Saudi minister to visit India this week to hold talks on Afghanistan

Saudi Prince, Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, is expected to be in New Delhi this week, as part of his first visit to India as foreign minister, amid India’s efforts to enhance coordination with close partners in the Arab World on the Afghan crisis.

While Saudi Arabia has maintained a stoic silence over the current Afghan situation and has not rushed to engage with the Taliban, it is expected to play an important role in Kabul in future given its old links in Afghanistan.

ET has learnt that Riyadh and New Delhi are on the same page on the Afghan crisis and the Saudi establishment is against any export of terror. India is expected to apprise the Saudi minister about the Pak-based terror infrastructure and the presence of anti-India terror groups on Afghan territory. The Saudi minister’s visit comes amid a decision by the new Iranian FM to visit India in the coming days.

In the Arab world, India has been in close touch with Qatar over the Afghan peace talks and Doha had even facilitated India’s participation in one of the format for talks. After Kabul fell to Taliban, India also hosted the UAE’s special envoy on Afghanistan on the eve of the first formal meeting with the Taliban leadership, in Doha. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are expected to be admitted as observers in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation enabling platform for closer coordination between New Delhi and these Gulf states.

The Indo-Saudi ties have been boosted in recent days with an increase in Saudi investments in India and maiden Naval exercise being carried out. There were recent reports that Saudi Aramco is in advanced talks for an all-stock deal to acquire a stake in Reliance Industries’ oil refining and chemicals business. The Saudi Arabian firm is discussing the purchase of around 20% stake in the Reliance unit for about $20-25 billion worth of Aramco shares, according to reports.

Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trade partner and a major source of energy as India imports around 18% of its crude oil requirement and 30% of its LPG requirement from the Kingdom. Since the establishment of the Strategic Partnership Council during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Saudi Arabia in October 2019 for the Future Investment Initiative Summit, economic relations have been under focus.

For FY2020-21, exports from India to Saudi Arabia were $5.86 billion, about 6% lower than the previous year, despite the pandemic. Export figures for the new financial year are looking up, and for April-May 2021, exports from India are already at $1.3 billion.

There are 582 Indian companies registered as joint ventures/wholly-owned entities worth $1.8 billion in the Kingdom as of March 2020, across sectors. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) invested $1.5 billion in 2020 in Jio Platforms for a 2.32% stake. In November 2020, PIF had announced an investment of $1.3 billion in Reliance Retail Ventures.

Last month, as part of the maiden India-Saudi Naval exercise ‘AL–Mohed AL– Hindi’ held in the Kingdom, there were several components from harbour phase to sea-based drills.

The Indian warship went to Saudi Arabia after carrying out a naval exercise with the UAE Navy, off the coast of Abu Dhabi. In December last year, Army Chief Gen MM Naravane visited the UAE and Saudi Arabia in a first-ever visit by the head of the Indian Army to the two Gulf countries.

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