India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval holds his cards close to his chest. His meetings and visits are rarely known in advance and outcomes if any, are limited to anodyne comments put out by his office, forcing journalists to read between the lines. His latest trips to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are in that genre, but let’s examine the Saudi leg first.
The first question, why Saudi Arabia? Because it supplies India with over 17% of its requirements of crude oil and around 32% of LPG. But more relevant in the current context was for Doval to ensure the Saudi strongman Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, remained broadly supportive of India’s recent move on Kashmir. An endorsement from the Saudi crown prince was crucial, else it would be used by Pakistan as a propaganda tool against India.
But the endorsement came through during Doval’s two-hour long one-on-one meeting with him. The remarks put out by Doval’s office were dry and factual: ‘Wide range of issues were discussed on various aspects of bilateral relations. The issue of J&K also figured in the discussions. The Crown Prince expressed understanding about India’s approach and actions in J&K.’
The endorsement was also a signal to other Muslim countries. If the Saudis were okay with what India did in J&K, there was no reason for other Muslim capitals to take an opposite line. Of course, Turkey and Malaysia are beating the drum against India and may even manage to rake in some brownie points, but it’s doubtful if either country has the clout to take this to the next level.
Doval’s other meetings in Riyadh suggests that India is not only a valued customer for its oil but is also seen as a security and economic partner. Weeks after drone attacks on its oil facilities, Saudi Arabia had underscored its intention to combat terrorism by enhancing cooperation with India. This included exchanging information and intelligence about the operation of terror networks and individuals. Doval also met his Saudi counterpart Musaid al-Aiban who chairs the National Cyber Security Authority. The two countries have an extradition treaty.
On the economic front, Saudi Arabia sees India as a market for investing as much as $100 billion in petrochemicals, infrastructure and mining among other areas. This is key to the Crown Prince’s vision of diversifying the Saudi economy away from oil by 2030. India could play a major role here.
Doval’s swing through the UAE underscored that country’s role in extraditing to India 22 wanted fugitives since 2002. Some of those sent back included terror suspects, those conspiring to wage war against India, fraudsters and others. The UAE is home to over 2 million Indians making up around 40% of the population and their remittances contribute billions of dollars to foreign exchange reserves. The UAE is India’s fourth-largest oil supplier and current trade levels are at $60 billion.
The NSA called on Abu Dhabi’s leader Sheikh Zayed, renewing high-level political contacts. J&K is expected to have come up although it was missing in the information shared by Indian officials.