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Taliban have responsibility to exercise good governance, to be inclusive: Saudi Foreign Minister

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al Saud gestures during an interview in New Delhi on September 19, 2021. | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR
Suhasini Haidar 19 September 2021 22:25 IST
Updated: 19 September 2021 23:39 IST

Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud says there should be focus on path of dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve issues in a way that can settle concerns permanently

India and Saudi Arabia have discussed the way forward in Afghanistan, says Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud. During his first visit to India, he spelt out plans for investments in India, despite the delays in Saudi Arabia’s $100 billion pledge made in 2019, and offered Saudi Arabia’s “good offices” for any talks between India and Pakistan.

You spoke with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar about Afghanistan… But, as of now, neither Saudi Arabia nor India actually has a diplomatic presence there or any formal engagement with the self-styled Taliban government. How do you hope to cooperate on the issue?

On Afghanistan, I think the thing that is of most concern is stability. Our other main priority is security and that it does not become a source of transnational terrorism. And in that regard, the leadership in Afghanistan now, the Taliban, has a responsibility to exercise good judgment and good governance, to be inclusive, to bring in all people in Afghanistan, and to forge a path that can lead to stability, security and prosperity. And they must also take into account the concerns of the international community as regards the security situation.

Unlike 25 years ago, Saudi Arabia has not maintained a diplomatic engagement with the Taliban regime this time, while rivals Qatar, Turkey and Iran have. Why?

We hadn’t been in contact with the Taliban for many years and that was a policy decision we took then that they must completely renounce any connection to transnational terrorism. They have made certain promises on that regard and even recently reaffirmed those promises, and we look to them to adhere to them. We will work with our international partners in an effort to make sure that that commitment holds and that they stick to it. And we will base our decisions on that.

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Do you think that there is any chance that the Taliban are going to be moderate when it comes to their stand on women’s education, terrorism and so on? And what exactly can the international community do if they don’t?

There’s a lot we can do. Engagement, setting a good example, cooperation and coordination can help to encourage actors to go in the right direction…

Would you suggest withholding international aid until they do?

I think international aid is directed primarily for the benefit of the Afghan people and, therefore, our position is that aid should continue and should not be affected by these situations.

On India-Saudi Arabia ties, is there any movement on the $100 billion investment plan made in 2019 for India (by the Saudi government and Aramco)?

We have a very broad ranging relationship with India. India is one of our key partners, a strategic partner and for us the relationship is a top priority. Of course, COVID-19 has been a challenge for all of us and has perhaps delayed some of this. Nonetheless, India has become the third largest trade partner for KSA, a significant growth in both trade and also investment. When this announcement was made, we had $500 million direct investments, and we are more than $3 billion now.

Is there a need to reassess the $100 billion figure and how Saudi Arabia hopes to proceed on investment in India?

Our priorities haven’t changed, our excitement about the relationship hasn’t changed. COVID has dampened some activities just because of the restrictions on travel, and, of course, the effects it had on oil, etc. I’m confident that not only will we achieve the ambitious targets that we have set, we will probably exceed them over time.

Earlier this year, India asked OPEC countries to rationalise oil prices, and there was an exchange that led to the Indian Energy Minister terming the statement by the Saudi Energy Minister an “undiplomatic response from a friendly nation”. Did this come up in your talks?

It’s not my portfolio, so we did not address it. But I would say that Saudi Arabia has always worked with OPEC to stabilise the oil market. The primary driver is a stable market that allows for both consumers and producers to benefit.

Another issue that has come up between India and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which Saudi Arabia is a leader of, are statements about Jammu and Kashmir, the status of Indian Muslims, communal violence. Did you discuss this with your Indian counterparts?

From our perspective, these are domestic issues. And it is up to the people of India and to the Government of India to address these concerns. And we would, of course, always support any initiatives in this regard that the Indian government takes, but from our perspective, it’s a domestic affair.

Will Saudi Arabia take the initiative to stop these OIC statements ?

On the statements as regards to Kashmir, this is an issue that continues to be a dispute between two countries and therefore what we would encourage is that there should be a focus on a path of dialogue and discussion among India and Pakistan to resolve these issues in a way that can settle these concerns permanently.

Given the closeness of ties between Saudi Arabia and India and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, are you disappointed that there aren’t talks between the two countries?

We will always provide our good offices when we can, but it’s up to India and Pakistan to decide when the time is right.

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