By Rohit Wadhwaney on Feb 20, 2019 02:00 pm
The leaders of India and Saudi Arabia vowed to increase pressure on countries that back terrorism as they met Wednesday amid rising tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad over last week’s deadly militant attack on security forces in Indian Kashmir.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told reporters that he “shared India’s concern on terrorism” and both countries would keep exchanging intelligence to fight extremism, after he held talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
But he and Modi stopped short of making any open references to Pakistan, which India squarely blames for the Feb. 14 suicide bombing that killed 46 Indian paramilitary soldiers.
“The barbaric terror attack in Pulwama last week is a cruel symbol of the scourge spread over the world by this anti-humanitarian danger,” Modi told reporters as the crown prince stood alongside him.
“In order to deal effectively with this threat, we agree that there is a need to increase all possible pressure on the countries supporting terrorism in any manner,” said Modi, whose Hindu nationalist government is facing mounting calls to punish Pakistan ahead of parliamentary elections that are due between April and May.
Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed it carried out the car-bomb attack targeting a military convoy along a highway in Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Indian officials described the attack as the deadliest militant strike in decades in the troubled Himalayan region.
Islamabad has since repeatedly denied New Delhi’s accusations that it had a hand in the attack, but has not yet officially commented on JeM’s involvement in the strike.
The crown prince landed in New Delhi on Tuesday night after a two-day visit to Pakistan, a country that had sided with him amid an international outcry following the killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul in October.
On Monday, Salman’s government signed investment deals worth U.S. $20 billion with cash-strapped Pakistan and assured the release of thousands of Pakistanis locked up in Saudi prisons.
After his meeting with Modi, Salman left late Wednesday for a two-day state visit to China. He had been scheduled to visit Malaysia and Indonesia as part of an Asian tour, which is widely seen as an attempt to rebuild his reputation after Khashoggi’s alleged murder by suspected Saudi agents, but those trips have been postponed indefinitely.
Ahead of Salman’s visit to New Delhi, Saudi Arabia said it was aiming to “de-escalate tensions” between arch-rivals India and Pakistan, which claim the Himalayan region of Kashmir in its entirety and have fought two wars over the territory. A separatist insurgency in the Indian-controlled side of Kashmir has killed more than 70,000 people since the late 1980s.
New Delhi blames Pakistan for backing militancy in Indian Kashmir but Islamabad has rejected such allegations.
Following the Feb. 14 attack, India responded by moving to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and economically by revoking its Most Favored Nation Status and raising the customs duty on Pakistani imports to 200 percent.
Dialogue is the only way to resolve “outstanding issues” between India and Pakistan, Salman, who is popularly known as MBS, said in Islamabad on Monday.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir expressed hope that India and Pakistan could resolve their differences peacefully, according to the Press Trust of India.
“We will not involve ourselves into tensions between India and Pakistan without being invited by both the countries. Nobody wants to see armed conflict between two nuclear powers, nobody benefits except terrorists,” he said.
T.S. Tirumurti, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, told reporters during a media briefing that Saudi Arabia had “offered no mediation at this point in time” between India and Pakistan.
But the “complicity of Pakistan in [the] Pulwama attack was very much underlined” during the talks between Modi and Salman, he said, adding, “Both sides agreed on the need for creation of conditions necessary for resumption of comprehensive dialogue.”
Observers pan prince’s visit
Indian analysts, meanwhile, painted Salman’s meeting with Modi as a “mere gimmick.”
“You cannot expect Saudi Arabia to take a principled position on terror, particularly against Pakistan. It will do nothing to support India in tackling terror,” Ajai Sahni, of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, told BenarNews.
“In Pakistan, Saudi leaders said dialogue was the only way forward to resolve issues. One can ask the Saudi government why it does not resolve its issues with Iran through dialogue,” said Sahni, referring to the decades-old feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran due to religious differences.
Noor Baba, a Srinagar-based political scientist, agreed.
“Since MBS did not mention Pakistan as a source of terrorism or having played a role in last week’s attack, his remarks on tackling terror do not hold much water,” Baba told BenarNews.
“Saudi Arabia will no doubt share intelligence on terror with India, but New Delhi cannot expect it to take a tough position against Islamabad because Saudi Arabia and Pakistan share good diplomatic relations. Let’s not forget that Saudi Arabia’s billion-dollar investment in Pakistan is an economic tie-up aimed at bringing Muslim allies closer,” he added.Mohammad Amin Pirzada in Srinagar, India contributed