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Saudi crown prince in India: Neither Khashoggi murder nor tepid Pulwama reaction blunted Modi's welcome

  • Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, arrived in New Delhi after announcing investments of $20 billion in Pakistan.

  • He was received with a warm hug and a bouquet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

  • Modi's warm embrace of the Saudi prince has to be viewed in context of the Saudi role in Pakistan and its links with Wahhabi terrorism.

On Tuesday evening, Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, walked out of his royal aircraft down a flight of steps covered by a red carpet at whose foot India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood waiting. The prince, who had arrived in New Delhi after announcing investments of $20 billion in Pakistan, was received with a warm hug and a bouquet by Modi. He had received an even more effusive welcome from Prime Minister Imran Khan there, with Khan personally driving Salman to his official residence. Neither the fact that this is a man who was the centre of global opprobrium barely four months ago for allegedly ordering the murder, in his country’s consulate in Istanbul, of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, nor the current tensions bordering on war hysteria between India and Pakistan following a suicide bombing in Pulwama in Kashmir, intruded into the bonhomie in either country.

Meanwhile, 'nationalists' in India have been spewing venom against Kashmiri students and former cricketer and former BJP MP, now Congress minister in the Punjab government, Navjot Singh Sidhu in some sort of psychologically dis-balanced reaction to the terror attack. There were calls for Sidhu to be kicked out of a television comedy show hosted by Kapil Sharma in response to his inadequate display of hatred for Pakistan after the attack. When Sharma quite sensibly pointed out that sacking Sidhu from his show was not the solution to the problem of terrorism, the ‘nationalists’ called for Sharma’s boycott. It is likely that the terrorists are having a great laugh at this comic turn of events; as far as jokes go, responding to a terrorist attack by targeting TV comedy shows is more laughable than most “Sidhuisms”. Only geniuses of the ilk of those who discovered evidence of the internet’s existence during Mahabharata times and concluded that peacocks impregnate peahens by crying tears are capable of such brilliance.

 Saudi crown prince in India: Neither Khashoggi murder nor tepid Pulwama reaction blunted Modis welcome

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on 20 February 2019. Reuters

Apart from characteristic stupidity, there is also a shameless hypocrisy in denouncing as anti-national any act or statement — however minor — by anyone not in the Bharatiya Janta Party or among its vocal supporters, while turning a blind eye to far more significant acts and statements by far more important persons from the ruling dispensation on matters that really are of national importance.

Kapil Sharma and Navjot Sidhu do not run the country or conduct its foreign policy. Narendra Modi does. His warm embrace of the Saudi prince therefore has to be viewed in context of the Saudi role in Pakistan and its links with Wahhabi terrorism.

It is widely known that Saudi Arabia is the leading source of funds for Sunni Muslim terrorist and extremist groups worldwide, including those that attack India such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, which carried out the Mumbai attack, and the Jaish-e-Mohammed that carried out the Pulwama attack. In a secret cable leaked by Wikileaks that was written in 2009 Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, wrote, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” This has not changed. On Tuesday, Washington Post, the newspaper for which Jamal Khashoggi used to write, published an op-ed on a recent Financial Action Task Force report on “Saudi Arabia’s measures to fight money laundering and the financing of terrorism and proliferation” that pointed out that while Saudi Arabia has made progress in reforming its laws and prosecuting alleged acts of terrorism, the progress is, at least in part, illusory. Essentially, those critical of the ruling dispensation (meaning the prince Narendra Modi went to the airport to receive) are being locked up as terrorists, while the actual terrorists and their financiers carry on largely unhindered.

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Before coming to India, Prince Salman described himself as “Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia”, a statement received with delight by Prime Minister Imran Khan. His $20 billion for Pakistan includes a large component of $8 billion for an oil refinery near Gwadar port in Balochistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. From India, Prince Salman will head to China. It is evident that the relationship between China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is of a very different nature than the one between India and Saudi Arabia. It is also evident that Pakistan is not the one isolated internationally; India is. The Americans have paid lip service to India, as they have done for decades, and they are unlikely to do anything more because they are in a hurry to exit Afghanistan. President Donald Trump has a wall to build and a re-election campaign to launch and probably couldn’t care less about terrorist attacks in India. Russia is now hosting the Taliban — how times change — and is no longer the all-weather ally for India that it was during the Cold War. Rather, it is now a friend of China’s and Pakistan’s.

Masood Azhar’s JeM claimed “credit” for the Pulwama attack, while Imran Khan asks for proof from India that the group his country hosts is responsible. Both the JeM and Khan’s government are beneficiaries of Saudi funding in one form or another. Modi is busy hugging the Saudi prince and laying out the red carpet for him while his supporters harass hapless Kashmiris, TV comedians and journalists. I’ve heard it said that anything done by an artist is art; in similar vein, anything done by a BJP supporter is nationalism.

I wonder what sense, if any, there is in all this.

The writer is an author and journalist

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Updated Date: Feb 21, 2019 15:20:40 IST