New Delhi, Feb 27 : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh embarks on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday with an aim to bolster strategic ties including defence and security cooperation to promote greater stability in the region. He willbe accompanied by a high-level delegation.
An extradition treaty and several other agreements are likely to be signed during his visit, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 28 years, which is packed with a heavy agenda. Indira Gandhi was the last Prime Minister to visit the oil-rich Kingdom in 1982.
Accompanying the prime minister is a high-level delegation including Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma, Minister for Petroleum and Gas Murli Deora, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, senior officials and a 25-member CEOs delegation from corporate India.
Several bilateral agreements covering areas of security, science and technology, culture and media are expected to be signed during the course of the visit.
The prime minister’s visit comes four years after the historic visit of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to India in 2006.
Noting that his visit carries "special significance", Singh said in his departure statement that the Gulf region is an area of vital importance for New Delhi’s security and prosperity.
"There is great scope for opening new frontiers of cooperation in the areas of security, defence, science and technology, space, human resources development and knowledge- based industries," he said.
The Prime Minister said he will hold talks with King Abdullah on "how we can promote greater stability and security in the region, and impart a strategic character to our relations beyond the traditional areas of our cooperation".
The Prime Minister said he believed India and Saudi Arabia have "much to gain by cooperating with each other in combating extremism and terrorism".
"I expect to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and other regional issues of mutual interest," he said, adding he has a "vast agenda" for discussions with the Saudi leadership.
Observing that his visit reflected the strong mutual desire of both countries to reinvigorate the ties, Singh said India and Saudi Arabia have enjoyed special relations based on several millennia of civilisational and cultural linkages and people to people exchanges.
The Kingdom is India’s largest and "most reliable" supplier of energy needs from the region, he said, adding Saudi Arabia is home to about 1.8 million Indian community people. As many as 1,65,000 Indian pilgrims perform the Haj annually, he said.
Though the trade and investment linkages have grown, they remain much below the potential of two economies and must be broad-based, said Singh, heading a high-level business delegation of CEOs including Mukesh Ambani of RIL, Essar’s Shashi Ruia and IT poster boys Azim Premji and S Ramadorai.
Bilateral trade between the two countries during 2008-09 exceeded USD 25 billion.
Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor are part of the delegation.
Singh’s visit comes four years after the landmark visit of King Abdullah who was the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations here in 2006.
The Prime Minister said the Delhi Declaration the two countries signed on that occasion constituted a valuable blueprint for future cooperation between the two countries.
During his visit, Singh will also address the influential Shoura Council, a unique honour bestowed upon select dignitaries.
Before leaving Riyadh, Singh will address the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry as also interact with a cross section of the Indian community there.
Indians in Saudi Arabia excited over PM visit
The 1.6-million strong expatriate Indian community in Saudi Arabia is excited over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s three-day visit here and is hoping to gain from it in terms of jobs and security.
"Everybody here is excited about the visit as it will significantly boost the profile of the Indian community in this country," Syed Zia-ur Rahman, editor of NRI portal YaHind.com, said.
"The fact that the prime minister will address the Shura Council (or Majlis as-Shura, the legislative body) is a matter of great pride for us," Rahman, who hails from Andhra Pradesh, said.
He said apart from enhanced cooperation in trade and investment, Indians in Saudi Arabia are hoping that the visit would help them in terms of jobs and security. "We hope that the visit would go a long way in addressing the problems of Indian labourers here," Rahman said, adding: "Many of these problems are accentuated by language barriers."
A vast majority of Indians in the Arabian Gulf
nation are engaged as blue-collar workers in the country’s construction sector.
According to Rahman, the population of Indians in Saudi Arabia is bound to increase as the kingdom is building a series of mega cities in its development march and there will be many job openings.
Saudi Ambassador to India Faisal Hassan Trad said the 1.6 million Indians comprise the largest expatriate community in his country.
Trad, who came here ahed of Manmohan Singh’s visit, told IANS: "We have around seven million expatriates in Saudi Arabia. So that makes Indians the largest expatriate group. There are people of around 100 nationalities from all Arab, Muslim and western countries."
Stating that Indians have always been welcome in his country, the ambassador said they have helped in the development of Saudi Arabia.
"Also, on the other side, they have helped the Indian economy through their remittances. Those workers remit something around five billion dollars every year. So, you can imagine how this is useful for both sides," he said.
Stating that Indians are among most peaceful people in his country, Trad said: "They (Indians in Saudi Arabia) are humble, they are obedient and they do not have a short temper. That is very important."
According to Trad, the trend of Indians going to Saudi Arabia for jobs will continue, especially in the healthcare sector.
"I believe, during the last year alone, nearly 3,000 visas were issued in the health sector. There is great demand for physicians, lab technicians and nurses, especially Indian nurses. They (Indian nurses) have become number one on the list for both government and private hospitals because of their quality and humanity," he said.
Agreed Abid Moiz, president of the Riyadh-based Indian Doctors Forum. "There are many new healthcare projects coming up in the private sector," he said from Riyadh.
"There is an increasing demand for Indian doctors and nurses."
Moreover, Abid said, the fact that there are 1.6 million Indians in Saudi Arabia makes Indian doctors, nurses and paramedical staff the most preferred.
According to Owais Ahmed, president of the Indian Business Forum in Riyadh, the image of Indians in Saudi Arabia today is different from what it was 10 years ago.
"Today, they (Saudis) look at Indians as friends," he said.
Jayaseelan, president of the Indian Tamil Fine Arts Association in Riyadh, said the profile of Indians among Saudis has undergone a sea change in the last few years, especially since the historic visit of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to India in 2006.
"King Abdullah’s comment in New Delhi that India was his second home completely changed the image of India and Indians among the Saudi people," Jayaseelan said, adding that the prime minister’s visit is very important to consolidate this feeling.
PM arrives in Saudi Arabia on historic visit
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Riyadh on Saturday on a historic three-day trip to Saudi Arabia, becoming the first Indian prime minister to visit the Gulf country in 28 years.
Manmohan Singh is the first Indian prime minister to visit Saudi Arabia after then prime minister Indira Gandhi came here in 1982. His trip comes four years after the historic visit of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to India in 2006.
A slew of agreements covering security, science and technology, culture and media are expected to be signed during this visit. A joint investment fund is also likely to be set up.
The prime minister is accompanied by Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, senior government officials and a 25-member delegation of CEOs from corporate India. Saudi Arabia is home to 1.8 million expatriate Indians.