India-Pakistan crisis: Saudi Arabia aims to de-escalate tensions

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – known as MBS – is on a high-profile tour of Asia

Saudi Arabia has said it will work to de-escalate tensions between India and Pakistan, ahead of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s arrival in Delhi.

The prince, known as MBS, is on a tour of Asia and has just visited Pakistan.

Hostilities between Delhi and Islamabad flared last week, after a suicide bombing in the India-administered part of Kashmir killed at least 40 paramilitary police.

A Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, said it was behind it.

Pakistan denies any role in the bombing, but India has accused the state of being complicit and vowed to isolate its neighbour internationally.

Both India and Pakistan claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir, but control only parts of it.

Speaking on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the Arab state’s objective was to “try to de-escalate tensions between the two countries, neighbouring countries, and to see if there is a path forward to resolving those differences peacefully”.

Delhi has imposed a swathe of economic measures on Islamabad, including revoking Most Favoured Nation trading status and raising customs duty to 200%.

Indian mourners in Delhi
The attack caused mourning but also anger against Pakistan

$20bn Saudi cash injection

Pakistan is in the midst of a financial crisis, and the crown prince’s visit saw Saudi Arabia pledge much-needed investment deals worth $20bn (£15.5bn).

With only $8bn left in foreign reserves, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been seeking help from friendly countries in order to cut the size of the bailout package his country is likely to need from the International Monetary Fund under very strict conditions.

The country is seeking its 13th bailout since the late 1980s, and Saudi Arabia has already provided a $6bn loan.

Prisoner release deal

After a personal plea to the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia also said it would release some 2,107 Pakistani prisoners in a gesture to foster ties.

The inmates are mostly migrant workers who are jailed with little or no legal recourse – a sensitive issue between Islamabad and Riyadh.

Huge numbers of Pakistani workers labour on construction sites in the Middle East, or work as domestic helpers. The remittances they send back home are vital for Pakistan’s economy.

Islamabad has said it will confer its highest civilian honour, the Order of Pakistan, on Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

It comes despite wider international condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered in the kingdom’s Turkish consulate last year.

Saudi Arabia ‘is Pakistan’s friend in need’