Jeddah, May 26 (PTI): India and Saudi Arabia have decided to further strengthen and deepen their counter-terrorism cooperation, nearly a year after Riyadh deported Abu Jundal, wanted in the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack.
The counter-terrorism issue is emerging as a key area of cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is concerned about the rise of extremism in the region, including in Pakistan, notwithstanding their close ties.
“We discussed the menace of terrorism the world continues to face and agreed to further strengthen our counter-terrorism cooperation which is an essential element of the Riyadh Declaration we signed in 2010,” External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said yesterday after a marathon meeting with his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud Al-Faisal.
“Our cooperation would not only benefit our two countries but also contribute significantly to the stability and security of the entire region and beyond,” he said after the meeting which lasted nearly three hours.
On his part, Saudi Foreign Minister said, “I would like to praise the productive, constructive cooperation between our two countries in the fight against terrorism, which will undoubtedly contribute to the international efforts to fight this disease and root it out.”
Khurshid, who is currently on an official visit here, said that the security and stability in the Arabian Peninsula is closely linked to the security in South Asia.
Official sources said that counter-terrorism cooperation and security are “one of the major areas” of cooperation that has grown since 2006.
According to sources in security agencies, despite some people feeling otherwise, Saudi Arabia is equally concerned about the rise of extremism and terrorism.
The relations between India and Saudi Arabia, which has a very close ties with Pakistan, has seen an upswing in areas of trade, economy, political exchange and security.
Last year, the Saudi government had helped India apprehend two key terror suspects, including Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal.
Jundal, who had traveled to Saudi Arabia on a Pakistani passport, is alleged to be one of the handlers who was present in the control room in Pakistan when the terror attack was being carried out in 2008.
Saudi authorities had also detained and deported a suspected founding member of the Indian Mujahideen terrorist group, Fasih Mehmood, for the 2010 bomb blast in Bangalore.
Sources said the counter-terrorism cooperation has seen a steady rise in the last eight years with regular exchange of information and meetings with both internal and external security agencies of both countries.
Sources said one of the major turning point was the visit of Saudi King Abdullah to New Delhi in January 2006.
The ‘Delhi Declaration’ that was signed between the two countries during the visit stressed that terrorism was a ‘scourge” that “the governments would closely and actively cooperate” to fight it and other transitional crimes like money laundering, drugs and arms trade among others.
Even the ‘Riyadh Declaration’ signed in 2010 during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the country emphasised on cooperation in exchange of information on terrorism.
Following a string of attacks in 2003 and 2004 in the country, late Crown Prince Nayef directed the Kingdom’s campaign against al-Qaeda.
As per Wikileaks Cables, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had identified Saudi as world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.
“More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorists groups,” said a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state.
According to sources, Pakistani terrorist groups and agencies have often in the past focused on worker class in Saudi for recruiting and then giving training to be used for terror activities.
Sources also said a major part of funds is raised by terror groups from Saudi Arabia through their frontal groups that claim to be involved in social work. And this where the security agencies of both country are working together.
“Not only are there now regular exchange of information, agencies are working together to choke the financial support chain also,” a source said.
Asked why there has been a fast-paced positive relationship that Saudi Arabia has with India on anti-terror issues, a source said, “A lot has to (do) with the internal dynamics of the country as well as geo-politics. Apart from Pakistan, everyone else seems to be on the same page”.
Khurshid, who has already met Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, who is also the Defence Minister, will be meeting with the Interior Minister later in the day.