NEW DELHI, 26 January 2006 — Saudi-Indian relations got a big boost yesterday with the signing of 15 agreements, including a landmark anti-terror pact, on the second day of the historic visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
The Saudi king and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held one-on-one talks earlier yesterday that lasted close to 45 minutes at Hyderabad House. Manmohan described Saudi Arabia as “an important partner in combating global terrorism,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna told reporters.
King Abdullah set the tone for his four-day visit that began on Tuesday by describing India as a “second home” and hoped his visit would take bilateral ties to new heights. Abdullah was earlier given a warm ceremonial welcome at the presidential palace, complete with military regalia and pomp and a 21-gun salute.
King Abdullah told Manmohan his country had “declared a war on terror,” Sarna said after the meeting.
“It might be a long-term struggle, the battle will continue unless this scourge is eliminated,” the ministry spokesman quoted the king as saying.
The anti-terror accord focuses on strengthening cooperation in tackling transnational crime, terrorism and the smuggling of narcotics. The two sides also signed an agreement to eliminate double taxation, a pact on investment promotion and cooperation and an agreement relating to youth and sports.
The accords underline the growing close ties between the two countries and are expected to provide a major boost to bilateral relations.
“This visit will renew historic ties between India and Saudi Arabia,” Abdullah said before beginning talks with Manmohan. “I would like to thank the president, the prime minister and the friendly people of India for their warmth and hospitality,” the king said.
“I consider myself to be in a second home,” he told reporters.
The two sides also signed 11 commercial agreements at a joint business council meeting yesterday. The memoranda of understanding between Saudi and Indian firms were in the energy, financial and health care sectors.
Abdullah, the first Saudi king to visit India in 50 years, will be chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations today. Indicating India’s desire to strengthen strategic relations with Riyadh, the Indian prime minister broke protocol to receive the king at the airport on Tuesday. Saudi Arabia meets about a quarter of energy-hungry India’s oil requirements.
India has stepped up security for the Republic Day celebrations by deploying thousands of troops. Helicopter gunships clattered overhead the capital city as commandos with heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons took up positions at strategic sites, New Delhi security chief B.K. Gupta said.
Premier Manmohan underlined the importance India attaches to the royal visit and to its relations with Saudi Arabia “which have deep-rooted civilization links and have tremendous potential of great economic possibilities.” He said a strong Saudi-India relationship would have great impact on many issues of global concern.
Abdullah, on the other hand, stressed the Saudi government’s sincere desire to move this special relationship forward for the benefit of both countries. Manmohan thanked the king for increasing the quota of Indian pilgrims coming for Haj from 137,000 to 147,000.
Abdullah and Manmohan later witnessed the signing of four government-level accords. The first was the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, which was signed by Finance Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf and Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee. The second was the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement signed by Al-Assaf and Mukherjee.
The third agreement was on combating crime, which was signed by Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal and Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil. Minister of Culture and Information Iyad Madani and Indian Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Oscar Fernandes signed the fourth accord for cooperation in youth and sports.
In the afternoon King Abdullah and Premier Manmohan inaugurated the Saudi Exhibition in New Delhi, which showcases Saudi products. The two leaders later witnessed the signing of eleven of 20 joint ventures between Saudi and Indian businessmen.
Addressing the Saudi-Indian Business Council, King Abdullah underscored the “tremendous developments in economic and commercial ties” between the two countries. The king invited Indian businessmen to invest in Saudi Arabia, especially in the areas of information technology, telecommunications, electricity, pharmaceuticals, minerals and the services sector.
He said the new bilateral agreements would play a big role in boosting joint investments and promoting bilateral ties.
Speaking at the business meeting, Manmohan said: “We have reinvented and rediscovered our relation after a lapse of time and new winds of change are blowing across the two countries.”
He also spoke at length about the centuries-old Indo-Saudi relationship and the massive investment required in India. To this end, Manmohan pointed out that power and telecom sector alone will require $100 billion worth of investment during the next five years. “I invite Saudi businessmen to come to India and set up joint projects,” said the premier, while welcoming the Saudi accession to the WTO.
Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Al-Naimi emphasized the growing energy ties between the two countries. “The Kingdom, which accounts for almost one-quarter of India’s total imports of crude oil of 1.9 million barrels per day, is the largest oil supplier to India,” he said and pledged Saudi Arabia would continue to meet India’s energy requirements.
In another development, Saudi Arabia’s Zamil Steel Industries announced yesterday that it would establish a $20 million factory in Maharashta to design and produce pre-engineered steel buildings. The 90,000-square-meter facility, which is scheduled to be completed toward the end of 2006, will have an annual production capacity of three million sq. meters of pre-engineered steel buildings.
Khaled Al-Zamil, managing director of Zamil Industrial Company, disclosed his company’s plan to increase its investment in India to $30 million next year in order to establish an additional manufacturing facility in the country.
The joint business deals signed yesterday cover sectors like pre-engineered buildings, the health sector (opening India’s Apollo Hospitals), water services, pipe manufacturing, finance and oil & gas equipment. The total investment in these joint projects will exceed SR1 billion.
A leading Saudi investor, Fawaz A. Al-Hokair, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Pratap C. Reddy, executive chairman of Apollo Hospitals. Fawaz said he would invest about $100 million in building state-of-the-art Apollo hospitals in the Kingdom. Besides Fawaz, Saudi businessmen Abdulrahman Al-Rabiah, Abdulrahman Al-Zamil, Adel Bushnaq, Khaled Abdul Fattah Kordi, Gazi Saleh Shalhoub, Mazer Batterjee, Abdullatif Al-Shelash and Samer Hamad, Adel Al-Moshel inked deals to set up joint projects.
The agreements also covered a joint investment company, a water services project (Bushnaq group), manufacturing of pipes (Amiantit Co.), television development (Saudi Arabian Television Manufacturing Company), medical healthcare (Batterjee Group), Strategic partnership on mortgage financing (Dar Al-Arkan), oil and gas equipment (Tafra Holding), and an investment bank (Manar Financial Services).
Finance Minister Al-Assaf, who witnessed the signing of the accords, said the royal visit would give a shot in the arm of Saudi-Indian economic ties. “There is good scope for widening bilateral cooperation,” he added.