India’s defence ties with the Arab world are set to escalate as the Indian Defence Minister AK Antony embarks on a 2-day visit to Saudi Arabia today. This will be the first-ever visit by the Defence Minister to Riyadh and he will be accompanied by a high-level military delegation including the deputy head of the Indian Army and Defense Secretary. He will hold meetings with top Saudi Ministers and other political leaders with the aim of holding a security dialogue to provide thrust to the two countries' defence cooperation.
During the Saudi visit, Antony will hold crucial discussions with his counterpart, Prince Salman-bin-Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, besides meeting other senior government members. Both nations are keen to heighten their defence ties and chalk out areas of mutual benefits. Indian and Saudi Arabian defence cooperation includes training exchanges, ship visits and high-level visits by senior officials. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia is one of the largest suppliers of oil to India and India is a leading trade partner.
In February 2011, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh undertook a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia. While the Indian Defence Minister Antony was also slated to visit Saudi Arabia the same year, the unrest in the middle-east with the Arab spring made him cancel the visit. While joint military exercises and training takes place between the two sides, a formal defence cooperation agreement is yet to materialize. The military cooperation between the two countries is also expected to include training Saudi Arabian forces tackle terrorism in the mountainous areas bordering Yemen.
Meanwhile, since Saudi Arabia is part of the Indian Ocean Naval initiative, the increase in maritime cooperation Indian Navy is also inevitable. Both naval forces have been cooperating with bilateral port visits as also in the anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. India has already exchanged visits of its service chiefs and naval ships while Saudi officers have participated in the training programs at National Defence College as well in the past.
The high-level delegation led by the Indian Defence Minister will include Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, Vice-Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General S K Singh, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Satish Soni and Air Vice Marshal M R Pawar. With greater cooperation in regional affairs and trade, the defence ties are also expected to be stepped up after this visit. A concrete defence
roadmap is expected to be finalized with a formal pact for defence cooperation is also on the agenda.