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Saudi Arabia land forces commander’s visit to India a historic first, says defence ministry

Lt. Gen. Fahd Bin Abdullah Al-Mutair arrived in India over a year after Army chief Gen. Naravane’s visit to the Gulf state in 2020.

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New Delhi: Saudi Arabia Land Forces Commander Lieutenant General Fahd Bin Abdullah Mohammed Al-Mutair’s visit to India is a historic and landmark first, the defence ministry said Tuesday.

Lt. Gen. Fahd Bin Abdullah held extensive talks with Indian Army chief General M.M. Naravane Tuesday, a day after arriving in the country.

“This is the first ever visit by a serving Royal Saudi Land Forces Commander to India and marks a deepening bilateral defence cooperation between the two countries,” the defence ministry said in a press release, adding that his visit is slated to conclude Wednesday.

Lt. Gen. Fahd Bin Abdullah’s trip comes over a year after Gen Naravane became the first ever Indian Army chief to visit the Gulf state in December 2020.

“The aim of the visit is to bolster bilateral defence cooperation between the two countries…the relationship between India and Saudi Arabia has grown owing to common interests in economic prosperity, eliminating the scourge of terrorism and mitigating the effects of climate change. Defence diplomacy forms one of the major tenets of the overall relationship,” the defence ministry statement said.


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Growing ties

The move appears to represent the next step in the recent shift in relations between India and Saudi Arabia, a nation that historically had close ties with Pakistan. Rifts between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were previously reported in August 2020, over the Gulf state’s position on the scrapping of Article 370 in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir.

In the same month, Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa was not permitted to meet Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman when he visited Saudi Arabia in an attempt to mend relationships.

Trade between the two nations continues, with Pakistan daily The Nation reporting that the country had taken a loan of $3 billion from the Gulf state in December 2021 at 4 per cent interest for a year.

Amid these developments, India emerged as a potential ally for the Saudis in 2020. Prior to Naravane’s December 2020 visit, India had issued a strong condemnation of a missile attack on an Aramco oil facility in Jeddah, and expressed solidarity with Saudi Arabia.

In January this year, Riyadh-based English daily Arab News had reported that India was Saudi Arabia’s “second-largest trading partner” in the first three quarters of 2021, while the Gulf state is now a prominent investment destination for Indians.

“Some 745 Indian companies are registered as joint ventures or 100 per cent owned entities in the Kingdom as of October 2021. These figures stretch across sectors and amount to cumulative invested capital of around $2 billion. Saudi investments in India have seen a big jump over the last two years, especially after the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to India in February 2019 which raised Saudi investments in India to $100 billion,” the report said.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)


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