Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, though long overdue, ended on a high note. Dr. Singh and King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz covered substantial ground and managed to pin down specific areas for further collaboration. Determined to go beyond their traditional buyer-seller energy relationship, the two leaders opened up a much wider common agenda, including such exciting areas as outer space, renewable energy, and advanced computing. Four years after King Abdullah made a pioneering visit to India, the vision of a comprehensive political, security, and economic relationship, anchored in the Riyadh Declaration signed during Dr. Singh's visit, now stands firmly established. The Prime Minister's visit to Saudi Arabia, which is not only the world's largest oil producer but also a regional heavyweight, is also likely to leave its stabilising imprint on other areas in West Asia. These include the neighbouring oil rich countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which are encountering serious security challenges.
Significantly, the visit has added a prominent security dimension to bilateral ties. Saudi Arabia and India fully appreciate that they are common victims of terrorism. They are both targeted by the forces of global jihad, entrenched in the rugged mountain ranges on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. If Mumbai was India's terror nightmare, Riyadh too faced a string of devastating bombings in 2003, when al Qaeda operatives blew up prominent residential compounds. Saudi Arabia continues to remain in the cross-hairs of the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which operates out of neighbouring Yemen. The signing of an extradition treaty during Dr. Singh's visit therefore needs to be welcomed as a major breakthrough. From an Indian perspective, there is now hope that outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), whose operatives reportedly visit Saudi Arabia for various purposes, will be captured by Saudi authorities and sent to face the law in India. Further, the shared focus on safeguarding the “sovereignty and independence” of Afghanistan must be welcomed. In a visit that otherwise went so well, New Delhi's hardly concealed interest in seeking Riyadh's “good offices” to moderate Pakistan's behaviour has struck a jarring note. The suggestion appeared quite unnecessary as serious discussions on the Pakistan situation are expected to be integral to the fast-developing India-Saudi security relationship. By overtly drawing Saudi Arabia into the India-Pakistan equation, the United Progressive Alliance government has needlessly opened itself to the charge of diluting the principle of bilateralism that has, by virtue of a national consensus, governed New Delhi's engagement with Islamabad.