Saudi Arabia offers India $100bn investment and agrees to help fight ‘extremism and terrorism’

Mohammad bin Salman made no direct reference to Pakistan

Adam Withnall
Wednesday 20 February 2019 14:19 GMT
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi speaks alongside Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi speaks alongside Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (AFP/Getty)

Saudi Arabia committed to invest $100bn in Indian infrastructure and services during a visit to Delhi on Wednesday by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, in talks that were partly overshadowed by the diplomatic fallout to the major bomb attack in Kashmir last Thursday.

The prince met with prime minister Narendra Modi for one-on-one talks and at a joint news conference. Later the pair spoke of the links between their two countries and exchanged hugs and handshakes for the cameras.

Bin Salman was stopping in India between trips to Pakistan and China, his first tour of the region since the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul frayed many international relations.

India, which did not take a stance on the Khashoggi killing, rolled out the red carpet for the Saudi delegation as it seeks allies in an escalating row with Pakistan over the Kashmir attack.

Inevitably, comparisons will be drawn between the Saudi prince’s visits to the two ill-at-ease neighbours. Indian officials were keen to talk up the $100bn figure, five times larger than the $20bn investments agreed by Prince Mohammad and Pakistan’s Imran Khan, even if it was light on specifics and lacked a precise timeframe.

Conversely, Saudi Arabia committed to free thousands of Pakistani prisoners it holds in prisons across the kingdom. While India also has many citizens jailed in Saudi Arabia, and the topic was brought up during Wednesday’s talks, no similar announcement was made.

During the talks, both countries “strongly condemned” the Kashmir attack in which 40 Indian paramilitary officers were killed by a car bomber, India’s foreign ministry said.

Mr Modi has said Pakistan is to blame for last week’s attack, the deadliest in Kashmir’s three-decade insurgency. The bombing was carried out by a local Kashmiri man but claimed by the Jaish-e-Muhammad militant group, based in Pakistan. Pakistan’s government has denied any involvement in the attack and said it will retaliate to any attempt at revenge by India.

Standing at Mr Modi’s side after their talks, Prince Mohammad told reporters he “shared India’s concern on terrorism”, without making any direct reference to Pakistan.

“We face similar challenges, chief among them extremism and terrorism and we reaffirm to India that we are ready to work in the intelligence and political arenas to coordinate our efforts,” the crown prince said.

Ties between India and Saudi Arabia, where millions of Indians are employed as migrant workers, have strengthened since Mr Modi visited Riyadh in 2016 for the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation with intelligence-gathering on money laundering and terrorism financing.

Mr Modi and Prince Mohammad met then in 2016, even though the latter was at the time only deputy crown prince. And they reaffirmed their personal relationship with talks on the sidelines of the G20 as recently as November.

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In the past two years, the prince said, Saudi Arabia has invested $44bn in India, and he described a vision of further potential in sectors like energy, agriculture, technology, culture and social services.

India had played an important “part of building Saudi Arabia in the past 70 years”, Prince Mohammad said. “Since we remember ourselves, we know Indian people as friends,” he said.

The prince was due to leave Delhi late on Wednesday, India’s foreign ministry said. He will begin a two-day visit to China on Thursday.

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