Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Foreign Minister H.E. Adel al-Jubeir, who was in India, spoke with Geeta Mohan. Excerpts
Q: You are here on a very important visit. What are the expectations from the consultations that are on between India and Saudi Arabia?
A: It’s great to be visiting the great nation of India. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and India have been neighbours, neighbouring civilisations for thousands of years, and trading partners. We have extensive human contact, expensive cooperation in the area of security and political consultations. We have the same challenges and the same opportunities. I believe that both of our countries are determined to work very closely together to broaden, deepen and strengthen this already very strong relationship for the benefit of both peoples and both countries.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia looks forward to the visit of the Prime Minister. It will be another milestone in the evolution of this relationship. If you recall, in 2006, the late King Abdullah came as the guest of honour on Republic Day and the Delhi Declaration was made, which was a milestone in our relationship. Subsequent to that, the Prime Minister of India visited Saudi Arabia and we had the Riyadh Declaration. Later, the then Crown Prince, now King and custodian of the Holy Mosque, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz visited India. It was a great visit. Now, we look forward to the visit of the Prime Minister of India to Saudi Arabia to elevate this relationship to an even higher level.
Q: What are matters of concern for the two sides in areas such as economic, security and labour?
A: Both sides are committed to strengthen their ties in all areas. We both face the threat of violent extremism. We both are working closely through our security services to counter this threat. We have been able to avert a lot of these plots and are working to make the cooperation more effective in order to protect your people and ours.
With regard to economic relationship, we have extensive trade between India and Saudi Arabia. Indian companies are big investors in the Saudi economy. They are undertaking great projects in Saudi Arabia and Saudi companies are big investors in India and are looking at investing further. Saudi Arabia is the largest supplier of crude oil to India. We continue to look at ways to expand and transform it from a transactional relationship into a genuine partnership where we cement this relationship for the future.
When it comes to political areas, our two countries are committed to the principle of non-interference. We are both committed to a peaceful and secure world. We are both committed to confronting radicalism and expansionism. So we have a lot of challenges that we would like to resolve in order to make our world calm so that we can focus on the things we both attach great priority to, which is internal development, providing opportunity and prosperity to people and providing a better future for our children and grandchildren. So, philosophically, the two countries look at the world in similar ways.
As for labour, I wouldn’t describe it as labour. People of India are our partners; people of India came to Saudi Arabia decades ago as doctors and treated us, they came as university professors and teachers and taught us, they came as engineers and built or country, they came as accountants and finance people who help set up our banking system, they came as managers to manage our country and our companies. And of course, they came as labourers, who helped build the country and for that they have tremendous appreciation.
The Indian community in Saudi Arabia numbers almost three million. It is by far the most leadership community in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This reflects very well on Indian culture, society. The issue of labour is not just labour. We see it as a partnership. See it as people who have contributed very positively to the development and well being of Saudi Arabia.
Q: There are some concerns about Indian labour in Saudi Arabia and how your country deals with the labour that goes from India.
A: No doubt about it. Our objective is to ensure the safety and the well being of everybody who lives in Saudi Arabia, whether Saudi national or not. Our objective is to ensure everybody be treated fairly, decently and that there is a mechanism for handling any issue that arises. This is what we are working on.
When you have a large number of people inevitably there would be problems. The issue is having a mechanism to identify the problem, resolve the problem and a mechanism that will provide justice to the injured party. And this is what we are committed to.
Q. ISIS is the biggest threat to global order and regional peace. What is the kind of involvement that you expect from India in fighting the scourge of ISIS?
A: We believe that terrorism is a scourge that violates all the teachings of all religions, all cultures and all principles of humanity. We believe that terrorists are psychopaths. Who else would kill the innocent? No faith condones it. We are determined to fight what I call “the men, the money and the mindset”. We fight the men by training and equipping our forces to go after them, capture them and kill them. We fight the money by putting in place strict financial controls and oversight to ensure that money does not go to terrorists and extremists. And we fight the mindset, which is the most complicated one, by looking at the schools, mosques, our public spaces, or discussions and by instilling a culture of tolerance and peace and coexistence and acceptance by emphasising the true values of our faith.
Islam means peace. Islam is about acceptance, it’s about coexistence. In Quran it is revealed that you have your faith and I have my faith. It doesn’t say I’m going to fight you because you have a different faith. In the Quran it is revealed that he who kills an innocent soul is like he killed all of humanity. In the Quran it is also revealed and it’s also inscribed on our Foreign Ministry gateway, “We have created you from a man and woman and we have created you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.” It doesn’t say you may fight one another. These are the values we want disseminate to our people and throughout the world to counter the narrative of death and destruction.
Q: There has been a lot of intelligence sharing between the two countries. What is the cooperation that is going on between India and Saudi Arabia in dealing with terrorism emanating from Pakistan?
A: We cannot talk about upstanding issues or things that are being planned, but what I can tell you is that we will work diligently with all our partners around the world, including India, to do whatever we can in order to confront extremism and terrorism in order to ensure that innocent lives are not hurt and in order to strengthen cooperation within international community to take on the scourge of terrorism. There is no other way to defeat terrorism. It must be a cooperative, global effort.