PM's Interview with Saudi Journalists
Q. 1. Hon. PM Both India and Saudi Arabia have hailed the visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to New Delhi in January 2006 as a landmark development marking the start of strategic relations between the two countries. Today, nearly four years later, what is your assessment of the progress made in this reinvigorated partnership that was initiated as part of King Abdullah’s ‘Look East’ policy? What are the most significant achievements so far?
Ans.: The visit of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to India as Chief Guest at our Republic Day in January 2006 was a landmark event. This was the first visit of a Saudi ruler to India after 50 years. The Delhi Declaration signed by His Majesty King Abdullah and me enshrined our commitment to pursue a common strategic vision for promoting regional peace and security and for the enhancement of our relations in the political, economic, security and cultural fields.
We have made considerable progress in realizing our vision to strengthen our bilateral partnership. There have been regular high level Ministerial exchanges as well as intensified interaction among the business community, academia and other sections of society. The meeting of the India-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission took place in November 2009, which has put in place an ambitious agenda for bilateral cooperation. Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trading partner with two-way trade of over $ 25 billion. The number of joint ventures in the Kingdom is over 500 with an estimated investment of over US$ 2 billion. We welcome increased investments from Saudi Arabia into India especially in the infrastructure sector where mutually beneficial opportunities exist.
Q. 2. Please give me a brief synopsis of the talks that you intend to have with King Abdullah and other senior Saudi officials during your visit to Saudi Arabia this month. The visit is significant for Riyadh since an Indian PM will be visiting the Kingdom after 28 years.
Ans.: India and Saudi Arabia belong to the same extended neighbourhood. In the Delhi Declaration, we had pledged to work together not just for our bilateral benefit, but also to promote peace, stability and security in the region and the world. Both King Abdullah and I reject the notion that any cause justifies wanton violence against innocent people. We are strong allies against the scourge of extremism and terrorism that affects global peace and security.
During my visit, I propose to discuss with King Abdullah how can we promote greater stability and security in the region. We also have a substantial agenda for the advancement of bilateral relations in diverse areas such as trade and investment, energy, defence and security, social and cultural cooperation, and people-to-people exchanges. I look forward to interacting with the members of the business community in Saudi Arabia and inviting them to be a partner in India’s rapid socio-economic transformation through major infrastructure, energy, industry and services related projects.
Q. 3. Which are the agreements or MoUs, India will sign with the Kingdom during your visit? Please name them and spell out briefly the features of those agreements.
Ans.: Several cooperation agreements are likely to be signed during my visit which will represent a broad range of Indo-Saudi cooperation in the fields of economic cooperation, culture, science and technology and information technology. I am confident these will further enrich our close relations.
Q. 4. Your visit to the Kingdom takes place at a time when that region is in the midst of tension in Iran and also in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the US and the Western countries continuing to exert pressure on Iran over the nuclear issue. What role do you foresee India playing in this context in partnership with the Kingdom?
Ans.: We are witnessing significant geo-political developments, which will directly impact on the peace and stability in the region. All these issues need to be addressed through sustained efforts. I believe that India and Saudi Arabia, as two major countries in the region, have an important stake and responsibility in this regard. In my dialogue with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, I propose to review the regional scenario, and discuss how we can work together to address the complex issues at hand.
Q. 5. How do you assess India’s partnership with the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, when it comes to fighting terrorism? What collective measures India, with SAARC states and Gulf states, are taking to combat this evil?
Ans.: Terrorism remains the single biggest threat to peace, stability and to our progress. Global efforts are needed to defend the values of pluralism, peaceful co-existence and the rule of law. All the member countries of the GCC share India’s concerns relating to extremism and terrorism. We reject the idea that any religion or cause can be used to justify violence against innocent people. We have institutionalised our cooperation with the Gulf countries by putting in place various security cooperation agreements, including extradition treaties.
SAARC as an organisation has committed itself to fighting terrorism. The SAARC Council of Ministers Meeting in February 2009 issued a Ministerial Declaration on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism. Given the fact that today extremist and terrorist activities straddle South Asia and West Asia and constitute a grave threat to our peoples, I agree that the SAARC and GCC anti-terrorism efforts should be more effectively coordinated.
Q.6. Does India intend to conclude a defence pact with the Kingdom?
Ans.: We do not have a defence agreement with Saudi Arabia. Since the visit of His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to India four years ago, our defence ties have, however, diversified and become more substantial. We have exchanged visits of our service Chiefs and naval ships, and Saudi officers have participated in our training programmes, including at the prestigious National Defence College. We look forward to deepening our defence cooperation with Saudi Arabia.
Q. 7. There is concern in the Middle East about growing Indo-Israeli defense cooperation in recent times, which many fear could be at the expense of India's traditional support for Arab causes. How do you address this concern?
Ans.: I would submit that this concern is misplaced. Our relationship with no single country is at the expense of our relations with any other country. Indeed, India’s relations with the countries in West Asia gives us the opportunity to interact in diverse ways with this very important region.
As far as India’s support for Palestine is concerned, this is an article of faith for us. Our solidarity with the people of Palestine predates our independence. India supports a peaceful solution that would result in a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine living within secure and recognised borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, side by side at peace with Israel as endorsed in the Quartet Road Map and the relevant Security Council Resolutions. We also support the Arab Peace Plan.
I recently had the pleasure of hosting His Excellency President Mahmoud Abbas and reiterating to him our steadfast support for Palestine and its people.
Q. 8. How do see the future relationship of India with Arab world?
Ans.: India’s ties with the Arab world go back several millennia. While we recall our historic ties with great pride, we do recognize that relationships have to be constantly nourished and revitalized so that they respond to new realities and aspirations. India and the Arab world are witnessing a rapid modernization of their societies and economies. The India of today is vastly different from what we were at the time of our independence. The same is true of the Arab world.
There is no conflict of interest between us. To the contrary, our destinies are tied together and we have much to gain by intensifying our cooperation with each other. We have a huge stake in each other’s success, and to that extent ours is a relationship that is of strategic importance.
I would like to see a much greater integration of our economies, higher flow of trade and investment, better connectivities and freer flow of ideas and people. This has in fact been our historical legacy, and we should revive that legacy. From our side, there are no impediments to a rapid, sustained and comprehensive expansion of relations between India and the Arab world.
Q. 9. How can India play more active role in enhancing the dialogue between east and west? How do you view king Abdullah’s initiative for the interfaith dialogue which started in Madrid? What role can Indian Muslims can play to enhance the inter faith dialogue?
Ans.: India is a 5000 year old civilisation that today represents a confluence of religions, languages and cultures. We deeply value the principles of peaceful co-existence and harmony among nations. We will continue to work with all like-minded countries to create a just and equitable international order that is conducive to meeting the challenges of poverty, illiteracy and hunger.
We deeply appreciate and support the idea of an inter-faith dialogue. The knowledge of religious beliefs and practices of other people is important in itself and can foster greater understanding and tolerance. We have experience of this in our own country. Islam is an integral part of India’s democratic and secular fabric. Muslims in India are part of our national mosaic, and have enriched our society. Like all other Indians, they enjoy the full protection of our laws, and the full rights guaranteed to every Indian under our Constitution.
Q. 10. Some 1.8 million Indians live and work in Saudi Arabia. What steps is your government taking for their welfare?
Ans.: We are extremely proud of the fact that the Indian community in the Gulf region has been contributing to the socio-economic development of the region. There are over 5 million Indian workers in the Gulf, of which almost 2 million live and work in Saudi Arabia alone. We are very grateful for the warm welcome they have received throughout the region.
The welfare of such a large overseas Indian community is a matter of high priority for my government. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, which we had set up six years ago, has worked tirelessly for the welfare of the Indian community in consultation with the host governments. The governments of several GCC countries have themselves set up mechanisms such as grievance redressal bodies and labour courts that are working closely with our officials. In addition, we have signed MoUs on labour and manpower with most of the GCC countries.
At the Indian end, we are in the process of reforming our own procedures, including better regulation of the recruitment process. We have also put in place arrangements in all Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, to respond to workers’ grievances. These include a 24-hour helpline, temporary shelters, counseling centres, and strengthened Community Welfare Wings in our diplomatic Missions.
Q.11. Your stated position is that while India is ready to keep talking to Pakistan, the stalled peace process can resume only if Islamabad acts against the alleged planners of the Mumbai attack. With the announcement of resumption of dialogue on secretaries level, does this considered a change in the government stand. What will be the basis of the forthcoming dialogue ?
Ans.: There is no change in our position. We seek a peaceful and normal relationship with Pakistan. We should be good neighbours. In that quest we have consistently sought to engage those in Pakistan who are ready to work with us. There is no alternative to dialogue to resolve the issues that divide us. Today the primary issue is terrorism.
Q.12. How serious is the Pakistan Taliban threat to India, especially to Jammu & Kashmir which has bubbled up again. How could the Kashmir issue be solved once and for all?
Ans.: As a neighbour, we cannot remain immune to the rise of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan, or on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Extremism and terrorism are major threats not only to India, but also to Pakistan, and all its other neighbours. It is in our collective interest that we resolutely oppose, resist and overcome terrorism and all those who nurture, sustain and give sanctuary to terrorists and extremist elements.
It is a fact that Jammu and Kashmir and its people have suffered repeatedly at the hands of terrorism from across the border. This has militated against the will of the people of the State, who have time and again voted in large numbers in democratic elections to unambiguously reject violence. We have taken several measures for the development of Jammu and Kashmir, and for its people to live in peace and harmony, as in the rest of the country. In so far as our dialogue with Pakistan is concerned, we are ready to discuss all issues with them in an atmosphere free from terrorism.