Saudi Arabia remains our strongest partner for energy security

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a bilateral meeting during the G20 Leaders’ Summit in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires in 2018. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 January 2023

Saudi Arabia remains our strongest partner for energy security

  • India poised to become the world’s reliable partner in global supply chains




Dr. Suhel Ajaz Khan

On the joyous occasion of the 74th Republic Day of India, I would like to extend my warm greetings and felicitations to all Indian nationals, persons of Indian origin and friends of India in Saudi Arabia.

This Republic Day comes amid the ongoing celebrations for Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, commemorating 75 years of India’s independence and its achievements, and also Amrit Kaal, in the lead up to [email protected]

As a comparatively young nation, India has emerged as one of the leading countries on the global stage in terms of educational, scientific, technological and economic progress, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

The country has been guided in this journey by its core democratic principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, as it has evolved into a truly pluralistic society that embraces diversity and is committed to providing equal opportunities for all its citizens.

At the same time, the age-old philosophy of Indian civilization, including “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” the idea that “the world is one family,” has continued to guide us and shape our approach to the world.

India is a proponent of reformed multilateralism and advocates for a democratic, rules-based and fair international order that emphasizes respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality of all nations, irrespective of size, population and military might.

India, as the largest democracy in the world, as one of the top economies in the world and as a voice of the Global South, has rightful aspirations to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

As the world gradually recovers from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is looking keenly at the growth story of a technology-enabled India, which has displayed an appetite for innovation and the adoption of technology, digitalization and automation. India is poised to become the world’s reliable partner in global supply chains.

It is estimated that India’s gross domestic product growth will be 7 percent this fiscal year, outpacing other major developing economies. India is now a $3.1 trillion economy, making it the fifth-largest in the world, and is well on course to becoming a $5 trillion economy.

India and Saudi Arabia have been friends for centuries and the bilateral relationship is based on mutual respect, trust and warmth. Since independence, India’s relations with the Kingdom have progressively evolved into a multifaceted and mutually beneficial strategic partnership encompassing several key areas of engagement, which include cultural exchanges, defense and security cooperation, trade and investments, healthcare, technology, energy security and food security. The large Indian diaspora has also contributed positively to the development journey of Saudi Arabia.

In recent years, bilateral commercial relations between India and the Kingdom have charted an unprecedented trajectory of growth, with an increasing number of business engagements in diverse fields.

Official statistics show that India is the second-largest trade partner for Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth-largest trade partner. In the current financial year, our trade figures, from April to November 2022, have already surpassed $36 billion, with year-on-year growth of more than 30 percent. Indian exports to Saudi Arabia were worth nearly $7 billion and imports from the Kingdom were valued at more than $29 billion.

Major Indian exports to Saudi Arabia include engineering goods, petroleum products, chemicals, cereals and food items, among other things. Saudi exports to India include mineral fuels, fertilizers, chemicals, plastics and more. Saudi Arabia remains our strongest partner for energy security.

Thanks to the flourishing opportunities that have emerged as part of Saudi Vision 2030 and Indian initiatives such as “Atmanirbhar Bharat” and “Make in India,” the bilateral exchange of investment has also expanded to include a variety of sectors in both economies.

Guided by the leadership’s vision, the Indian Embassy in Riyadh is working toward developing a comprehensive bilateral economic partnership comprising diverse and voluminous trade and investment ties. In this endeavor, the Council for Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Saudi-India Business Council have been constant partners for us.

During the visit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to India in 2019, the SIBC signed a memorandum of understanding with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry to expand bilateral trade relations.

In addition to the FICCI, other Indian trade promotion organizations, including the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Trade Promotion Council of India, and the National Association of Software and Service Companies, among others, are also keen to work with Saudi organizations to leverage the complementary strengths of both nations and further cement our economic ties.

We look forward to continuing to work closely with our Saudi partners to actualize the opportunities identified under the framework of the Strategic Partnership Council.

Bilateral engagements are expected to increase this year, as India has assumed the chairmanship of the G20. The theme of India’s G20 presidency is “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” — One Earth, One Family, One Future — and the country will host more than 200 meetings in more than 50 cities across 32 workstreams.

The Indian presidency of the G20 provides an opportunity for India and Saudi Arabia to cooperate closely in this important, multilateral domain in service of mutual interests.

India is also the chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Council of Heads of State, of which the Kingdom is a dialogue partner. This forum provides another platform for working together to achieve our shared objectives for the region.

India and Saudi Arabia are prominent G20 economies and enjoy a host of economic partnership avenues within the framework of the organization. As part of its ongoing G20 presidency, India is keen to explore potential opportunities for economic engagement with all of its G20 partners, including Saudi Arabia, in priority sectors such as health, infrastructure, education, startups, and attainment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Last year, multiple high-level visits on both sides enhanced the momentum of our burgeoning bilateral engagements. In August, Mansukh Mandivya, the Indian minister of health and family welfare and minister of chemicals and fertilizers, visited Saudi Arabia and had discussions with the Saudi leadership and private stakeholders about broadening our engagement in both the health and fertilizer sectors.

In September, S. Jaishankar, India’s external affairs minister, and Piyush Goyal, the commerce and industry minister, visited Riyadh and participated, respectively, in the ministerial meetings of the political and economic committees of the Saudi-Indian Strategic Partnership Council.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi minister of energy, and Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, visited India in October and November last year.

In addition to a traditionally strong energy partnership, as part of which Saudi Arabia is one of the largest suppliers of crude oil and liquefied natural gas to India, both countries are keen to expand bilateral ties to include new and novel areas of cooperation such as power grid interconnection, financial technology projects, green hydrogen, sustainable building materials, startup collaborations and Export-Import Bank of India projects.

Both sides are committed to removing barriers to trade and addressing regulatory issues to further increase bilateral trade and investment. India is also in discussions with GCC authorities for the resumption of Free Trade Agreement negotiations, which will enable us to gain from unrealized potential in terms of economic opportunities in Saudi Arabia, in particular, and the wider region, in general.

In the domain of bilateral defense ties, a number of things are happening. In 2022, a record number of ships visited Saudi Red Sea ports, and there was maritime cooperation in the form of naval exercises and seminars.

We are committed to expanding bilateral defense ties in the fields of emerging technologies, cybersecurity, electronic warfare, unmanned aerial systems, and space. Convergence in defense industry initiatives is also underway, in sync with the Vision 2030 and Self Reliant India policies of the two countries.

In the field of education, India and Saudi Arabia have several avenues of engagement, particularly within the context of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and India’s New Education Policy 2020. Several Saudi universities are keen to forge meaningful collaborations with reputed institutions of higher learning in India, including the Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management, the Indian Institute of Science, and leading universities.

Saudi Arabia hosts about 2.3 million Indians whose contribution to the socioeconomic development and cultural enrichment of the Kingdom is widely acknowledged and appreciated. Over the years, the profile of the Indian diaspora in the Kingdom has diversified significantly to include entrepreneurs, investors, bankers and CEOs of companies, in addition to doctors, engineers and academics.

The Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia has emerged as a major source of foreign remittances in India. The diaspora also acts as a bridge between the two countries and plays an important role in strengthening bilateral relations.

As we commemorate 75 years of diplomatic ties between India and Saudi Arabia, I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for guiding the bilateral relationship in a new direction and enabling the two countries to realize the full potential that exists between them. Indian leadership is also fully committed to making our relationship stronger and more diversified.

I am honored and fortunate to have been given the important assignment as ambassador of India to Saudi Arabia at this exciting time in our relations. I am already touched by the warmth and affection shown to me by various senior Saudi officials immediately upon my arrival here.

I look forward to receiving support from all our Saudi friends, in both the government and private sectors, and also to partnering with the Indian community in the Kingdom to take our relationship to new and greater heights.

Long live the India-Saudi relationship.

 

Dr. Suhel Ajaz Khan

India’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.


Moscow warns Israel against supplying arms to Ukraine

Updated 12 sec ago

Moscow warns Israel against supplying arms to Ukraine

MOSCOW: Russia on Wednesday warned Israel against supplying weapons to Ukraine after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was considering military aid for Kyiv and was willing to mediate in the conflict.
“We say that all countries that supply weapons (to Ukraine) should understand that we will consider these (weapons) to be legitimate targets for Russia’s armed forces,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters.

Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years

Updated 01 February 2023

Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years

  • As Europe battles a cost-of-living crisis, Britain's umbrella labour organisation the Trades Union Congress called it the "biggest day of strike action since 2011"
  • Unions have accused millionaire Sunak of being out of touch with the challenges faced by ordinary working people struggling to make ends meet

LONDON: Half a million workers went on strike in Britain on Wednesday, calling for higher wages in the largest such walkout in over a decade, closing schools and severely disrupting transport.
As Europe battles a cost-of-living crisis, Britain’s umbrella labor organization the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called it the “biggest day of strike action since 2011.”
The latest strikes come a day after more than 1.27 million took to the streets in France, increasing pressure on the French government over pension reform plans.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called for pay rises to be “reasonable” and affordable” warning that big pay rises would jeopardize attempts to tame inflation.
But unions have accused millionaire Sunak of being out of touch with the challenges faced by ordinary working people struggling to make ends meet in the face of low paid, insecure work and spiralling costs.
Teachers and train drivers were among the latest groups to act, as well as border force workers at UK air and seaports.
“The workload is always bigger and bigger and with the inflation our salary is lower and lower,” London teacher Nigel Adams, 57, told AFP as he joined thousands of teachers marching through central London.
“We’re exhausted. We’re paying the price and so are the children,” he added as protesters held up placards reading “Pay Up” and “We can’t put your kids first if you put their teachers last.”
Britain has witnessed months of strikes by tens of thousands of workers — including postal staff, lawyers, nurses and employees in the retail sector — as UK inflation raced above 11 percent, the highest level in more than 40 years.
Job center worker and union representative, Graham, who preferred not to give his last name said workers had no choice but to strike faced with soaring costs.
“Some of our members, even though they are working, still have to make visits to food banks,” he said.
“Not only are wages not keeping up, but things like fares, council tax and rents are going up. Anything we get is eaten away,” he added.
At London’s King’s Cross rail station, Kate Lewis, a 50-year-old charity worker, said she sympathized with the strikers despite her train being delayed.
“I understand. We are all in the same boat. All impacted by inflation,” she said.
Another major commuter hub in the capital, London Bridge station, was completely closed.
One train driver who gave his name as Tony, 61, said the sort of pay rises on offer were insulting, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
“We worked all through Covid. We were being praised as key workers and then there is this slap in the face,” he said.
“I was leaving (home) at 3 am to go to work. People were having barbecues, you could hear the bottles. I think we deserve a pay increase that keeps up with inflation.”
Government and company bosses are standing firm over wage demands.
With thousands of schools closed for the day, Education Minister Gillian Keegan told Times Radio she was “disappointed” teachers had walked out.
But union boss Mark Serwotka said the government’s position was “unsustainable.”
“It’s not feasible that they can sit back with this unprecedented amount of industrial action growing, because it’s half a million today,” he told Sky News.
“Next week, we have paramedics, and we have nurses, then will then be the firefighters,” he added, warning that unions were prepared to strike throughout the summer.
Prime Minister Sunak on Wednesday told parliament the government had given teachers the “highest pay rise in 30 years” including nine percent for newly qualified teachers.
He urged opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer to say “that the strikes are wrong and we should be backing our school children“
The latest official data shows 1.6 million working days were lost from June-November last year because of strikes — the highest six-month total in more than three decades — according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
A total of 467,000 working days were lost to walkouts in November alone, the highest level since 2011, the ONS added.
Alongside the strikes, unions are also staging rallies across the country against the Conservative government’s plans to legislate against public sector strike action.
Sunak has introduced a draft law requiring some frontline workers to maintain a minimum level of service during walkouts.


India raises defense budget to $72.6 billion amid tensions with China, Pakistan

Updated 01 February 2023

India raises defense budget to $72.6 billion amid tensions with China, Pakistan

  • India employs 1.38 million people in its armed forces with large numbers deployed along borders with China and Pakistan
  • South Asian giant plans to spend nearly $3 billion for naval fleet construction and $7 billion for air force procurements

NEW DELHI: India proposed on Wednesday 5.94 trillion rupees ($72.6 billion) in defense spending for the 2023-24 financial year, 13 percent up from the previous period’s initial estimates, aiming to add more fighter jets and roads along its tense border with China.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated 1.63 trillion rupees for defense capital outlays — an expenditure that would include new weapons, aircraft, warships and other military hardware, as she unveiled nearly $550 billion of total federal spending in the annual budget for 2023-24 starting in April.

She said 2.77 trillion rupees would be devoted to military salaries and benefits in 2023-24, 1.38 trillion on pensions for retired soldiers, and further amounts for miscellaneous items.

Sitharaman also revised the defense budget for the current financial year ending in March to 5.85 trillion rupees from earlier estimates of 5.25 trillion.

In the past few years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ramped up spending to modernize the military, while underlining his government’s commitment to boosting domestic production to supply forces deployed along two contentious borders.

Laxman Behera, a defense expert at government-funded Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said the hike in the defense budget was “reasonable but not sufficient,” considering requirements for military modernization.

“The government has tried to allocate reasonable funds for defense forces while balancing other priorities during the pre-election budget,” he said, noting India needed more funds in view of growing friction with China along disputed borders.

The total Indian defense budget, estimated at about 2 percent of GDP, is still lower than China’s 1.45 trillion yuan ($230 billion) in allocations for 2022, which New Delhi sees as posing a threat to neighbors including India and Japan.

“The overall increase in the armed forces’ budget is as anticipated, but likely lower than what they asked for to beef up operational capabilities,” said Amit Cowshish, former financial adviser for acquisitions at the Defense Ministry.

India plans to spend near 242 billion rupees ($3 billion) for naval fleet construction and 571.4 billion rupees ($7 billion) for air force procurements including more aircraft, the latest budget document showed.

The South Asian giant employs 1.38 million people in its armed forces, with large numbers deployed along borders with nuclear-armed rivals China and Pakistan.

Although the defense budget allocations fell short of military expectations, they are likely to grow as the economy recovers from two years of pandemic curbs, according to Behera.

India and China share a 3,500-kilometer (2,100-mile) frontier that has been disputed since the 1950s. The two sides went to war over it in 1962.

At least 24 soldiers were killed when the armies of the Asian giants clashed in Ladakh, in the western Himalayas, in 2020 but tensions eased after military and diplomatic talks.

A fresh clash erupted in the eastern Himalayas in December last year but no deaths were reported.


Iran hands 10-year jail sentences to young couple over viral dance video

Updated 01 February 2023

Iran hands 10-year jail sentences to young couple over viral dance video

  • Astiyazh Haghighi and her fiance Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, both in their early 20s, were arrested in early November
  • The arrest happened after a video went viral of them dancing romantically in front of the Azadi Tower in Tehran

PARIS: An Iranian court has handed jail sentences of over 10 years each to a young couple who danced in front of one of Tehran’s main landmarks in a video seen as a symbol of defiance against the regime, activists said on Tuesday.

Astiyazh Haghighi and her fiance Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, both in their early 20s, had been arrested in early November after a video went viral of them dancing romantically in front of the Azadi Tower in Tehran.

Haghighi did not wear a headscarf in defiance of the Islamic republic’s strict rules for women, while women are also not allowed to dance in public in Iran, let alone with a man.

A revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced them each to 10 years and six months in prison, as well as bans on using the Internet and leaving Iran, the US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said.

The couple, who already had a following in Tehran as popular Instagram bloggers, were convicted of “encouraging corruption and public prostitution” as well as “gathering with the intention of disrupting national security,” it added.

HRANA cited sources close to their families as saying they had been deprived of lawyers during the court proceedings while attempts to secure their release on bail have been rejected.

It said Haghighi is now in the notorious Qarchak prison for women outside Tehran, whose conditions are regularly condemned by activists.

Iranian authorities have clamped down severely on all forms of dissent since the death in September of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the headscarf rules, sparked protests that have turned into a movement against the regime.

At least 14,000 people have been arrested, according to the United Nations, ranging from prominent celebrities, journalists and lawyers to ordinary people who took to the streets.

The couple’s video had been hailed as a symbol of the freedoms demanded by the protest movement, with Ahmadi at one moment lifting his partner in the air as her long hair flowed behind.

One of the main icons of the Iranian capital, the gigantic and futuristic Azadi (Freedom) Tower is a place of huge sensitivity.

It opened under the rule of the last shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the early 1970s when it was known as the Shahyad (In Memory of the Shah) Tower.

It was renamed after the shah was ousted in 1979 with the creation of the Islamic republic. Its architect, a member of the Bahai faith which is not recognized in today’s Iran, now lives in exile.


Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut

Updated 01 February 2023

Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut

  • They are among millions of people who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 last year

BAKHMUT: Ukrainian police staged a risky rescue mission in the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut this week to evacuate a six-year-old girl who had become separated from her pregnant mother.
Young Arina was found living with her grandparents in a run-down apartment building in Bakhmut, which has been pummelled by Russian forces in heavy fighting.
After trudging through snow to reach Arina, with artillery fire echoing in the distance, policeman Pavlo Dyachenko and two colleagues in combat gear drove Arina to the nearby city of Sloviansk to be reunited with her mother, Halyna Danylchenko.
“A shell exploded in our yard!” Arina, clutching a large white teddy bear, told her mother after they hugged.
“I heard that a shell exploded in your yard, that’s why I got so worried,” said Danylchenko, who is 24 and eight months pregnant.

They are among millions of people who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 last year.
Dyachenko said there were still about 200 children living in Bakhmut. The city was home to about 70,000 people before the war but officials say only a few thousand residents now remain.
“We’re meeting the families that are still there and talk to them, trying to convince them to agree to be evacuated, either the whole family or the children. Because children must live in a peaceful environment,” he told Reuters.
He had to gently coax Arina into leaving Bakhmut, calmly explaining the dangers of remaining.
“Are there any other children you can play with here?” Dyachenko asked the young girl after finder her in Bakhmut.

“No,” she replied, and started to cry.
“You’re supposed to be in a safe place. Do you understand?,” another officer said. “Do they shoot and shell a lot here?“
Arina nodded in reply.
One of the officers then put a bright orange helmet on her head, explaining: “This is for when we go outside, so that nothing can hit your head.”
They left the building to the sound of shelling, got into a waiting van and left for safety.