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Saudi Arabia looks at post-oil age; ties with India growing in importance

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This September 23 marks the 89th anniversary of the unification of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by King Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud. The glorious history of our nation was made by the sacrifices of our founder King and his successors who transformed our great country into a regional leader and global economic power.

Saudi Arabia continues its illustrious journey of progress under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.

We are working towards transforming our economy, governance and society to achieve the dreams envisaged by our leadership for our great nation. Under the ambitious Vision 2030, we are now looking at a post-oil age of world-class technological research, startup development, entrepreneurial vigour and vast investment opportunities.

Our leadership has placed the Saudi citizens and their aspirations at the heart of Vision 2030. The entire development narrative of the Kingdom rests on three pillars — to build a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation.

The Kingdom’s economic and social reforms are beginning to bear fruit and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects our non-oil real growth to rise by 2.9 per cent in 2019. The current IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook has ranked Saudi Arabia in the 26th position, making the Kingdom the seventh most competitive country among our G20 peers. The World Bank too has ranked the Kingdom as the fourth largest reformer within G20.

We aim to be among the top 10 capital markets in the world by 2030. We are also focusing on logistics. Our aim is to attract 1.6 trillion riyals in private investments over the next decade through National Industrial Development and Logistics Program.

Multiple giga-projects including Neom, Qiddiya, Red Sea Tourism Project etc. are all set to change the touristic map of Saudi Arabia. Special mention goes to Green Riyadh, one of the world’s largest urban greening projects. With the planting of 7.5 million trees, the green cover in the Saudi capital will increase from 1.5 per cent to 9.1 per cent of the total area.

The per capita green space availability will thus increase to nearly thrice of World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation. The project will help reduce average ambient temperature by 2 degrees Celsius and use more than one million cubic metres of treated sewage effluent daily for irrigation.

King Salman Park Project is yet another grand project slated to become the world’s biggest city park — complete with a National Theatre, an Opera House and an 18-hole royal golf course.

As part of the Vision, the Kingdom is aiming at localising strategic technologies and enabling Saudi young people to work with advanced state-of-the-art technologies.

With a $12 billion IT market and a $10 billion emerging technology market, the Kingdom is today one of the world’s most attractive economies. Our strong digital infrastructure has increased the mobile internet speed four times, surpassing the global average; increased fiber network coverage by 50 per cent to more than one million additional houses and provided 100 per cent internet access.

The newly strengthened communication infrastructure has also enabled the health sector to aspire to contribute about $500 million to the GDP by 2030. Our e-government initiative is building government institutions that are effective, transparent and accountable — we are issuing commercial licences within 24 hours, renewing passports in five minutes and issuing digital authorisation in less than 10 minutes.

We are also aiming at full automation of Haj related processes to make the journey more comfortable. The Maqam online portal is issuing electronic visas within minutes of completing the forms. New technologies have been implemented at the Jeddah and Madinah airports to facilitate the pilgrims. Makkah Road Initiative is also enabling the pilgrims to enter the Kingdom via dedicated lanes in record time.

In partnership with the private sector, we are also developing cloud technologies to unify all pilgrim-related data so that real-time insights can be used to improve crowd management, transport and logistics. We are also tapping into mobile applications and the IoT to promote digitally administered services for the pilgrims.

Developing a robust infrastructure for public and commercial transport is quintessential to realising our dreams for our nation. The Kingdom is investing heavily on building modern transportation networks to strengthen its position as a distinct logistics platform between the three continents — Asia, Europe and Africa.

The new Riyadh Metro will be able to carry 1.16 million passengers daily, while the Riyadh Bus Network will be able to carry about 900,000 passengers every day to feed the Metro trains. They are part of the ambitious Riyadh Public Transit Network Project (RPTN).

Saudi Railway Company (SAR) and Huawei will work together to jointly design and innovate in the field of smart railways, including the application of a next-generation railway wireless network, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, cloud services and 5G across SAR’s railway network. In this context, the Haramain High-Speed Railway has become fully operational with the capacity of transporting 60 million people annually between Makkah and Madinah.

Saudi Arabia is leading the global campaign against terrorism, terror financing and extremism. We recently became the first Arab country to gain membership of the elite Financial Action Task Force that works against terror financing. Our leadership’s endeavour to promote peace and stability in the region has been persistent.

Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a historic peace agreement in September 2018 in Jeddah in the presence of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, ending over two decades of conflict. The UN Secretary-General lauded the Kingdom and its leadership’s role in contributing towards bringing the two parties together and facilitating the peace agreement.

Our values guide us in our humanitarian endeavour. The Kingdom’s development and humanitarian assistance amounted to 3.7 per cent of the Saudi GDP, surpassing the UN proposed rate of 0.7 per cetn of GDP. The Kingdom has been instrumental in extending financial aid estimated at $116 billion to 95 developing countries.

As providing adequate funding to implement Sustainable Development Goals is one of the most important challenges facing the world, as hosts of G20 Summit in November 2020, we are determined to ensure sustainability through an agenda focused on climate change, food security, access to energy and water, and investment in human capital.

We look forward to India’s continued partnership. Saudi Arabia has valued India as a close friend and valuable strategic partner. Our dynamic cultural, economic and political partnership is based on mutual respect and shared interests.

There are nearly 3 million Indians who live and work in Saudi Arabia and their contribution in the development of the Kingdom has been significant. Our newly announced residency permit scheme for qualified international expatriates will further attract global entrepreneurs, innovators and investors from India and across the world.

The visit of HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz earlier this year to India has been a historic milestone in terms of bilateral co-operation between our two countries with the setting up of the Strategic Partnership Council. Saudi Arabia is looking at making investments in India potentially worth $100 billion in the areas of energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture, minerals and mining, manufacturing, education and health.

There is huge untapped potential available in merchandise trade, particularly in non-oil trade and we are enhancing cooperation in economic, commercial, investment, cultural and technological fields. This year, more than 40 opportunities of joint collaboration and investments across various sectors have been identified and our current bilateral trade of approximately $34 billion will undoubtedly continue to increase in near future.

Saudi Aramco’s proposed investments in India’s energy sector such as the $44 billion West Coast Refinery and Petrochemical project in Maharashtra and long term partnership with Reliance reflects Saudi Arabia’s commitment of working together with India for development and prosperity of our two peoples.

The visit indeed heralded a new dawn for Saudi-India ties, marked by the inauguration of the new diplomatic complex of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. The occasion was graced by the presence of Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Member of the Cabinet Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir and the late Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj. The building has been designed to symbolise the architecture of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and convey a hospitable relationship between the Saudi Arabian Embassy and the Indian people.

On the margins of the G20 Summit in Japan this June, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and further discussed deepening bilateral cooperation in trade and investment, energy security and counter-terrorism, among other areas. As we explore new avenues together, the historic bonds between our two peoples will continue its importance as an anchor of our friendly ties and strategic partnership.

(The author is Saudi Ambassador to India. The article is written on the occasion of the 89th National Day of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)

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SFJ annouces $1M aid for agitating farmers, agencies vigilant

The SFJ had announced anti-India campaign, ‘Referendum-2020’, in November this year to seek secession of Punjab from India.

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Farmers Delegation

New Delhi: As thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are rallying at Delhi’s three interstate border points, banned secessionist group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) is trying to fish in troubled waters by announcing $1 million aid for farmers who suffered injuries or damage to their vehicles while facing police action in Haryana.

The information has sent security agencies into a tizzy, with many deployed on protest spots in plainclothes to keep a close tab on SFJ supporters who may mingle with protesters as part of their “ill-intention” to lure innocent farmers and take undue advantage of the situation in the name of helping them.

In its recent announcement through a social media platform, the SFJ said it will provide $1 million aid to farmers from “Punjab and Haryana who have suffered bodily injuries or damage to their vehicles while facing police action during their hard-fought journey to Delhi”.

The SFJ’s message mentions its plan for opening a 24-hour call centre on November 30 in the US, Canada, the UK, France and Germany to accept online applications from farmers of Punjab and Haryana to reimburse for their losses and also to register votes for its “Khalistan Referendum”.

“SFJ is kick-starting the Khalistan Referendum voting from London on August 15, 2021 for the independence of Punjab,” mentions the message circulated by SFJ’s US-based General Counsel and group’s key leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun — designated a terrorist by the Indian government.

Assuring farmers of Punjab and Haryana that the SFJ will bear all the losses they have suffered, Pannun stated that “once Punjab is liberated from Indian occupation, the loans of the farmers will be waived and free power supply granted”.

The group has also threatened to take up the matter at the international level if the Indian government did not repeal its three contentious farm laws enacted in September.

“If the Modi government does not scrap the farm bills, as demanded by the farmers, SFJ will initiate legal action against India at the international level with the backing of various kisan organisations,” Pannun said in the message.

Security establishment, including anti-terror agencies, have since intensified efforts against the group banned by the MHA via a notification dated July 10 last year under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) following its “anti-India activities” to disrupt law and order in the country.

However, the security officials maintained, no suspicious activity of the group has been noticed in the national capital or in the interstate border areas so far, even as central agencies are keeping a strict vigil to avoid any untoward activity.

It is the third such message circulated by the SFJ in the past one week. The SFJ earlier this week had called upon farmers of Punjab and Haryana to raise Khalistan flag at the India Gate here on the 12th anniversary of a terrorist attack in Mumbai on November 26, following which the national capital was put on high alert.

The SFJ had announced anti-India campaign, ‘Referendum-2020’, in November this year to seek secession of Punjab from India.

The move followed inputs that the Sikh community across India has rejected the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) sponsored propaganda of ‘Referendum-2020’. Pakistani intelligence agency ISI has been backing the malicious campaign launched by the SFJ as a large number of Pakistani Twitter handles have started tweeting in favour of the so-called ‘Referendum’.

Dubbing Sikhs in Kashmir as “freedom fighters and Sikh soldiers”, the US-based Khalistani radical outfit has urged them to support its most infamous agenda, ‘Referendum-2020’.

The group is already on the radar of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has been taking action against its key leaders such as Pannun and many others. In the beginning of September, based on NIA’s inputs, the MHA had issued an order to attach the properties of Pannun and SFJ’s Canada coordinator Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

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Punjabi diaspora worried, shocked over ‘brutality’ against farmers

“Farmers are peacefully protesting over controversial bills that will impact their livelihoods. Water cannons and tear gas, are being used to silence them.”

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Farmers Beaten

Chandigarh, Nov 29: The planned protest against new farm laws and the ‘brutality’ of the security forces by lobbing teargas shells and using water cannons to stop the peaceful march of the farmers towards the national capital has left the diaspora largely from Canada worried and shocked.

They asked the Indian government to engage in an open dialogue with the farmers as their livelihoods are going to be impacted.

Expressing solidarity with the farmers, Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the reports of peaceful protesters being brutalized were very troubling.

“Many of my constituents have family there and are worried about the safety of their loved ones. Healthy democracies allow peaceful protest. I urge those involved to uphold this fundamental right,” he tweeted on Sunday.

Joining the issue, Sonia Sidhu, MP for Brampton South, Canada, tweeted, “I received many messages from constituents concerned in Brampton South about the situation in India.

“My residents told me how worried they are about the protests of the Punjab farmers. I share their concerns and hope that the situation will be resolved peacefully.”

Joining her counterpart, Ruby Sahota, MP for Brampton (North), said the determination and resilience of the farmers is admirable.

“In a free and just society one should be able to advocate for their cause without the threat of force being used against them. The brutality being faced by the Indian farmers in these images is deplorable,” she said in a tweet.

Joining the cause, Chandigarh-born Rachna Singh, Parliament Secretary of British Columbia, said she was really saddened by the way Punjab farmers are being treated. “This is unacceptable.”

Describing the violence perpetrated by the Indian government against farmers peacefully protesting is appalling, Canada’s New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted: “I stand in solidarity with the farmers from Punjab and across India — and, I call on the Indian government to engage in peaceful dialogue rather than violence”

He thanked Jack Harris, MP for St. John’s East, for his advocacy.

“We are shocked to see the Indian government’s suppression of farmers protesting new laws which will endanger their livelihood. Instead of using water cannons and tear gas, the Indian government needs to engage in open dialogue with farmers,” said Harris.

“Peaceful protests are fundamental in any democracy, and I urge for the rights of the protestors to be respected,” said Navdeep Bains, MP for Mississauga-Malton.

“Shocking scenes from Delhi,” remarked MP from Britain, Preet Kaur Gill.

“Farmers are peacefully protesting over controversial bills that will impact their livelihoods. Water cannons and tear gas, are being used to silence them.”

Tracing his roots to a farmer family, Indo-Canadian politician Gurratan Singh said the images of police brutality were horrific.

“I come from a family of farmers. I feel the pain and struggle of farmers protesting laws that threaten their livelihoods. The state continues to meet peaceful protestors with violence and brutality,” he tweeted along with the video of his speech made by him in the Ontario Assembly.

“Farmers are the backbone of our society. They feed cities, and right now they are under attack in India. Folks in my riding are concerned about new laws that are passed by the Indian government that are going to hurt the farmers in Punjab, Haryana and others across India.

“That’s why I am asking all the members of this House to come together to stand with farmers against these unjust laws passed by the Indian government, so farmers in India can live with respect and dignity that they deserve,” Gurratan Singh said in his speech.

Standing with farmers in India, Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, Andrea Horwath, said: “Everyone deserves to be able to exercise their democratic rights without fear of state-sanctioned violence”.

Canadian MP Tim Uppal posted, “India’s farmers deserve to be heard and respected. This is horrific.”

The farmers are protesting against the farm laws as they feel that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporate entities.

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The new team in Washington surveys West Asia Trump leaves behind

To point fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood (Akhwan ul Muslimeen) as the enemy would isolate most of the GCC Sheikhdoms from the larger Muslim ‘Umma’. They would then be perceived as only the ‘Wahabi’ sect of the Sunni world.

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Joe Biden

New Delhi, Nov 29: For the new team being announced by the Biden administration any innovation can only follow repair work of the considerable wreckage that is being left behind by the outgoing team.

At this moment of transition, what construct does one place on the outgoing Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s participation in the cloak-and-dagger meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in the mega city of Neom being built on the Red Sea? The drama of this meeting was heightened by Netanyahu’s office denying the meeting in tones which seemed to suggest that the Israelis were not busting their guts to keep the meeting secret. A pretense of secrecy was essential because otherwise ‘MBS’ would be in ‘trouble’.

Netanyahu’s Education Minister, Yoav Galant, could not contain his joy at the “amazing achievement” because the “Sunni world” was joining the Israel-US alliance to counter “Iranian Shiite extremism”.

This Shia-Sunni confrontation, real or simulated, has been the game ever since the Shah was toppled in Iran. Why then this secrecy now? Why is MBS so scared being seen in an embrace with Netanyahu on Saudi soil? Because his people will find out? Do his people matter? But it turns out that human rights is an article of faith with the incoming Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. This may well be a source of anxiety not just for Saudi Arabia but all monarchies and authoritarian systems. Are there any in our vicinity?

A hint about MBS’s source of anxiety was available in the other crucial meeting the Saudi king had with President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. The Turkish strongman is part of a quadrangle which both, Washington (the incoming administration) and MBS, Netanyahu too, should by analyzing.

After the Soviet collapse in 1991, it was elementary that creating a distance between Moscow and Beijing would remain a US strategic goal. But George W Bush and his deluded neo-cons asked for the moon — full spectrum global dominance into the American century. The financial crisis of 2008 rapped them hard on the knuckles. American decline was well underway when Trump greased the downward slide even more effectively.

The evolving Biden team will contemplate at the menacing quadrangle I mentioned at the outset. To begin with, Moscow and Beijing have never been closer. The duet spotted the potential of Iran too, and included it in the club. After all, Washington is just about to dust up the Iranian nuclear file for a resumption of a conversation with Tehran.

No sooner had Trump lost the election, when Imran Khan was on his maiden trip to Kabul. This, when the US troop withdrawal from the Afghan capital had run into the sort of snags which US representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad was trying to sort out. Was the Pakistan Prime Minister now effectively being positioned to handle the Afghan file? This became a very real anxiety in both Tehran and New Delhi. But Iran being re-invited on the nuclear file, mollifies it somewhat. How happy New Delhi should be with its exertions in the Quad (US, Australia, Japan, India) only time can tell. The Japanese Foreign Minister has already clarified: our membership of the Quad is not directed against any country.

So, while the US was on the Trump rollercoaster and coping with the social mayhem and galloping Covid, other countries were moving increasingly in concert. There has been so much continuous chanting of the Shia-Sunni conflict that real and abiding antipathies have been lost sight of.

A convenient point of departure to explain this narrative are the two events in December, 1979, which rattled the Saudis, indeed the world — Ayatollah Khomeini’s return, signaling the Iranian revolution. Around the same date, an anti-monarchy, Sunni, an extreme version of the Muslim Brotherhood, Juhayman al-Otaybi, defied the Saudi state by occupying the holiest Muslim mosque of Mecca.

Unable to flush out Otaybi and his armed supporters, Saudis sought Western help. A situation emerged which to a non Muslim would read like a situation comedy. Since non Muslims are not allowed in Mecca, US and French soldiers had to be converted to Islam to enter the mosque and accomplish the holy task of killing Otaybi and his men. This “rebellion within” gives Saudis nightmares. But they feel more secure externalizing the threat. They have persistently targeted Iran and Shiaism as threats to themselves, Israel, indeed, the West. When did you last hear of the 15 days siege of the Mecca Mosque?

To point fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood (Akhwan ul Muslimeen) as the enemy would isolate most of the GCC Sheikhdoms from the larger Muslim ‘Umma’. They would then be perceived as only the ‘Wahabi’ sect of the Sunni world.

Incalculable Saudi wealth, particularly after the quadrupling of oil prices following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, had the Western Military Industrial Complex salivating on Arab petro dollars. The oil rich Sheikhs are, by formal agreements, dependent on Western arms. Their wealth plus their links to Israel give them considerable control on Western media which has quite shockingly harped only on the Shia-Sunni conflict.

When the Arab Spring dethroned Hosni Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s Prime Minister. Coming to power of a Brother in Egypt caused the Saudis to load their camels with their billions and turn up in Cairo to stabilize Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s coup in Cairo. Brothers in power in Egypt was anathema to the Israelis too because the Hamas in Gaza would now have help from all sides. Brother in Turkey, Qatar and Egypt. They were ideologically coherent with Hamas.

At the Shia end, the Hezbullah in Lebanon, Iran, the Alawi elements in the Syrian Army, the Shia majority in Iraq, Houthis of Yemen are all supporting the Palestinian cause to the hilt.

No, it is not the Shia Sunni divide which is bothering MBS and Netanyahu. What worries them deeply is the Shia-Sunni combine zeroing in on the Israelis and the Wahabis in unlikely comradeship.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])

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