GAYETI SINGH | 19 FEBRUARY, 2019
MbS Walks the Pulwama Tightrope Between India and Pakistan
Avoid politicisation of UN terror list says Riyadh-Islamabad statement
NEW DELHI: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman finds himself in a difficult diplomatic position, as his official visits to Pakistan and India come in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack that killed 46 CRPF personnel. His visit to the region was aimed at boosting Saudi ties, but has inadvertently exacerbated tensions in the sub continent as India calls for the isolation of Pakistan.
The Crown Prince, known popularly as MbS, reportedly flew back to Riyadh after concluding his Pakistan visit on Monday, as New Delhi objected to a direct arrival from Pakistan. He arrived in New Delhi from Riyadh Tuesday morning.
India has called for the “complete isolation” of Pakistan, slamming Islamabad for providing a safe haven to the Jaish e Mohammad. India says it has "incontrovertible evidence" of Pakistan’s hand in the terror attack, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that those behind the attack will pay a “heavy price.”
The demand for Pakistan’s “complete isolation” put the spotlight immediately on MbS, who was in Islamabad on an official visit. India’s strong stand had little bearing on the visit, with Saudi Arabia signing agreements with Pakistan worth $20 billion. The pledges made were double of what was expected, with MbS holding separate meetings with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and the country’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.
At a dinner in Islamabad on Sunday night -- just days after the Pulwama attack -- MbS heaped praise on Imran Khan, and said that he believed Pakistan would be a “very important country in the coming future.” “Pakistan is facing a really great future today, with a great leadership,” MbS said, adding that the visit was his first trip east since becoming crown prince, and that Pakistan was the first stop on his itinerary.
Pakistan responded by bestowing MbS with the country’s highest civilian honour.
The only mention of terror or terrorism was in the context of “deep appreciation for the achievements and sacrifices made by the two sides in the war against terrorism.” In fact, the joint statement issued by Islamabad and Riyadh at the end of the visit reads more like a snub to India, specifying the need to avoid “politicisation of the UN listing regime.” This is a direct reference to India’s efforts to list Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist” by the UN Security Council. India has tried to have Azhar formally listed several times, being repeatedly blocked by China, an ally of Pakistan. India again raised this demand after the Pulwama attack.
The joint statement, released after the Pulwama attack, is all the more significant as it endorses Pakistan’s position that New Delhi is trying to politicise the UN listing process. At the same time, it absolves Pakistan of any blame in having a hand in terror attacks across the border. In fact, Pakistan is lauded for its purported fight against terror.
Saudi Arabia came out in the defence of Pakistan on the issue of terror recently, as Tehran accused Islamabad of harbouring a terrorist group behind a deadly suicide attack in which 27 Iranian soldiers were killed last week. Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, said on record that “Iran should be the last country to accuse others of terrorism.” When asked about India-Pakistan relations, the minister put the two countries on equal footing, saying they were both facing similar challenges, including the scourge of terrorism.
As the Saudi Crown Prince arrives in India, questions have been raised on Riyadh’s close relationship with Pakistan. The Indian government has attempted to downplay Saudi-Pak ties, with reports in the media here saying that Saudi Arabia has a "much better understanding" of India's concerns on terror and that it had strongly denounced the Pulwama attack.
But denouncing the terror attack and taking a position against Pakistan are two different things -- as the Saudi-Pak joint statement elucidates. China too issued a condemnation, but when asked about the move to list Azhar as a terrorist, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang repeated Beijing’s position, that has repeatedly been used to block the listing. "As for the issue of listing, I could tell you that the 1267 Committee of Security Council has a clear stipulation on the listing and procedure of the terrorist organisations… As to the listing of an individual, we have always upheld an earnest, responsible and professional manner. JeM has been included in the UN Security Council terrorism sanctions list. China will continue to handle the relevant sanctions issue in a constructive and responsible manner,” the spokesperson said. China’s stand on Azhar, therefore, remains unchanged.
Condemnations have poured in, most without mentioning Pakistan. "We denounce terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and reiterate the need to combat these inhuman acts with decisive and collective response without any double standards," a Russian Embassy statement said. France has always been and always will be by India's side in the fight against terrorism in all its forms," French Ambassador to India Alexandre Ziegler said.
India’s neighbours Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka also condemned the attack. In fact, Pakistan also condemned the attack. “We have always condemned heightened acts of violence in the Valley,” Pakistan said.
The United States was one of the few countries to single out Pakistan, calling on Islamabad to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region.” "This attack only strengthens our resolve to bolster counterterrorism cooperation and coordination between the United States and India," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.