Enforcing the ties
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Saudi Arabia for attending the third session of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) Forum in Riyadh is expected to cement the existing bilateral relations between the two countries which have stepped up spectacularly in recent times. Signing a raft of key pacts upon the Indian Prime Minister's two-day visit to the Middle Eastern nation on October 29 will significantly ramp up ties in several key sectors including oil and gas, renewable energy, and civil aviation. Besides the highlight of Prime Minister Narendra Modi signing an MoU to roll out RuPay card, India's digital payment system in Saudi Arabia during his trip, the major pacts to be signed include an agreement to launch an India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council and a separate one on bringing coordination between e-migration systems of the two countries. Both sides seek to deliberate on further enhancing defence and security cooperation, with a significant development of the first naval exercise between the two nations to take place by end of this year or early next year. In this direction, India is currently training Saudi defence personnel. Saudi cadet officers are being trained in Pune and twenty-six Saudi officers are attending a course on security issues in Gujarat Forensic Sciences University. As far as the topic of the season is concerned, Saudi Arabia has shown understanding about recent developments in Kashmir valley. Concerning the inevitable Pakistan in picture, both India and Saudi Arabia have concerns over terrorism which reflected in the joint statement issued after Crown Prime Salman's visit to New Delhi in February. The two countries are looking ahead to finalise and proceed with the ambitious west coast refinery project in Raigarh in Maharastra which will involve investments from Saudi oil giant Aramco, UAE's Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and Indian public sector oil firms. With the need to expand energy ties, India and Saudi Arabia will also sign an MoU for a joint venture between Indian Oil Middle East and with Saudi company Al Jeri for downstream cooperation and setting up of fuel retail business in the Gulf country. Riyadh is invited to participate in India's strategic petroleum reserves and New Delhi hopes to finalise an MoU for it during the Prime Minister Modi's visit to the Gulf country. Saudi Arabia is an important partner to India as it is a key pillar of India's energy security, being a source of at least 17 per cent of crude oil and 32 per cent of LPG requirements of the country. Finalising investment in India's national infrastructure investment fund is another crucial area apart from the key agreement both sides intend to finalise in the area of migration and protecting interests of Indian work force in the country. The entire spectrum of areas in which India associates with Saudi Arabia is a glimpse into the deep importance of nurturing relations between the two countries.
Relations between India and Saudi Arabia are generally strong and close, particularly with respect to commercial interests. Indo-Saudi bilateral trade reached US$27.48 billion in the financial year 2017–18, up from US$25.1 billion in the preceding year. Saudi Arabia's exports to India stood at US$22.06 billion whereas India's exports were US$5.41 billion. Bring these two nations closer in terms of both states and nations, a framework for aligning e-migration system of both the countries is expected to be finalised with the launch of the integration of e-migrate system and the Saudi system. As a subsidiary component, separate pact will be signed to increase number of flights between the two countries. With respect to people-to-people contacts, the Saudi King agreed to raise the Haj quota for India from 1,75,025 to 2 lakhs from the current year and the decision has already been implemented. As much as there is an understanding of similar cultural needs and practices on the Indian side, there is also an understanding on general humanitarian grounds which comes established as Saudi Arabia has already released nearly 450 Indian prisoners as agreed to during the visit of the Crown Prince to India in February. Both sides are already in agreement to launch the India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council to coordinate decisions regarding strategically important issues. The council will be headed by Prime Minister Modi and Crown Prince Salman and it will meet at an interval of two years. The importance of this Council must be emphasised not only with respect to regional strategic purposes but also given that India's notorious neighbour Pakistan has a tendency to be brash in its conduct and lean on the Middle Eastern giant for support. Having the confidence of Saudi Arabia is bound to be of tremendous significance to India as it will signal Pakistan of India making its way in their refuge. Both sides are also expected to discuss terrorism, an area of very grave concern for India. Considering that this visit of Prime Minister Modi comes in the backdrop of the situation in Kashmir that has still not normalised, it may be interpreted as a win of Modi-style of diplomacy when Saudi Arabia decided to issue a rather bland statement on Kashmir proved a victory for the Modi brand of diplomacy. As the Indian Prime Minister will likely woo Saudi investors amidst promises of a $100 billion investment, India-Saudi Arabia ties are clearly on the rise and will reach a new level of bilateral association and closeness with Modi's to visit kingdom.