NEW DELHI, July 29: Building upon the positive momentum generated by the handover of 26/11 handler Abu Jundal by Riyadh last month, India and Saudi Arabia are set to intensify their security and economic cooperation as India cuts down on Iranian oil and hikes its oil supply from the most powerful economy in the Middle East.
Amid the languishing pace of justice in Pakistan for the 26/11 victims, the decision of Saudi Arabia to extradite Abu Jundal came as a shot in the arm for New Delhi and has set the stage for an all-round acceleration of strategic and economic ties between India and Saudi Arabia, home to over two million expatriate Indians.
“India’s relations with Saudi Arabia are poised for a major upsurge. The handover of Jundal is the culmination of a decision taken by King Abduallah many years ago to develop strategic relations with India,” said Ishrat Aziz, a former ambassador of India and an expert on the region.
“Saudi Arabia has been a victim of terrorism itself. Security is the cornerstone of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy and it is looking to India as a major emerging power,” said Aziz.
“This relationship is moving in the right direction and has acquired strategic heft in the last few years. It’s going to get stronger in days to come,” said Zikrur Rahman, director of the India-Arab Centre at Jamia Millia Islamia.
The signs of a transformed relationship are all too visible. Security cooperation has acquired a prominent focus in the bilateral relationship since the historic visit of King Abdullah, the first visit by a Saudi monarch to New Delhi in half a century, in 2006. The Delhi Declaration issued at the end of the Saudi monarch’s visit identified security and counter-terror cooperation as key elements of strategic partnership between the two countries.
The strategic ties were reinforced when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Saudi Arabia in 2010, a landmark trip that saw the signing of an extradition treaty and culminated in the Riyadh Declaration that singled out security cooperation as an important driver of the relationship. Defence minister AK Antony’s February 2012 visit saw the two sides setting up a joint committee to chalk out a roadmap for bolstering bilateral defence cooperation, ranging from stepped up high-level exchanges and warship visits to hydrography and training.
Intelligence sharing and the training of Saudi defence personnel in India have become features of bilateral partnership and are expected to grow stronger.
Another good news for Riyadh, which regards Tehran as a major regional nuisance, is that India has cut down its import of Iranian oil in the face of Western sanctions and has raised purchases from Saudi Arabia.
Bilateral trade between the two countries has shot up to $25 billion in 2010-11 and Riyadh has emerged as India’s top oil supplier.
What has taken experts and Saudi-watchers by surprise is that Saudi Arabia, despite its close ties with Pakistan, handed over to India the prize catch that ended up exposing Islamabad and has infused a new momentum in New Delhi’s quest for 26/11 justice. (IANS)