Indian Decade

India Gets Close to Saudi Arabia

An expected new energy partnership between India and Saudi Arabia highlights warming ties between them.

At a time when the Saudis are, with an eye on Iran, wooing India like never before, the traditionally warm relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are going through a rough patch.

On June 6, Saudi Arabia agreed to double its crude oil exports to India, meaning Indian crude imports from the kingdom would amount to more than 800,000 barrels per day. This is the first big step towards a strategic energy partnership between New Delhi and Riyadh, something that the two sides have been working on since the beginning of last year.

This strategic energy partnership could culminate in a 30-year oil supply contract that Saudi Arabia is expected to sign with India. It would also mark a further step along the path of improved ties since India-Saudi Arabia relations were transformed following the 2006 state visit to India by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud.

Post-Osama bin Laden, Pakistan’s credibility with the United States has touched rock bottom. But the country’s ties with Saudi Arabia – a sworn enemy of bin Laden – have arguably been just as damaged. The fact that bin Laden was found deep inside Pakistani territory won’t have amused the Saudi royal family, which is of course fully aware that one of the late al-Qaeda leader’s goals was the overthrow of the monarchy.

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Days after bin Laden’s killing by US Special Forces in Abbottabad, the government of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari dispatched Interior Minister Rehman Malik to Riyadh. Malik reportedly delivered a letter on behalf of Zardari to King Abdullah. He also gave an exhaustive briefing to top Saudi diplomatic, military and intelligence officials, including Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal on the bin Laden episode, telling them that Pakistani military and intelligence officials were completely unaware of bin Laden’s presence in the country. Malik told them that the government had ordered an inquiry into the Abbottabad episode and would share the results with Riyadh.

However, Saudi-Pakistan relations continue to be tense. It’s not just because the Saudis no longer trust the Pakistanis over their promises in the war against terror, but also because Saudi interests are increasingly under attack in Pakistan since bin Laden’s death: following a grenade attack at the Saudi Consulate in Karachi, a Saudi diplomat was shot dead in Karachi.