India’s engagement with the Arabian Peninsula dates back to several millennia when traders and sailors from South Asia used to sail across the Arabian Sea, in boats made of Malabar wood. The relationship got reinforced and strengthened over a period of time with robust exchanges and there emerged a strong symbiotic relationship, which has stood the test of time and is growing stronger. The remarkable cultural similarities between the peoples of the two lands show the integration and assimilation of various aspects of their respective traditions into each other’s daily life.
The centuries old two-way trade was mutually beneficial for the people of India and Arabian Peninsula, enhancing their knowledge and understanding, besides fulfilling their day-to-day requirements. India used to import pearls and dates from the Arabian Peninsula while satiating the Arab necessities like foodstuffs, timber and textiles, and also supplied other luxury items like silk and jewelry.
The shared sense of mutual respect and admiration for the role played by the leadership of the two countries in the shaping of the region since the beginning of 20th century brought the two countries at the same plain. People of India admired the unification efforts of King Abdulaziz Al-Saud and formation of the Kingdom of the Saudi Arabia. The Indian government supported the endeavors undertaken by the leadership of Saudi Arabia to improve the Haj management, which has made the pilgrimage for the Muslims from across the world a safe and comfortable experience.
The leadership of the two countries has displayed a strong commitment to further the historical bonds of friendship. The visit of late King Saud bin Abdulaziz to India in 1955 marked the beginning of high-level bilateral engagement, which was followed a year later by the visit of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the Kingdom. Later, Crown Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz visited India in 1959 and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited the Kingdom in 1982.
The bilateral relationship received a major fillip in the beginning of the 21st century when Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah paid a historic visit to India in January 2006 as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day. The visit resulted in the ‘Delhi Declaration’ signed by the two leaders at the conclusion of the visit, which committed the two countries to pursue a joint strategic vision to promote bilateral relations for mutual benefit as well as for the peace and security of the region as a whole.
The visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia in 2010 and the signing of the ‘Riyadh Declaration’ during the visit gave a further boost to the momentum of bilateral relations. It elevated the engagement between the two countries to the level of strategic partnership and articulated their commitment to promote bilateral ties in political, economic, security, defense and cultural areas. Based on the framework provided by the Delhi Declaration and Riyadh Declaration, bilateral relations between the two countries have been strengthened with increase in ministerial visits and stronger economic ties based on substantial trade relations and investments.
The tone set by the two landmark visits opened new vistas in bilateral cooperation. Saudi Arabia has emerged as India’s fourth largest trade partner, with annual bilateral trade exceeding $25 billion during the financial year 2010-2011. There are over 565 small and medium Indian enterprises operating in the Kingdom and the total Indian investments in Saudi Arabia have now crossed $2.5 billion, with the presence of major Indian companies in sectors such as IT, construction, contracting services, financial services and engineering goods.
The recent years have witnessed an enhanced level of cooperation in the field of IT, biotechnology, nanotechnology and space. India possesses one of the largest and qualified pools of scientific and technical manpower in the world, which is globally acclaimed for technological competence. Many Indian expatriates, who are specialists in field of IT, are contributing to the growth and development of Saudi IT and knowledge-based industries.
The two countries have shared vision for the global peace and development. India supports the Kingdom’s efforts in combating global terrorism and both the countries strive to join efforts to put an end to the scourge of extremism and violence, which constitute threat to all nations. Custodian of Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s initiative to promote interfaith dialogue is well received and appreciated by the Indian leadership.
The role played by about two million Indian expatriates in the growth and development of the Kingdom is well appreciated by the Saudi leadership and has played an important role in bringing the two countries closer. They have been participating in all the major developmental projects in the Kingdom. In turn, the Kingdom is the largest source of crude oil for India, meeting around one-fifth of India’s oil requirements.
Recently, the defense minister of India paid a visit to Saudi Arabia, the first by any such minister to the Kingdom that further strengthened the defense ties between the two countries as articulated in the Riyadh and Delhi declarations. On the other hand, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) K. Rahman Khan visited the Kingdom to participate in the G-20 Parliamentary Speakers’ Conference. Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed visited the Kingdom in May 2012 and held high-level meetings with various Saudi dignitaries besides meeting with members of the Indian community.
From the Saudi side, Commerce & Industry Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah led a 76-member delegation to New Delhi earlier this year for the 9th Indo-Saudi Joint Commission Meeting. Saudi Assistant Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman visited India in February this year and held a meeting with Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister S. Jaipal Reddy. A Saudi parliamentary delegation led by Shoura Council Chairman Abdullah bin Mohammad bin Ibrahim Asheikh visited India and held meetings with India’s vice president, prime minister, Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) speaker and also external affairs minister.
On the cultural front, a 45-member Saudi youth delegation visited India on a 10-day tour in the month of March this year, to promote understanding and friendship among the youth of the two countries. The Saudi Youth delegation visited premier institutes such as Indian School of Business, Infosys, Narayan Hrudayalaya, Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineering and many other institutions, and also interacted with Indian business leaders at an event organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). The delegation also met Indian political leaders and other senior officials of the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi.