Washington, Apr 6: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to Saudi Arabia could unnerve Pakistan as economic and strategic opportunities are bringing India closer to the oil-rich gulf nation, a top US expert has said.
"After years of considering Saudi Arabia as a major ally and economic benefactor, Pakistan may be on the verge of losing its erstwhile patron to archrival India. Modi arrived in Riyadh last week for an official visit full of diplomatic significance," said Aparna Pande, director India Initiative of the Hudson Institute, a top American think-tank.
She said Modi's visit and the warm reception he received were the latest reminders to the Pakistani leaders that international relations are based on national interest and not on vague religion-based ideology.
"Economic and strategic issues are bringing India and Saudi Arabia closer, just as they are working to the advantage of India with other countries," Pande said. For Pakistanis who see the world in binary terms as an eternal conflict between India and Pakistan, this was clearly a win for India, Pande said.
During the visit, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz conferred the Kingdom's highest civilian award, The King Abdul Aziz Order, on Modi.
Pande said that despite giving billions of dollars in aid and employing millions of Pakistanis, the Saudis have never bestowed their highest civilian honor on a Pakistani leader. India and Saudi Arabia have become economically more significant for one another with USD 39.4 billion in bilateral trade in 2014-15.
Pakistan-Saudi trade by contrast stood at a meager USD 6.1 billion, she said. For India, Saudi Arabia is the main source of its oil imports, supplying one-fifth of India's annual demand.
For the Saudis, India is their fifth biggest customer after China, Japan, the US and South Korea, Pande said, adding that Pakistan could stick to its guns and see these developments as a threat.
"Or it could change its own approach to India and seek rapprochement to take advantage of economic and strategic opportunities that are making India a desirable partner for Pakistan's erstwhile friends," she said. Modi arrived on his maiden two-day visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
He became the fourth Indian Prime Minister to visit Saudi Arabia after Manmohan Singh in 2010, Indira Gandhi in 1982 and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956.