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 Tradâ€™s words: â€œMy 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.â€
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 â€œopened a new chapter in Indo-Saudi bilateral relations.â€ The King referred to India as his â€œsecond home.â€ 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 Kingâ€™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 â€œnew era of strategic partnershipâ€ between India and Saudi Arabia.
Elaborating on Indian Prime Ministerâ€™s Saudi-visit, which has taken place during his tenure, Trad said: â€œSaudi-India relations have now reached a level of Strategic Partnership. The roads are indeed paved for a bright future.â€
Reflecting on recent developments, Trad said: â€œDuring 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.â€ 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 â€œcomplete cooperationâ€ 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 Indiaâ€™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 â€œworth $24 billion and is poised for increase every day,â€ Trad stated.
Saudi Arabia is Indiaâ€™s largest supplier of crude oil, accounting for almost one-fifth of the countryâ€™s needs. To meet Indiaâ€™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: â€œThe 2.2 Indians who live in the Kingdom support nearly 25 million at home (India).â€
Haj diplomacy is also a major component of Indo-Saudi bilateral ties. More than 1,70,000 Indians perform Haj every year.
During Tradâ€™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.