NEW DELHI: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — known as MBS for short — arrived in India on Tuesday after visiting Pakistan.
The crown prince was welcomed at the airport by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who embraced him in a characteristic bear hug.
MBS is expected to make an effort to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan. Following a militant attack in India-occupied Kashmir’s Pulwama area last week, tensions between India and Pakistan are once again running high.
Over 40 Indian paramilitary troops were killed in the attack, which has been claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad, a proscribed organisation. India has alleged that those who planned the attacks had links with the Pakistani state — a charge that Pakistan has vigorously denied. Shortly after the attack, the Pakistan Foreign Office had condemned the attack, saying that it was “a matter of grave concern”.
Ties between India and Saudi Arabia, where millions of Indians are employed as migrant workers, have strengthened since Modi visited Riyadh in 2016 for the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation with intelligence-gathering on money laundering and terrorism financing.
Other agreements are expected to be signed Wednesday in investment, tourism, housing and communications.
The two countries’ two-way trade totalled $27.5 billion last year.
India describes Saudi Arabia as a “key pillar” of its energy security. It provides about 17 per cent of India’s crude oil and about a third of its liquefied natural gas.
The relationship may be more key as a deadline nears for India to comply with United States sanctions against Iran, India’s largest oil provider.
“The only positive part of this is to strengthen the relationship with Saudi Arabia to make up the oil deficit with Iran,” said an economist and writer in New Delhi, Prem Shankar Jha.
“That is the only rational part I see” in the visit,” he said.
The crown prince has a delicate balance to strike during his Asia tour, which will also take him to China.
In Islamabad, two government officials — who spoke on the condition of anonymity — said Prime Minister Imran Khan raised the issue of the increasing tension with India during his talks with the crown prince. They said that during his visit to New Delhi, MBS was expected to encourage Indian leaders to try to resolve all issues through talks.
Earlier on Tuesday, in a video message, Prime Minister Khan said Islamabad will take action if Delhi shares any actionable evidence concerning last week’s suicide bombing.
While offering cooperation and another chance at a dialogue over the Kashmir issue, the premier also warned India against any act of aggression, saying Pakistan will not hesitate in retaliating to a provocation.
However, he made it clear that he hopes better sense will prevail.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) responded to the prime minister’s offer for an investigation and dialogue over the Pulwama attack with further vitriol.
In a statement that spurned Islamabad’s effort to defuse tensions, New Delhi described PM Khan’s statement that Pakistan itself has been the biggest victim of terrorism as “far from the truth”.