Saudi defense chief’s India visit part of ‘steady evolution’ of relations: Experts

Saudi defense chief’s India visit part of ‘steady evolution’ of relations: Experts
Saudi defense chief’s India visit part of ‘steady evolution’ of relations: Experts

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - NEW DELHI: This week’s visit to India by the chief of the Royal Saudi Land Forces was part of a “steady evolution” of strategic ties between the two nations, foreign policy experts said on Wednesday.

For decades relations between New Delhi and Riyadh have mostly revolved around energy cooperation. The latest “first ever visit” by a Saudi defense chief to India comes over a year after the head of the Indian army made a trip to Riyadh.

The Indian Ministry of Defense described this week’s visit by Lt. Gen. Fahd bin Abdullah Mohammed Al-Mutair as “historic and landmark,” adding that it marked “deepening bilateral defense cooperation” between the two countries.

Until a few years ago, India’s relationship with Saudi Arabia was driven primarily by trade and the Indian diaspora in the Middle East. The Kingdom is one of the main energy suppliers to India and home to more than 3.5 million Indian expatriates.

Over recent years, there has been some cooperation on security, with Riyadh deporting four wanted fugitives to India.

But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been working to broaden ties, and the two governments have agreed to build a strategic partnership.

Defense relations have seen a notable upswing in the last year with a series of high-level interactions and the first bilateral naval exercise, Al-Mohed Al-Hindi, conducted during August in Jubail. Up until the third quarter of last year, India was the second-largest trade partner of the Kingdom.

Some analysts see Modi’s overtures to Saudi Arabia as being part of a diplomatic effort to put pressure on archrival Pakistan by forging bonds with some of Islamabad’s closest allies.

Foreign policy experts noted that Al-Mutair’s visit was “part of the steady evolution of India’s strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia.”

“India’s strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, that began in 2010, was accelerated during the visit of PM Modi to Riyadh and the return of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2019,” Talmiz Ahmad, former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News. “The defense component of the partnership is very significant because it indicates a meeting of minds of two countries on regional security issues.”

He said that the relationship between the two nations was “not based on a zero-sum approach.”

“Each country has relationships with different countries on the basis of their interests,” Ahmad added. “What is significant is that over the last 20 years Saudi Arabia has steadily given priority to its ties with India as an energy, economic, and strategic partner because their strategic interests are common and both countries are committed to partnering with each other against the problems of extremism.”

Muddassir Quamar of the New Delhi-based think tank, the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, said the visit underlined “growing military-to-military ties.”

“There is a new-found momentum in bilateral ties, and it is reflected in military cooperation among other areas,” Quamar added. “The visit by the Indian defense chief to the Kingdom in 2020 strengthened bilateral security and defense ties.

“A shared vision of bringing economic prosperity, peace, and stability and combating terror has brought the two countries closer.

“In addition to Saudi officers joining training courses in Indian military schools, India and Saudi Arabia are also looking to collaborate in the defense manufacturing sector,” Quamar said. “The visit by Lt. Gen. Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Mutair will further enhance bilateral defense cooperation between New Delhi and Riyadh.”

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