Tensions in subcontinent, minister from Saudi flies in on Monday

Shubhajit Roy
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir (AP Photo)

Saudi State Minister for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir will visit India on Monday, four days after his trip to Islamabad. This will be his second trip to India in three weeks as he had accompanied Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the height of India-Pak tensions after the February 14 Pulwama attack.

While New Delhi says there is no space for a mediator between India and Pakistan and rules out any third party's involvement in the wake of the Pulwama attack and the February 26 Balakot air strikes, the Saudi minister's visit is being read by many as an attempt by Pakistan to lean on India.

Raveesh Kumar, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said al-Jubeir will hold talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during his trip. "Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs will visit India on Monday and will meet the External Affairs Minister. My understanding is he is visiting to discuss some
important follow-ups from the recent visit of Saudi Crown prince. Beyond that, details can be known only after the visit and meeting between two leaders," MEA's official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

The Saudis have been very careful in balancing the relationship - they supported the OIC invitation to India and did not ask the UAE to withdraw it, despite pleas by Pakistan. But in Islamabad, which he visited before coming to India, the Saudi Crown Prince was very effusive in his praise for Pakistan, even declaring himself as the country's envoy to Saudi Arabia.

A source in Delhi told The Sunday Express, "There is no question of a mediation. Whoever has spoken to our leaders - Prime Minister or External Affairs Minister - in the last three weeks was told that India wants them to tell Pakistan that they have to act against terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan. Nobody has offered to be the mediator."

The Saudis are not the only one to have reached out to both India and Pakistan, especially after the Balakot air strike. UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan had also called up both leaders after the Balakot strike. The Chinese had also sent an envoy to Pakistan, Kong Xuanyou - one of Beijing's top diplomats - last week, but he did not visit India.

India has been wary of accepting visitors from foreign capitals just after they have visited Pakistan, and the Saudi minister's visit - with a gap of a few days between his Pakistan and India stops - are meant to counter the view that the visits are not linked and mediatory in nature.

However, the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are learnt to have put pressure on Pakistan, which led to the quick release of Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

The Saudi minister, during his day-long visit to Pakistan last week, held meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

According to a statement by Imran Khan's office, "He (The Saudi minister) also expressed "deep appreciation for Pakistan's peace overtures to normalise [the] current situation" and "acknowledged the role played by Pakistan for regional peace and stability".

With Pakistan Army chief General Bajwa, the meeting between the two revolved around "matters of mutual interest, regional security and [the] current situation between Pakistan and India", according to a statement by Pakistan Army.

General Bajwa thanked al-Jubeir "for taking on the mantle of peace effort in very difficult circumstances", and said that Saudi Arabia "has always been a true friend of Pakistan", the Pakistan Army's statement said.

The Saudi minister deeply appreciated "Pakistan's restraint in the existing charged environment". He acknowledged Pakistan's efforts to de-escalate the situation and the peace overtures made.

The envoy assured the foreign minister of the Kingdom's "support to seek a peaceful settlement of all outstanding disputes between Pakistan and India".