Bridge across Arabian sea
The deepening relationship between India and Saudi Arabia has potential to change the dynamic of the subcontinent and West Asia
It is not usual for a country to host a State visit on the margins of a multilateral summit, as India did for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But then there is little that is usual about the speed at which relations between the two countries have progressed. From the creation of the Strategic Partnership Council in 2019 to the first visit by an Indian Army chief to the kingdom in 2020 and the first bilateral naval exercise in 2021, the relationship has moved forward at a stunning pace. Security ties and intelligence-sharing have increased as Saudi Arabia has sought to diversify its relationship with India, once limited to an energy partnership.
The latest visit by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler was an opportunity to hold the first leaders’ meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council. It was also an occasion to give fresh impetus to the Crown Prince’s plan to invest $100 billion in India. There has been little visible movement on this ambitious proposal since it was unveiled in 2019. The centrepiece of the plan — a $50-billion mega refinery project to be built on India’s west coast — has remained mired in problems. The two sides have now created a joint working group to give a push to the investment plan and a committee to specifically focus on removing impediments to the refinery project. The launch of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) during the G20 summit will add heft to Delhi’s efforts to portray West Asia as part of the country’s ‘extended neighbourhood’. The corridor is also significant as it is being seen as a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative of China, which recently brokered the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran and has for long eyed a larger role for itself in the region.
Though the deep linkages between the security establishments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia remain, there is now a realisation in Riyadh that this is a relationship with diminishing returns. The kingdom has played a quiet role in recent years to defuse India-Pakistan tensions, and nothing stops Delhi from leveraging Riyadh to influence Islamabad to play a more constructive role in the neighbourhood.