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.

13-31

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.”

13-29

Electoral Verdict & Muslims’ Success!

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Declaration of results to the five state assembly elections has certainly ended political suspense regarding the fate of candidates and parties engaged in the political battle. It is now imperative to analyse the results particularly in context of electoral success of Indian Muslims. Before elaborating on Muslims’ standing in this political phase, it is relevant to evaluate the overall performance of major parties in the race. Undeniably, the success of Trinamool Congress in alliance with Congress in ousting the Left bloc from power in West Bengal stands out. The Left has been pushed out of power after having headed the state government for 34 years. Trinamool Chief Mamata Bannerjee, popularly known as Didi, has been hailed in most quarters for having succeeded in this mission. Having won 184 seats in polls held in 294 constituencies, the Trinamool has emerged as a major political force in West Bengal, as it has the needed the strength to form the government with or without support from its allies, including the Congress. The Congress has won 42 seats. Credit must be given to both the Trinamool and Congress parties for having fought the elections as allies. It was sensible of Congress not to have insisted on testing its political strength in all the constituencies without reaching any political understanding with Trinamool. The Congress tried this experiment earlier in Bihar assembly elections to only fail and make it easier for its rivals – National Democratic Alliance- to return to power in state with greater success than expected.

In contrast, Congress and its key ally- Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have failed miserably in Tamil Nadu. In polls held to 234 seats, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), led by J. Jayalalitha has won 150 seats. The DMK has secured only 23 and the Congress – five seats.

The Congress has fared well in Assam by winning 78 out of 126 seats. It is a hat trick for Congress leader Tarun Gogoi to return to power as Assam Chief Minister for the third term. Kerala has also spelt success for Congress but only with the support of its ally, Muslim League. Here, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) has been pushed out of power with the Congress-coalition that is the United Democratic Front (UDF) winning 72 seats in the battle for 140. The LDF managed only 68. While the Congress has won 38 seats, the 20 secured by Muslim League have played a major role in helping UDF form the new Kerala government. The elections to 30 constituencies in Pondicherry have witnessed victory for Congress in seven, AIADMK- five, DMK – two and others – 16.

Apart from stunning defeat faced by Left in West Bengal as well as its failure in Kerala to return to power, the political loss suffered by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot be sidelined. The BJP has won only one seat in West Bengal, five in Assam and none in South India. The five seats won in Assam are only half of the 10 BJP had in the preceding assembly. The BJP contested more than 800 seats in the five states’ assembly elections. Undeniably, the Congress has performed better, but it cannot be missed that except for in Assam, the party has not fared too well on its own strength. The Congress has won less than 50 percent of the seats it contested. The party has tasted success in only 170 of the 359 seats it contested. 

The assembly elections are also a crucial indicator of the increasing political importance of Muslim votes as well as Muslim parties. As mentioned earlier, the UDF’s success in Kerala would not have been possible without the state Muslim League as a key ally. The reverse is the case in Assam, where Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF) – led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Qasmi – has emerged as the leading party in the opposition. The BJP and its ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) have lost their position as the main opposition group to AUDF, which has won 18 seats. Though, nominally, unlike Kerala’s Muslim League, AUDF has not included any religious term in its label, the party is known as a Muslim party. Despite being in the political race only for the second term, AUDF has increased in its tally from 10 in the last assembly to 18 in the new one. What is more amazing is its emergence as the leading opposition party, the second most important party (after Congress) in the Assam assembly.
The percentage of Muslims in Assam is around 31 percent. Against 25 Muslim members in the last Assam assembly, there are 28 in the new one, with 16 from AUDF. West Bengal, with Muslims constituting 28 percent of the state’s population, has elected 59 Muslims, 13 more than in the earlier assembly. Twenty-five percent of Kerala’s population are Muslims. The state has elected 36 Muslims, 11 more than earlier, to the new assembly. Muslims constitute less than 13 percent of the population in both Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The two states have lesser Muslim members than they had in the outgoing assemblies. While Tamil Nadu has elected six members, Pondicherry has elected one, against the seven and two, both the states respectively had in the previous assemblies.
There is no denying that representation of Muslims in the five state assemblies remains below the mark it should be in keeping with their population. Nevertheless, the assembly elections indicate that their political importance and strength have definitely displayed a decisive increase in states where their population is more than 25 percent, which are West Bengal, Assam and Kerala. Interestingly, BJP’s political card has failed miserably in all the five states against the electoral verdict won by Muslim candidates as well as Muslim parties!

13-21