India and Saudi Arabia share security concerns in their neighbourhood and their cooperation on security issues, including counter terrorism, are progressing well, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said.
The prime minister, who arrived here on Monday night to attend a key financial conference and hold talks with the top Saudi leadership, made the remarks in an interview published in the Arab news on Tuesday.
"I believe that Asian powers like India and Saudi Arabia share similar security concerns in their neighbourhood," Modi said, without referring to any country. Saudi Arabia is a key ally of Pakistan, which is accused by its neighbours of providing safe havens to terrorists.
India has not been engaging with Pakistan since an attack on the Air Force base at Pathankot in January of 2016 by a Pakistan-based terror group, maintaining that talks and terror cannot go together.
The bilateral relations touched a new low when India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August following which Pakistan downgraded the diplomatic ties and expelled the Indian envoy.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been a frequent visitor to Saudi Arabia to seek Riyadh's support on the Kashmir issue.
"I am happy that our cooperation, particularly in the field of counterterrorism, security and strategic issues, is progressing very well. My national security adviser just visited Riyadh for a very productive visit," Modi said, referring to the visit of National security adviser Ajit Doval to the Gulf Kingdom.
"We have a Joint Committee on Defence Cooperation that holds regular meetings. We have identified a number of areas of mutual interest and cooperation in the field of defence and security," he said.
Modi said the two countries are also in the process of entering into agreements on security cooperation, collaboration in defence industries, and they have also agreed to hold a comprehensive security dialogue mechanism between them.
The prime minister said India and Saudi Arabia have been working together within the G20 to reduce inequality and promote sustainable development.
He said with the signing of an agreement on a Strategic Partnership Council, the bilateral ties in various fields will strengthen further.
On the progress made since the singing of the Riyadh Declaration in 2010, Modi said, "Neighbourhood First" continues to be the guiding vision for his government's foreign policy.
"India's relations with Saudi Arabia are one of the most important bilateral relationships in our extended neighbourhood," he said, adding that the high level visit from the two sides including his 2016 trip to the Gulf Kingdom consolidated this special relationship.
"Our ties across various dimensions such as trade, investment, security and defence cooperation are robust and deep, and will only strengthen further" with the signing of the strategic partnership council, he said
On the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, Modi said a balanced approach is required to resolve the conflicts, while respecting the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in each other's internal matters.
"India shares excellent bilateral relations with all the countries in the region, and a very large Indian diaspora, numbering over 8 million, resides in the region. A dialogue process that encourages the participation of all stakeholders is important to bring peace and security to this very important region," he said.
On economic growth, the prime minister said India has undertaken many reforms to create a business-friendly environment, and to ensure that it remained a major driver of global growth and stability.
"Our reforms for ease of doing business and introducing investor-friendly initiatives have contributed to improving our position in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index from 142 in 2014 to 63 in 2019," he said.
A number of major flagship initiatives, like Make in India, Digital India, Skill India, Swatchh Bharat, Smart Cities and Startup India, are offering a lot of opportunities to foreign investors, Modi added.
"We welcome greater Saudi investments in our infrastructure projects, including the Smart Cities programme. We also welcome Saudi interest in investing in the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund," he said.
This is Prime Minister Modi's second visit to the Gulf Kingdom. During his first visit in 2016, King Salman conferred Saudi's highest civilian award on him. The Crown Prince visited India in February 2019, giving a further fillip to the bilateral ties.
India's relations with Saudi Arabia have been on an upswing over the last few years. India's bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia was at USD 27.48 billion in 2017-18, making Saudi Arabia its fourth largest trading partner.
Saudi Arabia last month said it was looking at investing USD 100 billion in India in areas of energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture, minerals and mining.