Saudi Arabia bets on $100 billion India opportunity, backs terror concerns

Amid escalating tensions in the region over the massacre of 40 Indian troops in south Kashmir by a Pakistan-backed militant group, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf powerhouse, has backed India’s concerns over terrorism and agreed to ramp up pressure on countries supporting terrorism.

In a major vote of confidence in the India opportunity, Saudi Arabia also decided to scale up economic engagement with the world’s fastest growing major economy by pledging $100 billion investment in diverse sectors such as energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing.  Raveesh Kumar, the spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry, called the Saudi mammoth investment pledge “a huge vote of confidence in the Indian economy.” If these investment plans fructify, it will make Saudi Arabia the biggest investor in India. The decision to scale up economic engagement was underlined by the signing of a bilateral pact on Saudi investment in India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund and another pact on framework cooperation program on enhancing bilateral investment relations.

Terrorism, including the Pulwama terror attack which is widely suspected to be supported by Pakistan’s deep state, figured prominently in wide-ranging discussions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, popularly known as MBS, in New Delhi on February 20.

Terrorism and extremism are “common concerns” and Saudi Arabia will extend all cooperation to India and other neighbouring countries to deal with them, the Saudi Crown Prince said after the talks. “We would like to tell our friend India that we’ll cooperate on all fronts, including intelligence sharing,” he said.

Addressing a joint press conference with the Saudi leader, PM Modi described the Pulwama attack as a “cruel symbol” of the scourge of terrorism and sought punishment for the terrorists and their backers.

“Last week’s barbaric Pulwama attack was a symbol of the shadow of the inhuman danger hovering over the world. To deal with the scourge, we have agreed that there was a need to ramp up pressure on countries extending any sort of support to terrorism,” Mr Modi said, in a veiled but obvious reference to Pakistan.

He underlined that dismantling terror infrastructure, eliminating support to terrorism and punishing terrorists and their supporters are very necessary.

“Today, in the 21st century, Saudi Arabia is among the most valuable strategic partners in India. It is in our spacious neighbourhood, is a close friend and is also an important source of India’s energy security,” he said.

“The economic, social and cultural links of India and Saudi Arabia are centuries old. And it is always conducive and friendly,” he added.

Saudi Crown Prince MBS was lavish in his praise for the role of Indians in building Saudi Arabia, home to over 3 million Indians.  Indians are part of the DNA of Saudi Arabia,” he had said at the stately Rashtrapati Bhavan (presidential palace) where he was accorded a warm ceremonial welcome.

Growing Convergence

Commenting on the significance of the Saudi Crown Prince’s visit to India, Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India and World magazine and India Writes Network, said the talks in New Delhi underlined a growing economic synergy and strategic convergence between India and Saudi Arabia. “Saudi Arabia’s support for India’s concerns over terrorism in the wake of the Pulwama attack is significant, specially as Riyadh is juggling its relations with New Delhi and Islamabad,” he said. “In their joint statement in Islamabad, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan had called for avoiding politicisation of the UN listing regime, which was a matter of concern for India. However, the Crown Prince’s statements in New Delhi about shared concerns on terrorism and extremism suggest that Riyadh is not agreeable to the political uses of terrorism,” he added.

“The real story, however, lies in the two important agreements that were signed on scaling up Saudi investment in India. This clearly indicates that the India will become a more important partner for fructifying Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030,” said Mr Chand.

Saudi Arabia is pivotal to India’s energy security, accounting for over 20 percent of India’s oil imports. India-Saudi bilateral trade was US$ 27.48 billion during 2017-18, making Saudi Arabia India’s 4th largest trading partner. Saudi Arabia is the 15th largest market in the world for Indian exports and is the destination to 1.85% (2017-18) of India’s global exports. It is also the third largest source (4.74% in 2017-18) of India’s global imports.