Mak­ing per­fect sense

The ex­tra­di­tion of ter­ror sus­pects is a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment for In­dia-saudi Ara­bia re­la­tions

Hindustan Times (Patna) - - FRONT PAGE -

With a sec­ond ter­ror­ism sus­pect, Fasih Mah­mood, hav­ing been ex­tra­dited from Saudi Ara­bia, the desert king­dom has be­gun to be seen as part of the so­lu­tion rather than a spon­sor of the prob­lem of Is­lam­i­cist mil­i­tancy. Not com­pletely by co­in­ci­dence, Riyadh has emerged dur­ing this time pe­riod as the largest sup­plier of crude oil to In­dia. In­dian ex­pa­tri­ates rep­re­sent 7% of the king­dom’s pop­u­la­tion. And since King Ab­dul­lah’s State visit in 2006, Riyadh has sig­nalled a de­sire to be a ma­jor en­ergy part­ner of New Delhi. But the ter­ror­ism is­sue was al­ways a lit­mus test of the re­la­tion­ship, es­pe­cially given the long-stand­ing close re­la­tions be­tween Riyadh and Is­lam­abad. The ques­tion is whether all of this rep­re­sents a ma­jor turn­around in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions.

While the im­por­tance of Saudi Ara­bia is not in doubt, there should be no doubt that it still has many char­ac­ter­is­tics that have long made In­dia wary of this coun­try’s em­brace. The first, and ar­guably most dan­ger­ous, is the tacit sup­port given to the ex­port of the coun­try’s vir­u­lently fun­da­men­tal­ist Wah­habi school of Is­lam. This is a toxic ex­port and its con­tam­i­na­tion, how­ever lim­ited, of the In­dian sec­u­lar fab­ric is un­ap­pre­ci­ated in New Delhi. The sec­ond is the close­ness of the Saudis to Pak­istan. And it is widely be­lieved Saudi money fi­nances Is­lam­abad’s nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grammes. Fi­nally, there is a grow­ing sense that Saudi Ara­bia is a na­tion on the geopo­lit­i­cal de­cline. Its tra­di­tional ri­val, Iran, is on the as­cen­dant and its tra­di­tional ally, the US, is likely to be free of any de­pen­dency on oil from the Per­sian Gulf in a few years’ time.

En­gage­ment with Saudi Ara­bia makes per­fect sense. Be­com­ing such an im­por­tant Saudi oil client at a time when Western de­mand is flag­ging pro­vides lever­age both ways. New Delhi’s game should be to slowly press Riyadh to be more con­struc­tive and trans­par­ent about its mis­sion­ary ac­tiv­i­ties and its re­la­tions with Pak­istan. Sub­se­quently, it can be­gin to chip off the more ragged edges of both poli­cies. The as­sump­tion is that en­ergy alone will see a con­ver­gence of in­ter­ests in the decades to come. But the op­por­tu­nity lies in us­ing that con­ver­gence to make Riyadh more sen­si­tive to In­dia’s con­cerns about the pot­holes that re­main in the re­la­tion­ship.

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