Amidst speculations of India playing a definitive role in future world politics, for the first time in 28 years an Indian premier visits Saudi Arabia, one of the most powerful Islamic nations and home to billions of petro-dollars. Prime MinisterÂ ManmohanÂ Singh had been on a 3-day visit to Riyadh.Â This comeÂ 4 years after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited New Delhi in 2006. Petroleum MinisterÂ MurliÂ Deora, Commerce MinisterÂ AnandÂ Sharma, then Minister of State for External AffairsÂ ShashiÂ TharoorÂ and a 15-member delegation of CEOs made it to this visit.
The result was “Riyadh Declaration — A New Era of Strategic Partnership”.Â The India — Saudi Arabia relationship which got upgraded to strategic partnership encompassed many issues.Â Dr. Singh said the strategic partnership would cover economic issues, trade and investment issues, those relating to energy security, investments in each other’s country in upstream and downstream energy activities and investments in renewable energy resources.Â This could include gettingÂ Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC)Â in on various petrochemical projects in India,Â Saudi investments comingÂ to oil refining in India.Â India in turn is offering up to 10 per cent equity to SaudiÂ Aramco, the petroleum company with the world’s largest oil reserves, in a refinery being built up atÂ ParadipÂ in Orissa.Â Saudi Arabia is India’s biggest crude oil supplier, amounting to 20 per cent of country’s total requirements.
The declarationÂ also coversÂ issues relating to security, cooperation in dealing with terrorism and arrangements for information and intelligence sharing and included the signing of an Extradition Treaty between the nations.Â It will help the authorities in apprehending wanted persons in each other’s country.Â ManmohanÂ Singh used his presence to say that India desired greater ties with Pakistan, which has close ties with Saudi Arabia, but Islamabad would have to stop fostering anti-India terrorists. While calling Pakistan a friendly nation, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said in a straightforward manner that activities of terrorist elements in Pakistan are a matter of concern.
An agreement of cultural cooperation was also signed between the two ministries of culture. It includes the 4th MoUÂ on peaceful use of outer space between the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the KingÂ AbdulazizÂ City for Science and Technology (KACST), Tata Motors agreeing to provideÂ Saudi Arabia’sÂ HotilÂ schoolbusesÂ worth USD 80 million, a pact between Gulf Bureau of Research and DFL and another betweenÂ India’s Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and Saudi Arabia’s King Saud University.
India is working to develop close relations with Saudi Arabia, which was one of only three countries to back the Taliban regime in Kabul when New Delhi supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. The Saudi approach to Islamists underwent a radical change after 9/11.Â It is fighting with Al-Qaida on its own soil and is playing the role of a friend of the United States in Central Asia. Saudi Arabia does not have a lot of hopes from Pakistan, because Pakistan is continuously going backward socially and economically, while India’s graph is going upward. The principle of practicality says that India and Saudi Arabia should increase mutual cooperation.Â In fact, Saudi ArabiaÂ mightÂ Iran as India’s key backer in the Organization of the Islamic Conference and has once again agreed to lobby for India’s observer status in the grouping.
A lot can be achieved bilaterally if the relations between India and Saudi Arabia remain sunny.