Saudi-India Ties At A “New Height,” Says Saudi Envoy

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Though he has been in India as Saudi envoy for only two years, Faisal Hassan Trad returns to his country as a satisfied diplomat. Within a short period, many steps have been taken in strengthening bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia. In Trad’s words: “My tenure in India has been a short one, two years but I am happy to have shouldered the responsibility assigned to me as ambassador of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to India.”

Trad returns this month to Saudi Arabia to spend Ramadan at home, following which he will take diplomatic charge in Belgium. While India and Saudi Arabia have always entertained good relations, undeniably, the past few years have witnessed a major upswing in development of their ties. It began with the landmark visit of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz in January 2006. He was the Chief Guest of Indian Republic Day celebrations. His visit “opened a new chapter in Indo-Saudi bilateral relations.” The King referred to India as his “second home.” The highlight of his visit was the inking of Delhi Declaration, the first such bilateral document to be signed by a Saudi King. Saleh Mohammed Al-Ghamdi was then the Saudi envoy in India.

Since the Saudi King’s India visit, Indo-Saudi ties have been only on the upswing. It has been marked by active engagement between leadership of the two countries. Another chapter was opened in their bilateral ties with the historic visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia, from February 27 to March 1 2010. The highlight of this visit was signing of Riyadh Declaration which outlines a “new era of strategic partnership” between India and Saudi Arabia.

Elaborating on Indian Prime Minister’s Saudi-visit, which has taken place during his tenure, Trad said: “Saudi-India relations have now reached a level of Strategic Partnership. The roads are indeed paved for a bright future.”

Reflecting on recent developments, Trad said: “During the recent period, bilateral relations have reached a new height with exchanges taking place, at all levels, practically continuously, almost on a daily basis, between industrialists, investors, political people, community leaders, pilgrims and others.” Last year, while Saudi Arabia had issued 7,500 visas to business people, this year within six months only, 4,000 visas have already been issued, Trad pointed out.

Laying emphasis that Saudi-India ties are no longer confined to only oil diplomacy, Trad pointed to “complete cooperation” between the two countries in other fields, including education, science & technology, defense & security, taxation, extradition and culture, among others. Trad may also be credited for promoting people-to-people interaction between the two countries. The Saudi Embassy in association with Saudi Journalist Association invited Indian women delegation to visit the Kingdom last year in October. This was the first visit of an all-women delegation (including this scribe) to Saudi Arabia, which has been hailed as a major success.

Economic relations between India and Saudi Arabia have shown a remarkable growth with bilateral trade registering a three-fold increase during the last five years. Saudi Arabia is India’s 4th largest trade partner and the bilateral trade was $18 billion in 2010-11 (April-December), according to Indian sources.

The bilateral trade is now “worth $24 billion and is poised for increase every day,” Trad stated.

Saudi Arabia is India’s largest supplier of crude oil, accounting for almost one-fifth of the country’s needs. To meet India’s growing energy needs, sources said, the two sides are working towards strategic energy partnership including long term uninterrupted supply of crude oil by Saudi Arabia to India.

Besides, the 2.2 million-strong Indian community in Saudi Arabia is the largest expatriate community in the Kingdom. The total remittance send by Indian expatriates, spread world-wide, is valued at $50 billion, of which 60 percent is from GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, with the largest share from Saudi Arabia. Taking note of this, Trad said: “The 2.2 Indians who live in the Kingdom support nearly 25 million at home (India).”

Haj diplomacy is also a major component of Indo-Saudi bilateral ties. More than 1,70,000 Indians perform Haj every year.

During Trad’s tenure, a new chapter has opened in religious diplomacy too. This is marked by the visit of Dr. Sheikh Abdul Rehman Sudais, Grand Imam of Masjid-al-Haram in Mecca, earlier this year in March.

There is every reason for Trad to be satisfied and happy at his successful tenure in India. Not surprisingly, he is one of the few diplomats, in whose honor, numerous farewell parties have been hosted in the capital city. He is perhaps the first Saudi diplomat, according to Indian sources, to receive so many farewell parties. In addition to Trad being viewed as a successful diplomat, the hosting of numerous farewell parties in his honor is yet another major sign of the two countries coming closer, Indian sources said. This in itself marks expansion and strengthening of bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia.

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Indian Envoy Conferred Top Saudi Honor

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

RIYADH/NEW DELHI: Indian envoy to Saudi Arabia Talmiz Ahmad has been conferred the King Abdulaziz Medal of First Class for his contribution to strengthening bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia. He is the first Indian diplomat to be conferred this honor. The medal, comprising a decorative badge and a certificate signed by King Abdullah, was presented by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal (July 10).

“This (King Abdulaziz Order of Merit – First Class) is a tribute from Saudi Arabia to Talmiz Ahmad for his contributions during both his tenures as Indian Ambassador in promoting bilateral relations between the two countries,” Prince Al-Faisal said after conferring the Saudi Award of highest order to Indian envoy.

Ahmad has played a significant role in strengthening Indo-Saudi ties and promoting them on a “strategic level.” On this, Ahmad said: “Indo-Saudi relations have been transformed into a strategic partnership with the signing of the Delhi Declaration during the landmark visit of King Abdullah to New Delhi in 2006, and the return visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year.”

The Indian envoy, whose term in Riyadh ends shortly, is also credited for promoting relations between India and Saudi Arabia at several levels, including cultural and economic. Describing his role as “modest” in progress of bilateral ties, Ahmad said: “Mine has been a modest role in this endeavor, in which a large number of people have contributed both from India and Saudi Arabia.”

Ahmad was first appointed ambassador of India to Saudi Arabia in January 2000. He has served as ambassador in several other countries, including UAE and Oman. He was appointed again as Indian envoy to Saudi Arabia last year ahead of Prime Minister Singh’s visit to the Kingdom.

In addition to being a career diplomat, Ahmad has written several books and papers on politics of West Asia and energy. The Arabic translation of his book: “Children of Abraham at War: The Clash of Messianic Militarism” was released earlier this month in New Delhi. Ahmad was present on the occasion. His aim is to “promote Indo-Saudi ties in a number of areas on immediate, medium-term and long-term basis that include research and studies, energy discussions and advance guidance with regards to business imunity.”

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Indo-Pak Talks: Positive Move

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the fact that India and Pakistan are still a long way off from settling their disputes over several important issues, including the Kashmir-problem, they must be credited for adopting a cordial diplomatic approach towards each other. This is marked by recent Indo-Pak meeting, between foreign secretaries of the two countries, being viewed as “positive.” The amiable note on which the meeting was held between Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Islamabad is marked by their addressing a joint press conference and issuing a joint statement (June 24).

Without sidelining the “complexities” in Indo-Pak relationship, after the meeting, Rao told media persons: “We are inspired by our goal of the eventual normalization of the India-Pakistan relationship and the resolution of outstanding issues through peaceful, sustained and serious bilateral dialogue.” Spelling out India’s vision of bilateral ties with Pakistan, Rao asserted: “The ideology of military conflict should have no place in the paradigm of our relationship in the 21st century. Indeed, this relationship should be characterized by the vocabulary of peace,” in the interest of “our peoples” and “in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.” She described the meeting, spread over two days, as “positive” during which the two sides had “constructive and substantive discussion.”

“We have had a very productive and constructive engagement which was forward looking and imbued with a sense of purpose,” Bashir said. He pointed out: “I must underscore here that the quality of the engagement really matters and we have every reason to be satisfied with that quality.” Earlier, while welcoming Rao, Bashir said: “We welcome her for many reasons. It was some years ago that we started a process and I think that process is now well on its way.”

The comments made by both Rao and Bashir are suggestive of India and Pakistan’s keenness to continue their dialogue process with the aim of improving their bilateral ties. This is further highlighted by certain points included in the joint statement. The bilateral talks on peace and security, including confidence building measures (CBMs), Jammu & Kashmir as well as promotion of friendly exchanges were, according to the statement, “held in a frank and cordial atmosphere.” The two sides “reiterated their intention” to continue “the dialogue process in a constructive and purposeful manner.” They discussed the issues in a “comprehensive manner” and both sides “emphasized the importance of constructive dialogue to promote mutual understanding,” the statement said. This suggests India and Pakistan’s intention to backtrack from their stand of firing verbal missiles at each other, particularly on issues they entertain different stands on. This is further supported by their reference to the Kashmir-problem in the joint statement.

They “exchanged views” on Kashmir and “agreed to continue discussions in a purposeful and forward looking manner with the view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences,” according to the statement. This suggests that continuing dialogue on Kashmir is their priority and neither India nor Pakistan wants to the stall the bilateral dialogue process despite their entertaining differences on Kashmir. This is further supported by their agreement to consider measures for “strengthening and streamlining the existing trade and travel arrangements across the Line-of-Control (LoC) and propose modalities for introducing additional cross-LoC CBMs.” A meeting of a working group on Cross-LoC is expected to be held this July, the statement said.
The statement on terrorism too indicates a major change in India and Pakistan’s diplomatic stand towards each other. Refraining from blaming each other, they agreed that “terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security.” They “reiterated firm and undiluted commitment” to “fight and eliminate this scourge in all its forms and manifestations.” Besides, they agreed on the “need to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism.”

Defeating apprehensions of their being any nuclear tension between India and Pakistan, they decided to consider mutually acceptable measures to discuss implementation and strengthening of existing nuclear and conventional CBMS to “build trust and confidence and promote peace and security.”

India and Pakistan expressed satisfaction on progress made on finalization of Visa Agreement, which will “help liberalize visa regime” and “facilitate people-to-people, business-to-business and sports contacts,” the statement said. They also discussed measures to promote cooperation in various fields, which include, “facilitating visits to religious shrines, media exchanges, holding sports tournaments and cessation of hostile propaganda against each other.” In addition, they agreed that “people of the two countries are at the heart of the relationship and that humanitarian issues should be accorded priority and treated with sensitivity.”

The foreign secretaries are scheduled to meet again in New Delhi, ahead of the meeting Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers, which is expected to take place this July in the Indian capital city. Undeniably, the two foreign secretaries’ comments and the joint statement indicate the seriousness of India and Pakistan to improve their bilateral ties at various levels. Now, it is to be watched whether this “constructive” approach is seriously retained for a substantial period or not!

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Indo-Azerbaijan Ties With a Filmy & Romantic Touch!

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Bollywood icons, particularly Raj Kapoor and Nargis, may be viewed as actors of the past by Indian society, they still remain a favorite in Azerbaijan. This was revealed by members of Azerbaijani delegation who were in India last week. Led by Huseyn Bagirov, Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, the delegation was here for the first meeting of India-Azerbaijan Intergovernmental Commission, which was held on 26th November. The Indian side was led by Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya M. Scindia. Though held after being postponed a few times, the meeting is viewed by both sides as a major milestone in strengthening India-Azerbaijan ties. On sidelines of the meeting, members from both sides dismissed the delay in the meeting as an insignificant issue. Rather, they gave emphasis to the meeting being held, which they were “absolutely confident” would enhance their bilateral ties.

During their meeting, held in “an atmosphere of mutual understanding and traditional friendship,” the two sides “exchanged information on the current economic situation in their respective countries and opportunities that exist for further development of bilateral economic relationship,” sources said. They agreed to deliberate on measures to be “undertaken to increase the volume of bilateral trade on a balanced basis and to widen the trade basket of bilateral trade for mutual benefit.”  India is keen on entering into a long term contract with Azerbaijan for supply of crude oil, sources said.

India and Azerbaijan agreed “to develop economic ties” and explore “opportunities of implementation of mutual investment projects.” They aim to create a “friendly and positive atmosphere among businessmen of the two countries and contribute to enhancing mutual trade relations,” sources said.” The two sides decided to through “mutual diplomatic channels” develop “cooperation in field of oil-chemistry industry, especially oil treatment,” enhance technical cooperation and find possibilities for exchange of views in the field of agriculture, and explore opportunities for participation of Azerbaijan at workshops and trainings organized by India’s International Technical Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program and other technical assistance programs.

India and Azerbaijan also touched on issues such as their membership of International North-South transport corridor (INSTC). They expressed the need to “make joint efforts towards identifying issues and impediments in the smooth functioning of the Corridor and to further develop their relations in the area of transportation,” sources said. With Azerbaijan well endowed with good reserves of non-ferrous minerals like gold, aluminum, zinc, copper, molybdenum, chrome, rock salt, gypsum, limestone, bitumen, clay, marble, etc, they also viewed cooperation in the field of non-ferrous metallurgy as “mutually beneficial,” sources said
In the field of Communication & Information Technology, as India plays a leading role, the two sides deliberated on inking an agreement on bilateral cooperation. The delegates also agreed on their being “potential” for strengthening bilateral ties by expanding cooperation in areas such as agriculture, tourism, environment protection, health, education, customs issue, chemical & petrochemical sector and the engineering industry.

Ironically, though the meeting is viewed as a major beginning towards developing stronger bilateral ties between India and Azerbaijan at the diplomatic level, it served as an eye-opener to strong cultural and historical ties between the two countries. On sidelines of the meeting, the Azerbaijani members drew attention to the traditional folklore Laila-Majnu, on which several Hindi movies have been made. It can be traced to Azerbaijan, with Nizami Ganjavi, known as the greatest Azerbaijani poet, who lived in 12th century, having begun a new trend in poetry- the epic-romantic genre. The historic linkage is also marked by Azerbaijani-origins of Babur, the founder of Mughal dynasty in India. The outstanding monuments constructed during the Mughal period, include the Humayun tomb in Delhi. The architect of the tomb was from Azerbaijan.

What is perhaps most amazing is that cultural linkage between people of the two countries remains strong. Bollywood movies and film-stars are extremely popular in Azerbaijan. It was a pleasant surprise to find the visiting Azerbaijani delegates enjoying Hindi film songs being sung at a reception hosted in their honor by their country’s envoy to India, Tamerlan Karayev. Even though for several Azerbaijani delegates, it was a first visit to India, they seemed fairly familiar with Hindi movies as they easily voiced the names of films from which the various songs were being played. Elshad Nassirov, Vice President, State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, who has been to India before, revealed that amongst the most popular names used in his country, were Indian names, including that of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and film star Nargis. In his words: “You will find quite a few Indiras in Azerbaijan. It is a popular name there. So is Nargis. My wife’s name is Nargis.”

Muslims constitute more than ninety percent of Azerbaijan’s population. Earlier, a part of former superpower Soviet Union, Azerbaijan declared its independence on 18th October 1991. India recognized Azerbaijan in December 1991 and established diplomatic ties with it on 28th February 1992.

Notwithstanding the diplomatic formalities taking their own time in strengthening cooperation between India and Azerbaijan at the official level, there is little doubt that people have let their cultural ties remain undisturbed.  While Laila-Majnu, Shireen-Farhad and other romantic folklores traced to Azerbaijan remain popular here, Bollywood superstars, including Raj Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan are a favorite there!

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