Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday is part of an effort to strengthen ties between the two nations and offer security and military cooperation, officials from India’s ruling party and government have said.
Modi is expected to sign trade agreements, including contracts to secure investment for infrastructure projects, and offer security and military cooperation, such as training and joint exercises, they said.
Modi’s Saudi visit comes just months after he travelled to the UAE and signed a security cooperation agreement that includes regular meetings between top security advisers.
Stronger relationships with Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE can help India get a more sympathetic hearing on global and regional forums.
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia and the United States imposed joint sanctions targeting the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
New Delhi has been frustrated that often its ties with countries have been coloured by concerns about its relationship with Pakistan. One foreign ministry official said the Saudis tended to bring up Pakistan during discussions with India.
Government officials described Modi’s diplomatic push as an effort to “de-hyphenate” India from Pakistan, especially as New Delhi tries to play a bigger geopolitical role in Asia to counter China’s influence.
Until now, India’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has been driven primarily by trade and the Indian diaspora in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is India’s top energy supplier and home to more than 3.5 million Indian expatriates.
Over the past few years, there has been some cooperation on security between the two countries, with Riyadh deporting four most wanted fugitives to India.
Modi will look to broaden those ties, with one foreign ministry official saying that health care, education, religious tourism and labour reforms would also be key talking points.
Still, there are limits to what New Delhi can hope to achieve. The relationship between Pakistan and the Saudis goes back decades.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spent time in political exile in Saudi Arabia in the 2000s, after he was ousted in a military coup.
“Pakistan knows that relations with Saudi have come to a low. That doesn’t mean that India can fill that gap,” said Zahid Hussain, a former newspaper editor in Pakistan. “But certainly this is part of Modi’s diplomatic offensive in the region.”