India is likely to strongly raise the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even as the two countries will look at further enhancing defence ties, including having a joint naval exercise, during his two-day visit here beginning February 19, officials and sources said.Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the Gulf nation’s defence minister, will arrive in India late today on his first official visit. It follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s highly-successful April 2016 trip to Saudi Arabia, during which the two sides had agreed to further elevate their existing strategic partnership.
Ahead of the visit by the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said Monday that Riyadh will try to “de-escalate” tensions between India and Pakistan in the wake of the deadly terror attack in Pulwama by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad. Official sources said Saudi Arabia was no longer accepting Pakistan’s narrative on Kashmir and cross border terrorism and that India will forcefully raise the issue of Pakistan’s support to terror groups during delegation level talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Crown Prince on Wednesday. India and Saudi Arabia are also expected to hold joint Naval exercises in the near future in efforts to deepen the defence ties.
Recently, Saudi Arabia has ranked India as the 8th strategic partner. Bilateral trade between the countries stood at $27.48 billion during the last financial year 2017-18. During the forthcoming visit, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia will call on President Ram NathKovind and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu. The visit follows the highly successful visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Saudi Arabia in April 2016. India and Saudi Arabia have historically enjoyed close and friendly relations anchored in mutually beneficial partnership and extensive people to people contacts. In recent years, there has been significant progress in bilateral cooperation in key areas of mutual interest, including energy security, trade and investment, infrastructure, defence and security. About 2.7 million strong and vibrant Indian community forms the largest expatriate group in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia also facilitates Hajj pilgrimage to over 1,75,000 Indians every year.