By Sadia Kazmi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden two day visit to Saudi Arabia has been remarkable in terms of the treatment and honor meted out to him by the Saudi leadership. He has been bestowed with the highest civilian award by the Saudi Government. There is no denying the reality that the two states are keenly pursuing bilateral relations and have kept no secrets about making it into a strategic and economically cooperative engagement.
At the same time it is important to note that while one is Pakistan’s immediate neighbor and sworn adversary, the other shares brotherly relations primarily based on ideological and religious affinities. This ideological factor has worked as an adhesive, binding the two countries not just at the state level but on the national level too, especially true in case of Pakistan where the individual’s inclination / blind following and reverence towards KSA and its policies, owing to the fact that it is the guardian of the holy cities, is quite evident. Simultaneously these relations have converged many a times on the security front where one can identify a seamless glide from ideology based closeness to strategically beneficial alliance. Interestingly enough KSA has been quite supportive of Pakistan’s nuclear program in response to India’s, with which it now it is exploring the cooperative strategic possibilities, publically tagging India as the “strategic partner”. Pakistan also has its regular troops stationed in KSA lest there is a need for providing defense against any existential threat to KSA’s sovereignty. These facts point to the reality as to how the national interests dictate state policies in the international political environment where there can be no permanent enemies or permanent friends.
Not very long ago KSA and the Gulf states had been very lukewarm rather critical of PM Modi’s win in election owing to his previous bad record with the Muslims of India allowing for the genocide in Gujarat while he was the minister there. India on its part also has always been skeptical of extremist elements carrying out terrorist activities inside India, allegedly having essential financial and moral backing from the KSA. India’s relations with Iran and close Pak-KSA equation also kept KSA and India to pursue a more robust cooperative relation.
While one wonders as to why despite all this PM Modi was conferred with this award, the whole episode can be seen into much larger spectrum where other bigger states may also appear on the scene. On the sly Western factor strongly seems to be at play. The US has been very vocal about strengthening India as a counterbalance to China in the region and for this purpose wants to massively invest the economic and military capital in India. As part of its Asia Pacific policy, India serves as a pivot for the US’ bigger designs, while on the other hand it is the intentional policy of the US to show India in the most positive light and give it an international projection among the community of the states. PM Modi’s visit and warm treatment he received further proves these assumptions true. US-KSA close partnership is known to all and US is not leaving any stone unturned in its efforts to having India amicably accepted and greeted as the most suitable investment destination by other states. This, quite well explains the change in the moods and disposition of KSA and Gulf states towards India as they are primarily towing the US agenda. These facts put the valid questions to rest as to why such an award by a Muslim state be given to a person who has been notorious for his anti-Muslim sentiments. His real reason to come to power that made him win major votes was his anti-Muslim rule in Gujarat and the mass massacre of Muslims there and his strong links with hard line Hindu groups.
However some personal interests can also not be ignored where KSA is aiming to wean India away from Iran and wants to continue to be the major oil exporter to India. Even though it might not be too easy a task especially after the Iranian nuclear deal which has lifted sanctions on Iranian economic activities and its subsequent re-emergence on the regional and international political scene. India cannot forego its commitment on Chahbahar with Iran at any cost even if it finds an alternative in the KSA. India also is most definitely seeking to have wider influence in the Middle Eastern region to fend for its ever growing energy appetite and hence would like to simultaneously engage with both KSA and Iran. Ultimately in a bigger picture it all boils down to war for survival and supremacy.
Pakistan despite being the most trusted ally of KSA was never bestowed with such an honor, and this is not a complaint but an effort to bring the reality into check. In the evolving scenario it is important that Pakistan should take off its rose tinted glasses and stop it’s over reliance on the notion of “Muslim brother” vis a vis KSA. This is also not to suggest that Pakistan needs to be unnecessarily alarmed by the growing Indo-KSA propinquity. However keeping a tab and staying watchful of the unfolding dynamics while maneuvering its own foreign and diplomatic policies accordingly should be the adopted course of action by Pakistan. At the same time it is important that KSA adopts a balanced approach between India and Pakistan in order to avoid any uncalled for misunderstandings with its long trusted historic ally: Pakistan.