A couple of days after the Saudi Prince committed investments worth $20 billion to Pakistan, he also committed total investments worth $100 billion to India. Of course, these are commitments and it needs to be seen how much of these would actually translate into flows. But that is not the point. The question is; how much can India rely on Saudi promise vis-à-vis Pakistan. Actually, India will have to take Saudi promises on Pakistan with a pinch of salt. But, first the background!
Indo-Saudi: A two way affair
India’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has been a two-way story. For a long time, Saudi Arabia has been one of the largest employers of expat Indians and hence has also been one of the major sources of NRI remittances into India. That is something India has been quite sensitive about. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is the second largest supplier of crude oil to India (after Iraq) and Saudi is looking to deepen its reach in the Indian oil market. For Saudi Arabia, its relationship with India goes beyond oil and remittances. It sees India as the platform for diversifying its economy much beyond oil. In fact, after the oil price crash of 2014, Prince Salman has already begun the exercise to diversify Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil revenues. India has an important role to play in this diversification. But how will that alter links with Pakistan? India will have to play its cards cautiously.
An Islamic partnership
If there is one country that has literally given a blank check to Imran Khan in the midst of an economic crisis, it is Saudi Arabia. Apart from financial and crude oil assistance, Saudi Arabia is going to be a key investor in Gwadar refinery. Also, Saudi Arabia has looked at Pakistan as the last major bastion in Asia where it can promote its Sunni version of Islam. One must not forget that most of the funding for the Afghan war against the Soviets came from Saudi Arabia. With Pakistan’s physical proximity to Afghanistan, Iran, China and Central Asia, it will continue to be a key player in the larger Saudi scheme of things. In short, India should not expect Saudi Arabia to act on curbing terror by Pakistan, either financially or morally.
Iran could be another factor
Between Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is not just a clash between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. It is also a battle for supremacy in the Middle East region. The US needs the help of Saudi Arabia to keep Iran in check and Saudi Arabia needs the US to keep the arms cache flowing. That relationship is unlikely to change in a hurry. India must not expect too much of help either from the US or Saudi Arabia in its war against terror motivated by Pakistan. India’s two-way relationship with Saudi Arabia is already delicate. Beyond words and promises; it will be limited! ©