Anti-terror push in focus on Saudi Crown Prince’s India visit


International desk, Feb 19: Saudi Arabia lauded Pakistan’s “efforts for regional peace and security” on Monday as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman prepared to travel from Islamabad to New Delhi for a day’s visit.A joint statement released in Islamabad on Monday evening said the Crown Prince and his minister “praised openness and efforts of (Pakistan’s) Prime Minister Imran Khan for dialogue with India,” ndtv reports.

The comment comes days after the terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama, in which over 40 CRPF personnel lost their lives. Livid, India has stepped up its efforts to isolate Pakistan in terms of trade and in the international community.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, widely known as “MBS”, is expected to land in New Delhi today with his ministers and a large business delegation, at the end of his two-day visit to Pakistan. He is expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday for bilateral talks.

Saudi Arabia has vowed to “de-escalate” rising tensions between Pakistan and India during the high-profile summit in Islamabad. The joint statement said during the talks, the Crown Prince and the Deputy Prime Minister also stressed that “dialogue is the only way to ensure peace and stability in the region to resolve outstanding issues”.

“They also underlined the need for avoiding politicisation of UN listing regime,” the joint statement said in an apparent reference to India’s effort to include list Jaish chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under UN rules. Jaish has taken responsibility for Thursday’s attack in Pulwama.

Sources told NDTV that India and Saudi Arabia are likely to issue a “strong statement on terrorism” after Wednesday’s meeting between PM Modi and the Prince. India, sources said, has a “strong, independent relationship with Saudi Arabia” and that “Pakistan should be feeling insecure, not India”.

India has refused any overtures of talks from Islamabad, contending that a dialogue cannot begin unless cross-border terror stops.

India has been identified as one of the eight strategic partners with whom Saudi Arabia hopes to “deepen partnership” in terms of security, trade, investment and culture, news agency Press Trust of India quoted senior foreign ministry official TS Tirumurti as saying.

The two nations are expected to set up a ”Strategic Partnership Council” at a ministerial level, planning joint naval exercises and overall upping of defence cooperation during this visit.

The Saudi prince’s visit comes nearly three years after PM Modi’s visit to Riyadh in 2016, during which the two nations expanded cooperation across diverse areas including trade, investment and counter-terrorism. The two nations had also inked a pact on the exchange of intelligence related to money laundering and terrorism.

Over the last two days, the oil-rich nation has signed deals worth $20 million with cash-strapped Pakistan. In October last year, Saudi Arabia had offered Pakistan a $6 billion loan. It also announced plans for a $10 billion refinery and petrochemical complex at the coastal city of Gwadar, where China is building a port as part of its Belt and Road initiative.

From India, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is expected to leave for China. His three-nation tour of South Asia comes five months after a huge diplomatic crisis following the murder of journalist and fierce critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.