Saudi Arabia remains our strongest partner for energy security

Special Saudi Arabia remains our strongest partner for energy security
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a bilateral meeting during the G20 Leaders’ Summit in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires in 2018. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 January 2023

Saudi Arabia remains our strongest partner for energy security

Saudi Arabia remains our strongest partner for energy security
  • India poised to become the world’s reliable partner in global supply chains

Dr. Suhel Ajaz Khan

On the joyous occasion of the 74th Republic Day of India, I would like to extend my warm greetings and felicitations to all Indian nationals, persons of Indian origin and friends of India in Saudi Arabia.

This Republic Day comes amid the ongoing celebrations for Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, commemorating 75 years of India’s independence and its achievements, and also Amrit Kaal, in the lead up to [email protected]

As a comparatively young nation, India has emerged as one of the leading countries on the global stage in terms of educational, scientific, technological and economic progress, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

The country has been guided in this journey by its core democratic principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, as it has evolved into a truly pluralistic society that embraces diversity and is committed to providing equal opportunities for all its citizens.

At the same time, the age-old philosophy of Indian civilization, including “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” the idea that “the world is one family,” has continued to guide us and shape our approach to the world.

India is a proponent of reformed multilateralism and advocates for a democratic, rules-based and fair international order that emphasizes respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality of all nations, irrespective of size, population and military might.

India, as the largest democracy in the world, as one of the top economies in the world and as a voice of the Global South, has rightful aspirations to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

As the world gradually recovers from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is looking keenly at the growth story of a technology-enabled India, which has displayed an appetite for innovation and the adoption of technology, digitalization and automation. India is poised to become the world’s reliable partner in global supply chains.

It is estimated that India’s gross domestic product growth will be 7 percent this fiscal year, outpacing other major developing economies. India is now a $3.1 trillion economy, making it the fifth-largest in the world, and is well on course to becoming a $5 trillion economy.

India and Saudi Arabia have been friends for centuries and the bilateral relationship is based on mutual respect, trust and warmth. Since independence, India’s relations with the Kingdom have progressively evolved into a multifaceted and mutually beneficial strategic partnership encompassing several key areas of engagement, which include cultural exchanges, defense and security cooperation, trade and investments, healthcare, technology, energy security and food security. The large Indian diaspora has also contributed positively to the development journey of Saudi Arabia.

In recent years, bilateral commercial relations between India and the Kingdom have charted an unprecedented trajectory of growth, with an increasing number of business engagements in diverse fields.

Official statistics show that India is the second-largest trade partner for Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth-largest trade partner. In the current financial year, our trade figures, from April to November 2022, have already surpassed $36 billion, with year-on-year growth of more than 30 percent. Indian exports to Saudi Arabia were worth nearly $7 billion and imports from the Kingdom were valued at more than $29 billion.

Major Indian exports to Saudi Arabia include engineering goods, petroleum products, chemicals, cereals and food items, among other things. Saudi exports to India include mineral fuels, fertilizers, chemicals, plastics and more. Saudi Arabia remains our strongest partner for energy security.

Thanks to the flourishing opportunities that have emerged as part of Saudi Vision 2030 and Indian initiatives such as “Atmanirbhar Bharat” and “Make in India,” the bilateral exchange of investment has also expanded to include a variety of sectors in both economies.

Guided by the leadership’s vision, the Indian Embassy in Riyadh is working toward developing a comprehensive bilateral economic partnership comprising diverse and voluminous trade and investment ties. In this endeavor, the Council for Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Saudi-India Business Council have been constant partners for us.

During the visit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to India in 2019, the SIBC signed a memorandum of understanding with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry to expand bilateral trade relations.

In addition to the FICCI, other Indian trade promotion organizations, including the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Trade Promotion Council of India, and the National Association of Software and Service Companies, among others, are also keen to work with Saudi organizations to leverage the complementary strengths of both nations and further cement our economic ties.

We look forward to continuing to work closely with our Saudi partners to actualize the opportunities identified under the framework of the Strategic Partnership Council.

Bilateral engagements are expected to increase this year, as India has assumed the chairmanship of the G20. The theme of India’s G20 presidency is “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” — One Earth, One Family, One Future — and the country will host more than 200 meetings in more than 50 cities across 32 workstreams.

The Indian presidency of the G20 provides an opportunity for India and Saudi Arabia to cooperate closely in this important, multilateral domain in service of mutual interests.

India is also the chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Council of Heads of State, of which the Kingdom is a dialogue partner. This forum provides another platform for working together to achieve our shared objectives for the region.

India and Saudi Arabia are prominent G20 economies and enjoy a host of economic partnership avenues within the framework of the organization. As part of its ongoing G20 presidency, India is keen to explore potential opportunities for economic engagement with all of its G20 partners, including Saudi Arabia, in priority sectors such as health, infrastructure, education, startups, and attainment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Last year, multiple high-level visits on both sides enhanced the momentum of our burgeoning bilateral engagements. In August, Mansukh Mandivya, the Indian minister of health and family welfare and minister of chemicals and fertilizers, visited Saudi Arabia and had discussions with the Saudi leadership and private stakeholders about broadening our engagement in both the health and fertilizer sectors.

In September, S. Jaishankar, India’s external affairs minister, and Piyush Goyal, the commerce and industry minister, visited Riyadh and participated, respectively, in the ministerial meetings of the political and economic committees of the Saudi-Indian Strategic Partnership Council.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi minister of energy, and Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, visited India in October and November last year.

In addition to a traditionally strong energy partnership, as part of which Saudi Arabia is one of the largest suppliers of crude oil and liquefied natural gas to India, both countries are keen to expand bilateral ties to include new and novel areas of cooperation such as power grid interconnection, financial technology projects, green hydrogen, sustainable building materials, startup collaborations and Export-Import Bank of India projects.

Both sides are committed to removing barriers to trade and addressing regulatory issues to further increase bilateral trade and investment. India is also in discussions with GCC authorities for the resumption of Free Trade Agreement negotiations, which will enable us to gain from unrealized potential in terms of economic opportunities in Saudi Arabia, in particular, and the wider region, in general.

In the domain of bilateral defense ties, a number of things are happening. In 2022, a record number of ships visited Saudi Red Sea ports, and there was maritime cooperation in the form of naval exercises and seminars.

We are committed to expanding bilateral defense ties in the fields of emerging technologies, cybersecurity, electronic warfare, unmanned aerial systems, and space. Convergence in defense industry initiatives is also underway, in sync with the Vision 2030 and Self Reliant India policies of the two countries.

In the field of education, India and Saudi Arabia have several avenues of engagement, particularly within the context of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and India’s New Education Policy 2020. Several Saudi universities are keen to forge meaningful collaborations with reputed institutions of higher learning in India, including the Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management, the Indian Institute of Science, and leading universities.

Saudi Arabia hosts about 2.3 million Indians whose contribution to the socioeconomic development and cultural enrichment of the Kingdom is widely acknowledged and appreciated. Over the years, the profile of the Indian diaspora in the Kingdom has diversified significantly to include entrepreneurs, investors, bankers and CEOs of companies, in addition to doctors, engineers and academics.

The Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia has emerged as a major source of foreign remittances in India. The diaspora also acts as a bridge between the two countries and plays an important role in strengthening bilateral relations.

As we commemorate 75 years of diplomatic ties between India and Saudi Arabia, I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for guiding the bilateral relationship in a new direction and enabling the two countries to realize the full potential that exists between them. Indian leadership is also fully committed to making our relationship stronger and more diversified.

I am honored and fortunate to have been given the important assignment as ambassador of India to Saudi Arabia at this exciting time in our relations. I am already touched by the warmth and affection shown to me by various senior Saudi officials immediately upon my arrival here.

I look forward to receiving support from all our Saudi friends, in both the government and private sectors, and also to partnering with the Indian community in the Kingdom to take our relationship to new and greater heights.

Long live the India-Saudi relationship.


Dr. Suhel Ajaz Khan

India’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

US report lists ‘significant human rights’ abuses in India

US report lists ‘significant human rights’ abuses in India
Updated 21 March 2023

US report lists ‘significant human rights’ abuses in India

US report lists ‘significant human rights’ abuses in India
  • Human Rights Watch has said the Indian government’s policies and actions target Muslims while critics of Modi say his Hindu nationalist ruling party has fostered religious polarization since coming to power in 2014

WASHINGTON: The annual US report on human rights practices released on Monday listed “significant human rights issues” and abuses in India, including reported targeting of religious minorities, dissidents and journalists, the US State Department said.
The findings come nearly a year after Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was monitoring what he described as a rise in human rights abuses in India by some government, police and prison officials, in a rare direct rebuke by Washington of the Asian nation’s rights record.
US criticism of India is rare due to close economic ties between the countries and India’s increasing importance for Washington to counter China in the region.
Significant human rights issues in India have included credible reports of the government or its agents conducting extrajudicial killings; torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; political prisoners or detainees; and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, the US report added.
Advocacy groups have raised concerns over what they see as a deteriorating human rights situation in India in recent years under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Human Rights Watch has said the Indian government’s policies and actions target Muslims while critics of Modi say his Hindu nationalist ruling party has fostered religious polarization since coming to power in 2014.
Critics point to a 2019 citizenship law that the United Nations human rights office described as “fundamentally discriminatory” by excluding Muslim migrants from neighboring countries; anti-conversion legislation that challenged the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief; and revoking Muslim-majority Kashmir’s special status in 2019.
The government dismisses the accusations by saying its policies are aimed at the development of all communities.
In 2022, authorities also demolished what they described as illegal shops and properties, many of them owned by Muslims, in parts of India. Critics say the demolition drive was an attempt to intimidate India’s 200 million Muslims. The government defended the demolitions, saying they were enforcing the law.
“Human rights activists reported the government was allegedly targeting vocal critics from the Muslim community and using the bulldozers to destroy their homes and livelihoods” without due process, the US report released on Monday added.
Since Modi took office in 2014, India has slid from 140th in World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking by non-profit Reporters Without Borders, to 150th place last year, its lowest ever. India has also topped the list for the highest number of Internet shutdowns in the world for five years in a row, including in 2022, Internet advocacy watchdog Access Now says.
“Civil society organizations expressed concern that the central government sometimes used UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) to detain human rights activists and journalists,” the US report said.


Biden signs law declassifying US intel on COVID origin

Biden signs law declassifying US intel on COVID origin
Updated 21 March 2023

Biden signs law declassifying US intel on COVID origin

Biden signs law declassifying US intel on COVID origin

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law a bill requiring the release of intelligence materials on potential links between the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
“We need to get to the bottom of Covid-19’s origins..., including potential links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Biden said in a statement.
“In implementing this legislation, my administration will declassify and share as much of that information as possible,” he added.
“I share the Congress’s goal of releasing as much information as possible about the origin” of Covid, he said.
Biden said that in 2021, after taking office, he had “directed the Intelligence Community to use every tool at its disposal to investigate.”
That work is “ongoing,” but as much as possible will be released without causing “harm to national security,” he said.
The bill posed political risks for Biden, who is negotiating a difficult relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Beijing vehemently rejects the possibility that a leak during research at the Wuhan lab could have unleashed the global pandemic.
However, much of Congress wants to pursue the theory further, and the issue has become a rallying point in particular for Biden’s Republican opponents.
Congress passed and sent the bill to Biden in March.
The Covid-19 outbreak began in 2019 in the eastern Chinese city of Wuhan, leading to almost seven million deaths worldwide so far, according to official counts, over a million of them in the United States.
But health officials and the US intelligence community remain divided over whether it was spread randomly to humans from an infected animal or leaked during research undertaken at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The US Energy Department — one of the US agencies investigating the disaster — concluded with “low confidence” that the virus probably came from a lab, agreeing with the assessment of the FBI, but contradicting the conclusions of several other agencies.

Biden pays tribute to Iranian women at Nowruz celebration

Biden pays tribute to Iranian women at Nowruz celebration
Updated 21 March 2023

Biden pays tribute to Iranian women at Nowruz celebration

Biden pays tribute to Iranian women at Nowruz celebration
  • US President said that he wished Nowruz holiday would be a moment of ‘hope for the women of Iran fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms’
  • Joe Biden: ‘We’re going to continue to hold Iranian officials accountable for their attacks against their people’

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden used a White House event to mark Persian New Year on Monday to pay tribute to Iranian women and girls who took to the streets of Iran to protest following the death last year of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini and vowed to keep pressure on Tehran.
Biden said he wished the Nowruz holiday, a nearly 4,000-year-old tradition known as the Festival of Fire that’s linked to the Zoroastrian religion, would be a moment of “hope for the women of Iran fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
“The United States stands with those brave women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their conviction,” Biden said, describing the reception as the biggest White House Nowruz celebration to date. “We’re going to continue to hold Iranian officials accountable for their attacks against their people.”
The United States, Europe and the United Kingdom have imposed a series of fresh sanctions on dozens of Iranian officials and organizations, including the country’s special military and police forces, for their violent clampdown.
The protests began in mid-September when Amini died after being arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
The protests mark one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 revolution.

Serbia’s refusal to sign agreement with Kosovo will not halt progress, says US official

Serbia’s refusal to sign agreement with Kosovo will not halt progress, says US official
Updated 20 March 2023

Serbia’s refusal to sign agreement with Kosovo will not halt progress, says US official

Serbia’s refusal to sign agreement with Kosovo will not halt progress, says US official
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has verbally agreed to normalize relations with the breakaway former province but will not sign any legally binding international documents
  • US State department official Gabriel Escobar said the ‘important and historic’ deal is binding nonetheless and leaders on both sides had shown political courage and vision
  • Both countries seek EU membership and the bloc set normalized bilateral relations as a condition for this; Escobar said they will now be judged by their actions under the agreement

CHICAGO: The refusal by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to sign a formal agreement for establishing diplomatic ties with its breakaway former province, Kosovo, will not prevent the normalization of relations process from moving forward, a US official said on Monday.

Gabriel Escobar, the deputy assistant secretary for the Department of State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, said that Serbia had verbally agreed to implement a Western-backed plan to establish ties. But he acknowledged it represents just the first step in efforts by the formerly warring nations to resolve their differences.

Vucic has made it clear that he wants Serbia to join the EU, but the latter has made it a condition of membership that the former normalize its relations with Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority but a large community of Serbs.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 but Serbia refuses to recognize this and continues to consider it a province. During a meeting with EU officials on Saturday, Vucic verbally agreed to the normalization proposal but declined to sign any legally binding international documents.

“The United States is very happy to welcome this important and historic agreement,” said Escobar. “It sets the conditions for normalization between Serbia and Kosovo, on European terms, and in that regard it took a lot of political courage and a lot of vision from both Serbian President Vucic and Kosovan Prime Minister (Albin) Kurti to reach this agreement.

“This agreement is a legally binding obligation on both parties and both parties will be judged by their performance under the agreement. And that agreement will continue to be the basis of our policy for the United States going forward, and the basis for European engagement in the region.”

Escobar reiterated that despite the lack of formal signing, the agreement reached by the negotiators from Kosovo and Serbia is nonetheless “legally binding in every respect” and both sides have made commitments as they seek EU membership.

“So the signature was not the issue,” he added. “It was the obligation that both countries freely entered into and, again, the understanding, the clear understanding from both sides, of what was expected and what each side would receive. So, it is an agreement in every respect.

“The next steps, really, are for both sides to start on the implementation as it was outlined on Saturday. Both sides have legally binding obligations that they have to meet.”

On the Serbian side, Escobar said, this means the beginning of a process of recognizing “Kosovo’s documents and other national symbols … and things of that nature.”

He added: “For Kosovo, it’s important for them to begin the drafting of their version of the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities. There are many other obligations but I think those are the most important ones.”

The significance of the negotiations and the agreement between the two nations marks “the start of the reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo,” Escobar said. “So there will be a lot of work to continue to be done beyond this agreement. Additionally, the EU-facilitated dialogue will also continue.

“So there’s a lot here but what’s important is that we have set clear markers on how the two countries are going to relate to each other going forward.”

As the two nations move forward they “will receive the benefits flowing” from European nations and from the US, he added.

In turn, the responsibilities that both Serbia and Kosovo have accepted are clear, he said.

“I think … for Kosovo the most important thing, and the thing that will get them the most benefit, is greater Euro-Atlantic integration. So that’s our focus: Integration into European structures,” said Escobar.

“For Serbia, their insistence on the implementation of the legally binding obligation to … begin talks and implementation of the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities remains key.”

While acknowledging that it has only been two days since the agreement was announced, he added that everyone is hopeful it will succeed and lay the foundations for further progress for both nations.

After generations of conflict dating back to when the Balkans were controlled by the Ottoman Empire, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244 on June 10, 1999, which placed Kosovo under transitional UN administration and authorized the deployment of a NATO-led peacekeeping force called the Kosovo Force. It provided for Kosovo to be granted autonomy, initially under the former Yugoslavia and then under successor nation Serbia.

Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return

Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return
Updated 20 March 2023

Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return

Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return
  • Bangladesh hosts, supports around 1.2 million Rohingya people
  • Myanmar now more willing to start repatriation process: Bangladesh foreign ministry official

DHAKA: Rohingya refugees said on Monday their citizenship and basic rights must be guaranteed before returning to Myanmar, as the first step of a potential repatriation got underway.

Around 1.2 million Rohingya people are living in squalid camps in the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, most of whom fled violence and persecution in neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.

A team from Myanmar arrived last week to verify Rohingya refugees in Bangladeshi camps for their potential return as part of a pilot repatriation project, which has been delayed for years.

Authorities were expecting 400 people to be cleared to return to their homeland, part of more than 1,100 listed as a potential first batch of returnees. The documents of the rest were already cleared by Myanmar authorities remotely.

“I am willing to return to Myanmar if we are guaranteed citizenship and other associated rights, like freedom of movement,” Abdur Rahman, an 18-year-old Rohingya refugee in Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.

Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group. Most were rendered stateless under the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law and had been excluded from the 2014 census. Many in the Buddhist-majority country refer to members of the community as Bengalis, suggesting they belong in Bangladesh.

“Our houses were burnt down,” Rahman said. “Some of my relatives are still living in Rakhine, I talk with them almost every day. As they told me, the situation in Rakhine is far better now.”

Rakhine State, one of Myanmar’s poorest states, was at the center of the 2017 violence.

Though Rahman’s village is still deserted, his relatives told him that some public facilities, including schools and hospitals, in other areas have been rebuilt.

However, repatriation was still uncertain even with the ongoing verification process, a Bangladesh foreign ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News.

“At the moment, it’s difficult to specify any time frame in this regard. We can say that both parties are working to solve the problems,” the official said, adding that the Myanmar delegation was expected to conclude its mission on Tuesday.

For a long time, Myanmar authorities “were going very slow” in verifying Rohingya refugees, leading to an extended delay of the repatriation process, the official said, adding that Myanmar officials now appeared “a little bit more willing than before” to start the project.

However, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said conditions in Rakhine State were still “not conducive to the sustainable return of Rohingya refugees.”

In a statement, the UNHCR said it was “not involved in the discussions” of a potential return of the Rohingya people in Bangladesh to Myanmar, though it was aware of the bilateral repatriation project between the two countries, which was reportedly mediated by China.

“We reiterate that every refugee has a right to return to their home country based on an informed choice, but that no refugee should be forced to do so,” the UNHCR added.

Mohammed Nur, a 22-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Kutupalong camp, told Arab News that he wanted to go back to Myanmar.

“I am very much willing to return to my homeland,” he said. “But it cannot happen without the rights of citizenship in Myanmar.

“If our rights are ensured, I believe all of us would return to Myanmar, because a refugee’s life has no dignity.”