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Why laying the red carpet for Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman is a political embarrassment for India

Modi has created a toxic political relationship with one of the worst regimes in the world, writes SWETA CHOUDRY

A FEW weeks ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi organised a grand welcome for Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who was on a so-called “high-profile” tour of Asia, to discuss trade deals worth billions of dollars mainly in China, Pakistan and India. 

During his visit, MBS and Modi discussed the future of India-Saudi bilateral relations, including the recent terror attacks in Kashmir by Pakistani terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad, which is closely affiliated to the Taliban and al-Qaida — two terrorist groups that the Saudi monarchy allowed private donors residing in the kingdom to financially assist for decades.

MBS is a man who faces worldwide condemnation for committing some of the most horrific crimes and human rights abuses. 

From beheading peaceful protesters and political dissidents to being the man purportedly behind the planned murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the catastrophic war in Yemen, MBS has nothing but blood on his hands. 

How can it then be justified that a man who thrives on spreading terrorism is offering help to counter-terrorism? 

How can Modi roll out the red carpet for a warmonger and tyrant who has committed the worst war crimes and human rights abuses in modern history?  

There seems to be a clever political motive behind Saudi Arabia’s increasing interest in building a strategic partnership with the Indian subcontinent. 

In the past, Saudi Arabia had invested more than $44 billion in India, in sectors like technology, energy, agriculture, etc. 

In this visit, MBS offered a $100 billion investment to lure India to sign a trade deal. A part of this strategy is to get Modi to break India’s ties with Iran by stopping energy imports in exchange of investments worth billions of dollars and weaken the political influence of Iran and as well as Qatar in the region. 

In another brazen diplomatic manoeuver, MBS recognised and praised the role of Indians in building Saudi Arabia in the past years. 

It is a known fact that Indians, along with many other Asian workers in Saudi Arabia, are subject to abysmal and exploitative working conditions, sexual violence and human rights abuses in the kingdom’s criminal justice system. 

Indians are the largest community of immigrants in Saudi. Of the four million-plus Indians who live and work there, the overwhelming majority are low-paid workers who face the harsh realities of extreme working conditions. 

According to a report by Amnesty International, “Indian migrant workers’ miseries start from the day of the recruitment to Saudi Arabia, as many of them pay more than 200,000 Indian rupees ($3,400) to get a free job visa which does not guarantee a regular employment. But the Indian government does nothing to protect the rights of the migrant workers from human rights abuses, including forced labour and human trafficking.” 

Despite the horrific working conditions that many Indian migrants face in Saudi, the Indian government has consistently ignored the plight of these workers, and continued to extend diplomatic ties with this despotic regime. 

The most outrageous gesture was to grant e-visas to Saudi nationals and scrap the biometric visa system for them to attract more Saudi visitors while Indian workers continued to suffer. 

Furthermore, a report published by Human Rights Watch highlights the various scandals of the Saudi regime, including the continuous illegal air strikes and blockade in Yemen, continued discrimination against women, migrants and religious minorities, and co-ordinated crackdown on dissidents, human rights activists, and independent clerics to suppress political expression and dissent. 

Yet Modi has invariably turned a blind eye at every opportunity to criticise and condemn the brutal actions of the regime. 

In particular, his deafening silence on the war in Yemen is a testimony to his submissiveness to MBS’s authoritarian, warmongering regime and should be deeply worrying to anybody who cares about peace and justice.  

The mundane media coverage in India has obviously focused on glorifying the economic opportunities that the new trade deal would bring while totally ignoring the political implications. 

India’s foreign policy in the Middle East is based on safeguarding India’s economic security interests and strengthening bilateral ties thorough diplomacy. 

A strategic document published by Centre for Policy Research, a leading think tank based in Delhi, “cautioned that the forces unleashed through Arab Spring movements would make for instability, and difficult choices for Indian foreign policy on questions like humanitarian intervention and its effects.” 

This effectively means that India’s ever-growing demand for energy consumption and its aspiration to become a leading military and nuclear power in the region amid growing tensions with neighbouring Pakistan and China are the main reasons behind its elevating strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia. 

The new trade deal reaffirms India’s priorities in the Middle East, even if that means overlooking the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the atrocities that are being carried out by the Saudi regime, both internally and externally. 

Moreover, bin Salman’s rhetoric about defeating extremism and terrorism in the context of the Kashmir attack is largely symbolic and outrageously hollow. 

The offer by MBS to help counter terrorism and facilitate peace talks between India and Pakistan is nothing more than a token gesture and is part of a twisted political game. 

Pakistan has consistently received the highest amount of military aid from Saudi than any other country in the Arab world since the 1960s. 

Just like in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorist organisations based in Pakistan have consistently received strategic financial and military support from Saudi in the past for spreading Islamist extremism and terrorism in the region. 

India and Pakistan have fought four wars since the partition and Saudi Arabia has sided with Pakistan in every single one of them, strongly denouncing India as the aggressor. 

The Pakistani army has also helped Saudi coalition forces in Yemen in recent years. Pakistani terrorist organisations have a longstanding history of receiving financial and military support from the Saudi royal family. 

In the last month, two terror attacks — one in Iran and the other in India — have been carried out by terrorist organisations based on Pakistani soil, likely to be funded by Saudi donors. 

Modi’s contemptible lack of concern and disregard towards Saudi’s state-sponsored terrorism activities and complicity in aiding terrorist organisations in Pakistan and elsewhere is reflection of his indignity not least his despotic, sectarian, divisive politics. 

By welcoming MBS and extending a hand of friendship, Modi has made India equally complicit in their war crimes and human rights abuses. 

He has created a toxic political relationship with one of the worst regimes in the world and this is a betrayal he should not be forgiven for.

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