NEW YORK - A report in a major American newspaper on Tuesday claimed that Saudi Arabia is deepening its cooperation with India in cracking down on terrorism suspects, stating that it was an important trend that has implications for Pakistan’s bilateral relationship with Riyadh.
Pakistan is Saudi Arabia’s traditional ally in South Asia, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said in a report from New Delhi, noting that Saudi Arabian money has fuelled the construction of hard-line religious schools in Pakistan that have helped foster Islamist militancy.
The latest sign of Saudi Arabia moving closer to India, WSJ said, came this week as Indian authorities confirmed Riyadh had extradited Fasih Mehmood, an alleged member of Indian Mujahideen, a local militant outfit.
India earlier this year had sought an international arrest warrant for Mehmood, who is from Bihar and is wanted in connection with an attack in 2010 on a tourist bus in New Delhi and a stadium in Bangalore, the report said. Earlier in October, Saudi Arabia extradited A. Rayees, another alleged Indian militant.
India’s Home Ministry said both men, who are in Indian custody, with Mehmood’s family denying he is guilty of any crime.
The two extraditions have built on a trend which began in June, when Saudi Arabia extradited Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, an alleged Indian member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group blamed for the 2008 militant attacks on Mumbai that killed over 160 people, WSJ said.
India and Saudi Arabia signed an extradition treaty in 2010, one of a series of recent steps aimed at strengthening ties. That came after a landmark visit to India by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud in 2006, the first in decades.
There are many theories for why Saudi Arabia is cooperating more closely with India, the report said.
Some observers, according to the paper, view Saudi Arabian policy as driven by worries about the inability of Pakistan to control its militant proxies. Those anxieties have heightened in recent years as militants have increasingly attacked Pakistani government and military targets. “There’s a genuine concern in the Saudi Arabian establishment that things may get out of hand,” Naresh Chandra, Chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Board, was quoted as stating.
Talat Masood, a retired Pakistan Army General, was cited as stating that Saudi Arabia, once itself a source of funds for Pakistan-based militant groups, now views its closer relationship with India as a way of forcing Pakistan to moderate its support for these groups.
“The Saudi Arabian relationship is no longer a monopoly of Pakistan,” Masood said.
Saudi Arabia also may be using the extraditions to cement its trading links with India, WSj cited other analysts as stating.
Saudi Arabia is now the largest supplier of oil to India at a time when New Delhi, under US pressure, is cutting back its imports from Iran, it said. Almost two million Indians are working in Saudi Arabia.
For Riyadh, its ties with India offer another way to help balance the influence of Iran, that has historically rivaled Saudi Arabia for influence in the Middle East and South Asia.
The US, concerned about the growing reach of Lashkar-e-Taiba after the Mumbai attacks, likely put pressure on Saudi Arabia to follow through with the recent extraditions, Ashok Mehta stated. “These extraditions wouldn’t have taken place without some pressure from the Americans,” he said.
Others stated that, while important, the arrests don’t mean Saudi Arabia has ended its support for Pakistan.