“From trade to investment, energy to heath, security to defence, culture to tourism — our ties are friendly, strong and time-tested. We have maintained high level exchanges and this visit by His Highness Prince Faisal Al Saud comes in this context,” Alsati said.
Saudi Arabia believes progress in these sectors is of utmost importance in order to propel the ties to newer heights, sources told ThePrint, pointing to the fact that both sides need to find newer areas of cooperation beyond the oil trade.
Saudi Arabia, sources said, will also want to use this trip of their Foreign Minister to assess India’s increasing ties with the new administration in Iran under President Ebrahim Raisi.
Jaishankar was the first foreign dignitary to meet Raisi when he became president-elect in July, and also attended the swearing-in ceremony — developments the Saudis have been “carefully watching”, sources said.
Prince Al Saud and Jaishankar will meet again in New York for the UN General Assembly on 21 September.
Dealing with Afghanistan in the future
India and Saudi Arabia have been closely working together on counterterrorism measures since 2010 when both countries had signed the ‘Riyadh Declaration’, which was the first step towards bringing the two countries closer in a strategic partnership.
According to sources, under the declaration, Saudi Arabia “tacitly” supports India’s concerns on cross-border terrorism vis-à-vis Pakistan. Now, with the ISI’s deep shadow over the new Taliban government in Kabul, both sides are expected to discuss what the future approach will be for nations.
India, sources said, would also like to assess from the Saudis what will be Pakistan’s next steps in Afghanistan.
New Delhi has said it is willing to stand beside the Afghan people and extend humanitarian and development aid but in terms of the Taliban coming back to power, India believes it will only increase radicalisation and that the new cabinet has not been an inclusive one.
India will also discuss the need for the Taliban government to adhere to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2593 (2021) — passed under its presidency in August — and how the international community is following that to assess if legitimacy should be accorded to the new Afghan government.
“This region has been witnessing a flurry of activity ever since the US made an exit from the Bagram Air base, then the fall of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals and finally Kabul’s capture. India is well aware of the fact that the Saudis and the Qataris have been main funders of the Taliban for decades and they are deeply involved in funding the resurgence of Taliban through Pakistan,” Talmiz Ahmad, former Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman, told ThePrint.
Days before the fall of Kabul on 15 August, Qatar’s special envoy for conflict resolution Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani paid a visit to India and discussed the rapidly changing developments in Afghanistan.
“India is likely to also ask Saudi Arabia to put pressure on Pakistan as they carry a certain degree of influence on Islamabad and Rawalpindi. And the Saudis may like to understand from us what is the US’ position on the Iran nuclear deal and how is New Delhi viewing it,” Ahmad added.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)