India’s deepening Saudi engagement | HT Editorial
India’s sustained outreach to key powers in West Asia has resulted in the launch of a Strategic Partnership Council by India and Saudi Arabia during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the kingdom this week. This new body comprising two mechanisms, headed by the foreign ministers and commerce ministers of both sides, will guide and monitor relations in key areas such as energy, security and trade. India is one of eight countries with which Saudi Arabia is forging strategic partnerships under its Vision 2030 policy.
The joint statement issued at the end of Mr Modi’s visit had a reference to the categorical rejection of all forms of interference in the internal affairs of countries. Experts see this as Saudi Arabia’s tacit support for India’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. This is particularly significant because Pakistan, a traditional Saudi ally, has responded strongly to the changes in Kashmir. In the aftermath of the suicide attack in Pulwama in February, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had also played a key role in reducing tensions between India and Pakistan.
India and Saudi Arabia also took several steps to transform their relations in the energy sector from a buyer-seller one to a strategic partnership. This included an agreement between Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited and Saudi Aramco, and discussions on taking forward the project to build the world’s largest greenfield refinery in Maharashtra. Saudi Arabia is currently India’s second largest source of energy after Iraq. Given India’s inability to buy oil from Iran as a result of the United States sanctions, this energy relationship will continue to be vital. Strategic and energy ties will help both sides focus on achieving the potential in the field of trade and investment.