India is set to forge a major defence agreement with Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan’s closest friends.
The two countries will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on defence cooperation on February 28 during the three-day Delhi visit of Saudi Arabian crown prince and defence minister Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud.
The agreement will be on joint military exercises, hardware sales and transfer of technology. Riyadh has signed a similar agreement with Islamabad this week.
“The MoU provides for a proper bilateral defence policy group with defence ministries on both sides setting the agenda. Given the status of Saudi Arabia in the Islamic world, this is no mean achievement. It signals that Pakistan is no longer the only favourite nation for Riyadh in south Asia,” said a senior official, requesting anonymity.
India and Saudi Arabia will operationalise a billion-US-dollar joint investment to fund infrastructure and boost growth. The 50:50 fund (the two countries contributing equally) will be jointly headed by nominated CEOs.
The amount may be increased during the 78-year-old prince’s meeting with PM Manmohan Singh on February 28. New Delhi is preparing to roll out the red carpet for the 100-strong delegation accompanying Prince Salman, who is also the vice custodian of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina.
The prince’s chiefly political visit looks to strengthen a quietly developing relationship. Riyadh and Delhi have already institutionalised intelligence links and deepened cooperation on counter-terrorism.
Riyadh has made it clear that it will not allow any anti-India activity on its soil and will deny ideological platform to any terrorist group operating from Pakistan or within India. The Saudi intelligence agency, Al Mukhabarat, has played a key role in making Pakistan-based terrorists like 26/11 Mumbai attack accused Zabiuddin Ansari aka Abu Jundal face the Indian law.
Riyadh has in the past indicated that it wants the Indian Army to train Saudi Arabian troops in mountain warfare by setting up a combat school. It also wants joint counter-terrorism exercises.