The promise of a “potential” $100 billion in Saudi investments in India, the release of 850 of the 2,224 Indians currently lodged in the kingdom’s jails, the announcement of an increase in the quota for Indian Haj pilgrims during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are all welcome. But all of them combined cannot blind us to the fact that Salman, visiting India just after the Pulwama suicide bombing attack in which over 40 CRPF jawans were killed, would not condemn Pakistan for allowing anti-India terrorist organisations to flourish on its soil; he would not endorse India’s call to the United Nations to put Masood Azhar, the head of the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad, a global terrorist.
Following the Pulwama attack, for which the Jaish has claimed responsibility, India was hoping that the Saudis would be more explicit in their condemnation of anti-India terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Such hopes rose from the fact that India-Saudi relations have improved in recent years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Riyadh in 2016 was a turning point of sorts in that the two sides agreed to cooperate on counter-terrorism. The 2016 joint statement saw them calling on “all states to reject the use of terrorism against other countries.” This was interpreted in Delhi as an oblique reference to Pakistan’s support to anti-India terrorist groups, and as a diplomatic victory for New Delhi. India expected that reference to be more explicit during Salman’s just-concluded visit. That did not happen, despite Modi going all out to please the Saudis, receiving Salman at the airport with a bear hug.
The Saudi Crown Prince’s visit to Islamabad, on the other hand, was a great success for Pakistan. The Saudis agreed to invest $20 billion in the cash-starved, crisis-ridden Pakistani economy. And the Saudi-Pakistan statement warned against “politicisation” of the terrorist listing regime. This was an indirect reference to India, which is pressing the UN to blacklist Masood Azhar. The meeting of minds that was on display in Islamabad triggered unease in India. New Delhi can draw some satisfaction from the fact that the India-Saudi joint statement underscored the importance of comprehensive sanctioning of terrorists and their organisations by the UN. But we must be realistic in our expectation from the Saudis. The Saudis are close allies of Pakistan; India is a recent partner. Riyadh and Islamabad support groups that India deems to be terrorist groups. Expecting the Saudis to rap Pakistan publicly on its sponsorship of terrorism is unrealistic. Going forward, India must focus on concrete actions by the Saudis, such as intelligence-sharing and obliging India’s requests for extradition of terrorists.