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Saudi Arabia and India agree to expand military ties after landmark visit

Lieutenant General Fahd Bin Abdullah Mohammed al-Mutair's visit to India underscores burgeoning ties between India and Saudi Arabia
Commander of Royal Saudi Armed Forces of Saudi Arabia Fahd Bin Abdullah Mohammed Al-Mutair (R) inspects the guard of honor prior to a meeting with India Army Chief General MM Naravane (not pictured) in New Delhi on 15 February, 2022. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia and India will expand their defence ties after a landmark meeting between Lieutenant General Fahd Bin Abdullah Mohammed al-Mutair and Indian army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane, Indian media reported on Tuesday.

Mutair's three-day visit to Delhi, the first by a serving Royal Saudi Land Forces commander, underscored "a deepening bilateral defence cooperation between the two countries", the Indian defence ministry said. 

Al-Mutair met the Indian chief of the Army Staff "for significant bilateral discussions and was briefed on security aspects," the statement said. 

Mutair's visit comes 14 months after Naravane travelled to Saudi Arabia in what was then the first visit by an Indian army chief to the kingdom.

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The Print, an Indian digital publication, wrote that the move "appears to represent the next step in the recent shift in relations between India and Saudi Arabia, a nation that historically had close ties with Pakistan".

"Rifts between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were previously reported in August 2020, over the Gulf state’s position on the scrapping of Article 370 in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir," The Print said. 

Article 370 of the Indian constitution gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, a state formerly administered by India. 

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Mutair's visit also comes roughly a week after Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif, Saudi Arabia's interior minister, travelled to Pakistan for what experts say was an attempt to win over Pakistan's military and diplomatic support in its fight against Houthi rebels in Yemen, where Riyadh is leading a military coalition in support of the government against the rebels. 

On Tuesday, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), based in Saudi Arabia, expressed deep concern for the plight of Muslims in India, following calls for genocide by Hindu right-wing leaders in January and the ongoing ban on headscarves in schools in the southern state of Karnataka. The OIC said the ongoing incidents of violence against Muslims indicated rising Islamophobia in India.

In the first three quarters of 2021, India became Saudi Arabia's second-largest trading partner.

According to the Indian government, ties with the kingdom are predicated on a string of common interests, including ending terrorism, economic development and tackling climate change. 

"Defence diplomacy forms one of the major tenets of the overall relationship," the department of defence said.

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