Modi's Saudi visit part of push to 'de-hyphenate' India from Pakistan

Published: April 1, 2016
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PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday is part of a broader diplomatic offensive to put pressure on arch rival Pakistan by forging ties with some of Islamabad’s closest allies, Indian ruling party and government officials said.

Modi is expected to sign trade agreements, including contracts to secure investment for infrastructure projects, and offer security and military cooperation, such as training and joint exercises, they said.

The visit comes just months after he travelled to another Pakistan ally, the United Arab Emirates, and signed a security cooperation agreement that includes regular meetings between top security advisers.

Modi to visit Saudi Arabia on King Salman’s invitation

“It’s simple. We have to do everything to deal with Pakistan – use economics, strategy and emotional ties to win the hearts of Islamabad’s friends,” said Ram Madhav, national general secretary of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. New Delhi has long accused Islamabad of sponsoring a separatist movement and militancy in the Himalayan region. Pakistan denies the charge and accuses India of occupying Kashmir and fomenting trouble in its restive provinces, like Balochistan.

Stronger relationships with Pakistan’s allies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE can help India get a more sympathetic hearing on global and regional forums and put pressure on Islamabad to rein in militants.

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia and the United States imposed joint sanctions targeting the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

US, Saudi Arabia sanction alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba supporters

New Delhi has been frustrated that often its ties with countries have been coloured by concerns about its relationship with Pakistan. One foreign ministry official said the Saudis tended to bring up Pakistan during discussions with India.

Government officials described Modi’s diplomatic push as an effort to “de-hyphenate” India from Pakistan, especially as New Delhi tries to play a bigger geopolitical role in Asia to counter China’s influence.

Right timing

Until now, India’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has been driven primarily by trade and the Indian diaspora in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is India’s top energy supplier and home to more than 3.5 million Indian expatriates.

Over the past few years, there has been some cooperation on security between the two countries, with Riyadh deporting four most wanted fugitives to India.

Modi will look to broaden those ties, with one foreign ministry official saying healthcare, education, religious tourism and labour reforms would also be key talking points.

Still, there are limits to what New Delhi can hope to achieve. The relationship between Pakistan and the Saudis goes back decades, based in their shared Sunni Muslim heritage.

Saudi Arabia has long been a source of financial aid for Islamabad. In 2014, the Saudis gave Pakistan $1.5 billion as a “gift” to shore up its foreign reserves.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spent time in political exile in Saudi Arabia in the 2000s, after he was ousted in a military coup.

But Indian officials said the timing was right for Modi’s visit, as relations between Riyadh and Islamabad enter a rough patch.

Pakistan declined to provide ships, aircraft and troops to the Saudi-led fight to halt Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen last year. It has also sought to avoid taking sides in the escalating dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“Pakistan knows that relations with Saudi have come to a low. That doesn’t mean that India can fill that gap,” said Zahid Hussain, a former newspaper editor in Pakistan. “But certainly this is part of Modi’s diplomatic offensive in the region.”

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Mughal
    Apr 1, 2016 - 4:10PM

    I think it won’t affect much on Pakistan as Saudis are now loosing US shelter and would be looking after someone else to be protected.Naturally, never India but Pakistan is the only country which can safeguard them just because of Holy places there, otherwise these Arabs having so much wealth yet could not attain military strength in gulf since they have no potential at all.Recommend

  • Saleem
    Apr 1, 2016 - 4:44PM

    Pakistan’s foreign policy has been nothing but a disaster and it is pathetic for this PM to hold on to his foreign ministry advisors. Rather than apologizing the nation at election time for his past mistakes, this PM needs to wake up now and appoint a foreign minister based on merit, not using his phony criteria of loyalty and kinship.Recommend

  • Khilari
    Apr 1, 2016 - 4:51PM

    Tit for tat. Russia is forging closer ties with Pakistan recently . Similarly TAPI pipe line will also go a long way of establishing closer ties with Iran. BTW, last night China thwarted an attempt by India to get azhar masood banned by UN. Don’t forget KSA looks at nuclear Pakistan when it comes to defend the country. Koi shak?Recommend

  • Apr 1, 2016 - 5:19PM

    Although the amount of indo-saudi trade is huge due to inida’s reliance on saudi oil and also the amount of expat workers working in saudiarabia still the kind of relation pakistan has with saudi arabia is much different and not easy to dentRecommend

  • Feroz
    Apr 1, 2016 - 6:12PM

    India has good relations with all countries and must continue to make efforts to improve them. What relationship Pakistan has with any country is nobody’s business. In a world where economic growth is very weak India looks very attractive as an investment destination. Every country naturally wants to have a bite of the pie. Most of Saudi investments are in the developed world and it needs to diversify and reinvest them in fast growing Emerging Markets. Those looking for enemies in shadows will find none.Recommend

  • Brainy Bhaijan
    Apr 1, 2016 - 6:33PM

    Pakistani generals should make friends with India. Together they can become the most powerful force in the world.
    There is power in unity. End this fake perceived animosity.Recommend

  • Amir
    Apr 1, 2016 - 6:39PM

    No concern what so ever in Pakistan as Saudia Arabia and India are independent countries and can do whatever they want.

    Pakistan has made a right decision by not participating in a war in Yemen however they need to lead a way to resolve a crisis in Syria as too many muslim brothers are getting killed there.Recommend

  • Vectra
    Apr 1, 2016 - 6:44PM

    Pakistan annoyed Iran by accusing it with false RAW story and earlier it had annoyed Saudi last year by declining their request.Frankly speaking it was the over confidence on China that made Pakistani authorities to boldly play Iran card with Saudi and vice versa.Pakistan even didn’t spare to play double games with their own close allies let alone others i.e India,Europe and US.Recommend

  • Vectra
    Apr 1, 2016 - 6:46PM

    @Rabia:
    Yes they are not easy to dent and can be repaire today if you send the troops and jets and ships now.But will you do it?? and will you challenge Iran directly???Recommend

  • Point
    Apr 1, 2016 - 7:03PM

    all in all our victory lies in the obsession of indian govt. with pakistan 24/7. A failed person will always look to reduce power of enemy. A powerful person will look on progressing itself and to stop caring about it’s enemy!!Recommend

  • abreez
    Apr 1, 2016 - 7:56PM

    Allies and rivals in politics change when the interests of any country changes as Pakistan was biggest non-NATO ally of America against USSR but now India is becoming biggest non-NATO ally of America in its new cold war in South China Sea. Arab countries now cannot afford the luxury of taking sides in any conflict as in the case of Pakistan, and in future Arab countries will explore every relationship with every country and I think Pakistan will not mind country to country relationship of Pakistani friends. Modi is doing some great things, like visiting UAE and Saudi Arab, this will make easy for Pakistan to enhance its relations with Iran and Russia despite India’s efforts to sacrifice its own people. World is heading towards another economic revolution and Arab-Iran relations will make Pakistan a very important country and Pakistan’s positive contribution in Arab economies and in Iranian economy will give Pakistan greater importance.Recommend

  • OSD
    Apr 1, 2016 - 8:50PM

    Considering the lacklustre performance of Narendra Modi so far on domestic and international matters, I believe Pakistan doesn’t need to worry about this at all. On the contrary, we are doing very well and our government should continue the good work.Recommend

  • Srinivasulu Mekala
    Apr 1, 2016 - 9:53PM

    The concept of making more friends, expanding business, improving economy are the top priorities of India. Pakistan comes into Indian radar occasionally whenever a Mumbai or Pathsnkot happen, otherwise no Indian would even bother to spare a second a year to Pakistan. The generation that had deep rooted emotional link with the geography of Pakistan is almost extinct in India. On the contrary, Pakistan is obsessed with the game of one upmanship with India, which is eight times bigger in all aspects. No Pakistani can ever have even small things of happiness with out a comparison with India, and unfortunately most of their grief comes from such comparisons these days. One last fact; the Saudi Indian relations are pre-islamic. Arabs have been the bridge between India and Europe. We do not want them to become enemies of Pakistan or any other country. We just want them to be our friends. Recommend

  • Sandip
    Apr 1, 2016 - 10:24PM

    @Rabia: Yep. India knows that, the Saudis know that, the Pakistanis themselves know that. There are certain things that only Pakistan can do. Like put itself up to the highest bidder and then do their darwaani.Recommend

  • Rabiachu
    Apr 1, 2016 - 10:30PM

    India’s foreign reserves will touch $400 billion by the end of 2016. No need to fight wars, just buy the whole of PakistanRecommend

  • Xnain
    Apr 2, 2016 - 1:11AM

    @Rabiachu:
    hahaha Okey, I believe you!Recommend

  • Vectone
    Apr 2, 2016 - 1:20AM

    False? In which world are you living mate? @Vectra: Recommend

  • sunny
    Apr 2, 2016 - 2:01AM

    OMG! India is playing a very dangerous game which will result in the extinction of human race in South Asia.Recommend

  • Reshakeel
    Apr 4, 2016 - 9:26AM

    Arabs are no friend of PakistanRecommend

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