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NEW DELHI: Saudi Arabia on Wednesday urged India and Pakistan to de-escalate their tensions as it threatens world peace, and encouraged both its friends to talk out their differences, including their problems with terrorism.

While the visiting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared before the media and denounced terrorism in general terms, Saudi Minister of state for Foreign Affairs Adel Aljubeir told NDTV in an interview that the issue of the Pulwama attack was raised by the Indian side at the official talks.

He said the Indian account of the incident was at variance with what the delegation had heard from the Pakistani side in Islamabad.

“In Pakistan, they told us they have nothing to do with the incident, and they do not control those elements.”

India is regarded by the Saudis as one its eight strategic partners, yet the Saudis seemed to oppose UN listing of Masood Azhar as a terrorist, the minister was told. He replied: “We believe that any person implicated in terrorism or in the financing of terrorism ought to be not only listed, ought to be tried, convicted and punished. This is what we do in Saudi Arabia. This is what we expect other countries to do.”

South Asian instability threatens world peace, says minister

Asked if Azhar was a fit case to be listed as a terrorist, Aljubeir said he did not have the background on the case.

“I am not in a position to judge. Normally what happens is that the countries bring evidence. And they make designations. And it is assessed by the UN officials … There are a number of groups, including in Pakistan, that are designated as terrorist organisations. They should be robustly pursued. There should be zero tolerance for terrorism”

“Our view is there should be de-escalation. There should be discussions between the two countries in order to clarify these issues in a way that it protects the lives of the innocent.”

The prince was in India after a two-day visit to Pakistan, amid an escalation of tension between Delhi and Islamabad following the Pulwama attack, which India says was carried out by Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Mohammed group.

Ahead of the Saudi visit, according to NDTV, there was criticism in India about a joint statement issued during the Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan.

In what was seen as an apparent reference to India’s effort to include list Azhar as a global terrorist under UN rules, the statement read that the Crown Prince and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had “underlined the need for avoiding politicisation of UN listing regime”. Aljubeir said the reference was not to Masood Azhar’s case.

There has also been criticism about the $20bn investment Saudi Arabia has promised to Pakistan, NDTV said.

While MBS, in an address to the media, mentioned that terrorism and extremism are a “common concern” and Saudi Arabia will “cooperate with India and neighbouring states”, there was disappointment that Pulwama, Jaish or Pakistan was not named, NDTV said.

Aljubeir said: “We were one of the first countries to very strongly condemn the terrorist attack. We have very good relations with India in terms of counter terrorism, we have good relations with India when it comes to exchanging information against terrorists — including information that led to stopping terrorist attacks,” he added.

Underscoring the need for reopening of dialogue with Islamabad, the minister said, “Pakistan is an important country to Saudi Arabia and India is important to Saudi Arabia and so it pains us to see conflict between two countries that we believe to be two friendly countries. We believe that instability in this part of the world is danger to rest of the world”.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2019