Riyadh- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz is a true leader who has led his country through difficult times; his Highness has our respect for supporting India.
In a discussion with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper PM Modi said that there is a dire need for a cooperative international teamwork and increasing the effectiveness of U.N. Security Council resolution 1267.
The Indian PM acknowledged and appreciated Saudi Arabia’s role in eradicating the scourge of terrorism. Modi also praised King Salman for hosting a large Indian community and for ensuring their continued welfare and safety.
Modi said King Salman has taken personal interest in building the Indo-Saudi relationship and further strengthening bilateral cooperation and engagements in diverse fields.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, you met Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman on two previous occasions on the sidelines of G-20 meetings. You have described King Salman as a good friend in your tweets. You have also spoken to each other on telephone during the early days of the Yemen crisis. Can you shed some light, with personal anecdotes if possible, on your relationship with him?
A: India and Saudi Arabia enjoy cordial and friendly relations reflecting cent uries-old economic and sociocultural interactions. Our bilateral friendly ties, deep-rooted in shared history, have been sustained and nourished through growing multi-dimensional cooperation and vibrant people-to-people engagements. I have had the opportunity to meet Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman on the sidelines of G-20 summits in Brisbane and Antalya in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Besides, I have spoken to him over telephone on a couple of occasions. These meetings and interactions have left an indelible impression on my mind. I have seen in him a visionary and experienced leader.
He has led Saudi Arabia with great maturity and foresightedness during one of the most challenging times. I have felt that a personal bond of friendship has developed between us over these interactions. He readily guided and assisted us in evacuation of Indian and foreign nationals stranded in Yemen during the turbulent period in March and April 2015. We deeply appreciate all the assistance and support that King Salman gave us for “Operation Rahat.” I have high regard for him for the readiness he has shown to stand by the side of India in time of need.
Like a true leader, he has not held back his deep appreciation for the role being played by the Indian community in the socio-economic development in Saudi Arabia. King Salman has been very warm in his expression of friendship toward India. He has taken personal interest in building our relationship and further strengthening bilateral cooperation and engagements in diverse fields. I look forward to nourish these bonds of friendship and build our strategic partnership into a comprehensive one.
Q: What is your vision of strategic partnership between India and Saudi Arabia?
A: The signing of the Delhi Declaration in 2006 during King Abdullah’s visit to India as the chief guest at our Republic Day celebrations, and the Riyadh Declaration in 2010 during the visit of my predecessor to Riyadh, has certainly raised the level of our bilateral engagement to a Strategic Partnership. Furthermore, the visit of King Salman to India in February 2014 as the then crown prince culminated in signing of an important memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation between the two countries. This has significantly contributed in enhancing and cementing our bilateral cooperation to defense and security fields.
In recent years, our strategic partnership has expanded into a comprehensive relationship across the full spectrum of political, economic, energy and security spheres. Building further on this strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia is one of the foreign policy priorities for our government. I personally believe that our strategic partnership is important for not only our two countries, but also for the peace, progress and stability in our regions and beyond.
Q: Both Saudi Arabia and India have been victims of terrorism. What, in your view, is the most effective way to counter terrorism and groups that promote terror? Going by reports in the media, there seems to have been considerable cooperation and coordination between the two countries on security issues. Are you satisfied with the level of cooperation?
A: Terrorism is enemy of the entire humanity. Both India and Saudi Arabia have been victims of the dastardly acts of terror resulting in the loss of innocent lives. The recent cowardly acts of terror in Lahore, Brussels, Paris, Iraq and the continuing violence in Afghanistan have shown that terrorists recognize no boundaries. They have no caste, color, creed or religion. I express my empathy with the loss of innocent lives and property suffered because of this menace in any country or community anywhere in the world. To defeat terrorism, all those who believe in humanity have to be united.
We need to delink religion from terrorism. There can be no distinction between “good” or “bad” terrorism. Both India and Saudi Arabia recognize that no cause can justify an act of terror. India and Saudi Arabia have come together to cooperate in eradicating the scourge of terrorism. Terrorism should be dealt in a comprehensive manner. Segmented and partial approaches have historically proven to be at best suboptimal. A strong collective action is required by the global community. There is a need for increasing the effectiveness of UNSC Resolution 1267. States must cooperate toward early finalization of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism under the UN umbrella mooted by India way back in 1996.
Governments across the world should enhance cooperation in intelligence sharing, law enforcement, developing best practices and technologies, mutual legal assistance, extradition arrangements and capacity-building. India has adopted a comprehensive approach through dealing with its individual elements, including controlling the spread of extremist ideology, plugging financing routes, building a counter narrative to radicalization, through efforts to stem training and recruitment by terrorists; strengthening our laws to prosecute terrorists and their associates; and forging a network of international partnerships on threat assessment and operational cooperation. We have also sought to challenge and repudiate the terrorist narrative that global counterterrorism efforts are directed against any particular religion or ethnic group. In this context, we deeply appreciate the leadership role being played by Saudi Arabia in the region to fight this menace.
The cooperation that the Saudi authorities continue to extend to India and the global community, including to deal with cases of money laundering or human trafficking. We are committed to work with Saudi Arabia and all our partners in the region to ensure that the world is better and safer place to live. I am happy at the close cooperation between our two governments, including our security cooperation. In our interactions with the Saudi leadership, there is a common realization of the need to further enhance cooperation in counterterrorism, including information exchange and capacity building.
Q: India and Saudi Arabia are members of the G-20 and they have been working closely with other member states of the group. How do you view the global economic outlook?
A: The global economy is going through a period of uncertainty. The global recovery continues, but still remains uneven. Downside risks and vulnerabilities have increased. Fluctuations of commodity prices have added a degree of uncertainty to the global fiscal recovery. It is, however, felt that the magnitude of recent market volatility has not reflected the underlying fundamentals of the global economy thereby necessitating importance of using all policy tools — monetary, fiscal and structural — individually and collectively to respond to various factors and strengthen economic growth.
The situation as it stands demands greater monetary and fiscal policy coordination among the major economies. In the midst of these uncertainties and economic stagnation looming over the world, India has been like a beacon of hope. India has emerged as the fastest growing large economy in the world. FDI in India has increased considerably at a time when global FDI has fallen. Growth has increased and inflation has decreased. Foreign investment has increased and despite a slowdown in global trade, the balance of payments deficit has also decreased.
India’s highest ever rank in World Bank Doing Business Indicators, was achieved in 2015 and India’s highest ever foreign exchange reserves were achieved in 2015. I believe that close coordination between India and Saudi Arabia at the international forums like G-20, WTO, COP-21 is important for addressing the economic challenge that the world faces. We both are the founding members of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. I am confident that our close cooperation would help in developing much needed infrastructure and connectivity in the region that is so essential for alleviating the millions of pole out of poverty.
Q: India has always been an unflinching supporter of Palestinians and peace in the Middle East region. Support for Palestine has been an article of faith of India’s foreign policy. What is India’s current stand on Palestine? Is there any dilution of its view?
A: India supports a negotiated solution, resulting in a sovereign independent, viable and united state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. India would like to see the people of Palestine living within secure and recognized borders, side by side and at peace with Israel, as endorsed in the Arab Peace initiative, the Quartet road map and relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions. India’s continued commitment to the Palestinian cause has been reiterated during the first ever state visit of the president of India to the state of Palestine in October last year.
We continue to partner with the Palestinian government in keeping with their priority to support their efforts to build capacities and develop human resource that would lead to a prosperous State of Palestine.
Q: Saudi Arabia is the No. 1 supplier of oil to India. Low prices are good news for India, and Saudi Arabia wants to retain its market share. How can the two countries integrate these two aspects for a mutually beneficial long-term energy relationship? What are the prospects in India for Saudi companies to invest in energy projects, especially since boosting and strengthening the Indian economy is your major focus?
A: Saudi Arabia has been, and continues to be, an important and reliable partner in our energy security by meeting a large part of our energy requirements. We both are committed to elevate our buyer-seller relationship into a strategic partnership in the energy sector based on mutual complementarities and interdependence. We have to explore significant areas of cooperation matching India’s traditional strengths and the availability of the resources in Saudi Arabia — considerable potential exists for establishing joint ventures in petrochemical complexes, refineries and fertilizer plants. We are in the process of a major expansion of our refining capacity to become a regional hub for refined products and we look forward to Saudi investments in joint ventures with Indian public sector units (PSUs) in upstream and downstream sectors in India, Saudi Arabia or in third countries.
Q: India is building smart cities, and Saudi Arabia has considerable experience having successfully built smart cities in Yanbu, Jubail and Rabigh. Would you be willing to invite Saudis to help with those massive smart city projects announced by your government?
A: We are creating world-class infrastructure through 100 smart cities; metro projects for 50 cities; modern waste management system for 500 cities; affordable health care within everyone’s reach; sanitation for all by 2019; and a roof over every head by 2022. Nearly 400 railway stations are to be modernized and are being opened for redevelopment by foreign investors.
We invite Saudi companies — both public and private sectors — to come and invest in Indian infrastructure, including smart cities, power, refrigeration, supply chains, ports, highways and warehousing; which are needed in India and which offer good returns. We would also welcome the participation of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) in the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF).
Q: What is your message to the Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia?
A: First of all, I would like to thank the Saudi leadership for hosting a large Indian community and for ensuring their continued welfare and wellbeing. I have heard immense praise of our community for their educational and technical achievement; for their integrity and sense of discipline; and for their honesty and devotion to work. Such praise fills me with great pride. The Indian community living abroad, by its skills, hard work and personal qualities represent the best of our intellectual and cultural heritage and thus encourage the host countries to enhance their interaction with us.
This is indeed commendable and praiseworthy, and I wish that our community continues the good work. Secondly, the remittances sent by our expatriates in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, have further stimulated the growth of Indian economy. I strongly believe that the Indian diaspora is an important partner in our growth story and their contribution is critical toward the economic development of India and their host country.
It is the constant endeavor of my government to particularly engage in a regular dialogue with leaders of countries, where our citizens live in large numbers, to ensure that local policies contribute to the overall welfare and comfort of our citizens. About 70 percent of the Indian community in Saudi Arabia comprises blue-collar workers and there is need to ensure their welfare. My government has, therefore, taken major initiatives like creating digital platforms like Madad and e-Migrate so that our workers in any remote corner are able to register their grievance and seek redressal swiftly. We remain committed to redressing the grievances of our people living abroad, including in Saudi Arabia, in a timely and efficient manner. We will closely work with the government of Saudi Arabia for the welfare of our citizens.