By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan

King Saud Bin Abdul Aziz and J Nehru, Ryadh 1956

Indian Premier Dr. Manmohan Singh visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) from February 27 to March 1, 2010. The Riyadh Declaration–2010, signed as the upshot of this visit is considered as a historical document for the promotion of Indo-Saudi relationship. While tracing the Indo-Saudi history, overall, this was the third visit of any Indian Prime Minister to the Saudi Kingdom.  The late Premier Ms. Indra Ghandi visited KSA in 1982, twenty-eight years ago. Earlier, in the initial years of the cold war, Saudi King Saud Bin Abdul Aziz visited India in 1955, which was reciprocated by the first Indian Premier Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956. Thereafter, there remained no warmth in the bilateral relationship of the both countries until 2006. However, Indian diplomats, lobbyists, and a large Diaspora living in the Kingdom continued their efforts to mould the Saudi authorities in the favour of India.

Indeed, the four days official Indian visit of King Abdullah, in January 2006, gave a new impetus to the Indo-Saudi relationship. India honoured the Saudi King to be the chief guest on the Republic Day Parade. As highlighted by Dr. Subhash Kapila, a renowned Indian analyst, “The shared strategic vision of the Delhi Declaration-2006 has been progressively carried forward in the Riyadh Declaration–2010.” On the conclusion of three days historic tour of Saudi Arabia, Indian Premier Dr. Manmohan Singh said that, “we have agreed to upgrade the quality of our relationship to that of a strategic partnership and that this partnership will cover economic issues, trade and investment issues. In addition, it will include issues relating to energy security, investing in each other’s upstream and downstream energy activities, investing in R&D (research and development) in renewable energy resources. Also it will cover issues relating to security, (and) cooperation in dealing with terrorism”.

The Riyadh Declaration of March 1, 2010, is visualised as the transformed beginning of a new era of strategic partnership between Saudi Arabia and India.  As Prince Saud al Faisal, told Indian media that; “we are moving towards a strategic cooperation between our two countries and that, the relations between the two countries have moved in manifold,” ever since King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz visited India in 2006. This strategic partnership of India with the Saudi Kingdom seems to be aiming at a number of major gains for the India. The first and the foremost is, securing its economic and energy interests to sustain its ever-growing industrialization on the long-term basis. Currently, India is importing bulk of its oil from Saudi Arabia.  It intends a steady and unremitting flow of the oil from Saudi Arabia in the garb of strategic partnership. Besides, searching for the secure markets for Indian goods and attaining job opportunities for its nationals is yet another motive behind the enhanced Indian collaboration with the Arab countries.

Secondly; to establish and promote the enduring partnership with a leading Muslim state of Middle East, who owing to its position of being the custodian of the Muslim Holy Places, has a major influence over the rest of the Muslim Ummah. In the long run, India indeed, desires to reach over to all the hydrocarbon and natural resources rich Muslim through the Saudi podium.  Thirdly; to “induce Saudi Arabia to bank her sizeable ‘sovereign funds’ in India’s expanding petrochemicals and infrastructure sectors”.  Nevertheless, “the mutual strategic investments in each other by Saudi Arabia and India are their respective geo-strategic significance in the global strategic calculus”. Fourthly, India desires a Saudi backing for securing its interests in Afghanistan. As historically, there has been a linkage between Saudi Arabia and Afghan leadership particularly after the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in 1979. It has been funding the Mujahedeen and maintained diplomatic relations with the Taliban throughout until 9/11. Although owing to their links with Al-Qaeda, the Kingdom has started distancing itself from the Taliban, yet, it is maintaining a cordial relationship with the Karazai Administration, after 9/11. India would like that Saudi Arabia should shore up its ongoing involvement in the Afghanistan.

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Indeed, since King Abdullah’s visit to India in 2006, there have been nineteen ministerial level exchanges between KSA

King Abdullah and Manmohan Singh

and India. The volume of bilateral trade has risen to three times. Currently, the Kingdom is the fourth largest trading partner of the India, with the volume of the two-way trade touching $25 billion dollars. With 20 percent crude oil imports, KSA is the largest suppliers of oil to India. Apart from this, both countries have over 500 joint economic ventures with the investment of more than $2 billion. Out of the total five million Indian living in the Gulf States, 1.8 millions live in Saudi Arabia alone. The Kingdom also accommodate 16-20 million Indian Muslims for the performance of Hajj each year.

At the level of Muslim Community, the Indo-Saudi strategic partnership has two serious connotations. Firstly; in-spite of its brutalities on the Arab world especially the innocent Palestinians, the Indo-Israel nexus has not become an obstacle in the Indo-Saudi relationship. India is the key partner and co-worker of the Israel. Both are deeply cooperating in the defence production and formulate the common defence strategies in their anti Muslim drives in their respective regions. It is really surprising that through the phony intuition of intimacy with the Arab world, India is rapidly growing its relationship with the Muslims of the Middle East. From the Indian perspective, surely, it is a great achievement, but from the Saudi standpoint, it is a departure from its principled stance of being a supporter of Muslim community. Strategically allying with the friend of enemy is beyond perception of a universal hallucination and unprecedented too.

Secondly, the Indo-Iran ties did not bring even a smack in this zealous relationship. Practically, there have been serious divergences between Iran and Gulf states; particularly the Saudi Kingdom. Has India found a commonality of interest between the two varying school of thoughts of the Middle East or it is cashing on its own interests in the garb of a partnership not less than the strategic one either with the Gulf States or with the Iran.  Indeed, India is exploiting both at the bilateral level for its own strategic and economic gains. Through a close association with Iran, India has gained maximum benefits from Iran and left at lurch once later needed it. India voted against Iran on the nuclear issue and abandoned the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline on the US pressure. As its track record shows, it would leave Saudi Arabia in seclusion at some the critical juncture of the history. Being a close ally of former Soviet Union during the period of cold war, India joined hands with US once the later was passing through the economic crises after disintegration in 1990s.

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The important factor needs to be known to the Muslim world is that like Israel, India has been and is still violating the basic human rights of Muslims in the so-called secular India by killing thousands of innocent Muslims. Its security forces have massacred over 100,000 Kashmiri Muslims, a state India forcefully occupying since 1947. A similar massacre is being undertaken by Israel in the areas of its occupation right in the heart of the Arab world. Why should Arabs forget Israeli massacres on the innocent people of Palestine? The Gaza killings of 2007 to 2009 and the Sabra and Shatila brutalities by Israeli Army and Air Force in 1980s are still remembered as the most inhuman incidents in the history of humanity.

Overall, there appears a shift in the Saudi’s Muslim centric approach to a solely an open and commercialized policy for establishing its own future relationship. The Saudi Kingdom has ignored the Indian atrocities against Kashmiri and Indian Muslims and its prejudiced relationship with Pakistan, a traditional Saudi ally and enthusiastic supporter of Muslim Ummah.  In the vision of Indian scholars, the status of Pakistan is just like a “strategic asset” for the Saudi Kingdom. However, they count Pakistan as a “strategic nuisance” for the India. Indian leadership feels that “More than India, the strategic imperatives to tame Pakistan rest with Saudi Arabia, if it has to attain its current foreign policy objectives. Saudi Arabia can do so as it exercises tremendous strategic, political, and financial leverages over Pakistan and which till today Saudi Arabia has not exercised in favour of regional and global stability”.

The Indian leadership seems to have convinced the Saudi leadership that both countries have geographical proximity except having the North Arabian Sea lying between them. Furthermore, either of the two are “striking new directions in their foreign policies reflecting the shifting nature of geo-strategic and geo-political realities and that both are engaged in diplomatic overtures reflecting the imperatives arising from the unfolding regional and global strategic landscape”. India is giving an impression that the political outreach of Saudi Arabia in 2006 in the form of the Delhi Declaration, clearly indicate that the later is doing away with the Pakistan centric approach and adopting a regional approach.

Saudis may be establishing this partnership with clarity of mind, but Indian perceptions and designs may not be in synchronization with it. While the Saudi Kingdom may not be following a larger agenda, the India is tracking for a global outreach.  Being a contender for a major role in the international power politics, India is knocking the doors of all those countries, which could facilitate its gradual ascendancy or at least entry into various regions of the globe. It is following the strategy of United States, to lay hands on all those areas, having strategic significance, containing copious quantity of hydrocarbons and other raw material to boost its industrial revolution and economically momentous. Indeed, India is competing and pursuing the rising power of the People’s Republics of China. As China is extending its influence to the hydrocarbon and other natural resources rich countries of Africa, Middle East, and Central Asia, so is India, following the suite. Muslim word must realize that killer of thousands of the Muslims in its own territory and in the areas under its occupation cannot be a friend of the Muslims anywhere else in the world. These are vested interests of India, compelling her to get closer to the hydrocarbon rich Muslim world and also to search for the markets for Indian goods. Otherwise Muslims of the Pakistan and its own 160 million Muslim populations deserves more justified and sympathetic behaviour being the followers of the same religion, if at all India has out of the blue developed a love for the Muslims community.

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Under the concept of the extended neighbourhood, India has established its long-term relationship with the Central Asian Republics (CARs). It has made heavy investment in the CARs for extracting economic benefits subsequently. Its strategic relationship with Iran enabled her to get into the CARs and Afghanistan while by passing Pakistani territory. Establishing relationship with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States is a part of this concept of the “extended neighbourhood”. In balancing its strategic relationship with both the Iran and Saudi Arabia, Indian leadership, diplomats and prominent analysts thinks that if Russia and China can operate profitably “in balancing their sizeable diplomatic and security interests in Saudi Arabia and Iran, without a murmur from these opposing regional contenders”, why cannot India do that. What all India needs is an independent foreign policy, without making use of the crutches of its new ally; the United States or the cold war ally; the Russian Federation.

Pakistan, by no means opposes the bilateral relationship of India with any Muslim country of the world including Iran and Saudi Arabia.   However, created on the Islamic ideology, it considers its ingenuous obligation to caution the Muslim world about the true Indian designs. The fact is that India along with US and Israel desires to create a split among the Muslim world.  The anti-Muslim forces have exploited us enough in our history. For how long should we tolerate the foreign dictates? Let this be a fruit for thought for the Muslim world in order to reach over to some productive outcome, before it is too late. Nevertheless, future would determine how resilient this partnership would be. But this is for sure that that the ultimate Indian aims are; to safeguard its long-term strategic and economic interests and isolate Pakistan among the Muslim world. Apart from the astuteness of the Muslims from all over, this is high time for the Pakistani policy makers to unhide the true Indian designs of creating a split among the Muslim Ummah at least.

Indeed, in the garb of having a sizable Muslim population, India is misleading the Muslim world. Has any member of the OIC ever questioned the economic, social and political exploitation of the Muslims living in India?  What about the RSS slogan for the Muslims that, either converts into Hinduism or leave India. Could the so called secular Congress Government stop the demolition of historical Babri Mosque in 1992, which was followed by Muslim genocide all over the India? Similarly, did the Hindu Nationalist party BJP stop the Muslim massacre in the state of Gujarat in 2002, where over 3000 innocent Muslims were ruthlessly killed through a state sponsored terrorism? These are some of the fundamental questions, Muslims could have asked from the so-called secular Indian leadership before embarking upon the train of strategic partnership.

Dr Raja Muhammad Khan is PhD in International Relations from Karachi University. Presently he is Associate Professor at National Defence University, Islamabad. He is a South and West Asian analyst. He contributes to Opinion Maker on regular basis.