RIYADH: Terrorists have hijacked Islam and Saudi Arabia will therefore spare no effort to combat terrorism, uproot extremism and drain terrorist and extremist groups of their resources, said Saudi Ambassador to India Saud Mohammed Al-Sati here on Sunday.

He said that the Kingdom exerts more efforts to curb terror and spends far more on security and counterterrorism than many other nations of the world.

In an interview with Arab News on Sunday, Al-Sati said that “a section of Western media and analysts and some of their counterparts in India” do gross injustice to the Kingdom by accusing it of exporting extremist ideology or supporting violent extremism.

In his wide-ranging interview, the Saudi diplomat also spoke about the progressively growing Indo-Saudi relations, Saudi Vision 2030 and American-style green cards for expatriates.

Referring to his recent speech delivered at a forum titled “Saudi-India Relations: Continuity and Change” at the Center for West Asian Studies of New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, Al-Sati said that he tried to make a point in his address that “terrorists do not practice or preach any religion; they simply hijack it.” H

e pointed out that the Saudi capital was targeted by Al-Qaeda with simultaneous suicide bombings of three residential compounds in 2003, and the spate of attacks continues even today.

“The Kingdom has also been a target of terrorism perpetrated by proxies of Iran, which has used terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy since the 1979 revolution,” lamented the envoy.

Asked about the sweeping economic reforms announced by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, minister of defense, Al-Sati said that “Vision 2030 is based on three pillars, which detail Saudi Arabia’s vision for the future.”

“The first revolves around the Kingdom as a vibrant society, and the second pillar relies on the Saudi ambition to become a global powerhouse,” he added.

“We will invest in the long term, diversifying the economy to expand investments into sectors beyond oil and gas,” said the diplomat, adding that the final pillar of Vision 2030 is the commitment of the Saudi government to provide world-class government services that meet the needs of all Saudi citizens.

He pointed out that “Vision 2030 is not only aimed at economic restructuring and reform, but also calls for strategic development of the holy sites with improved Haj facilities and services.”

“The Kingdom has recently begun the third expansion of the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah,” said the envoy, adding that the Kingdom is working to develop and increase the capacities of its airports. “Saudi Arabia has also launched the Makkah Metro project to complement the railroad and train projects that serve visitors to the holy mosques and holy sites,” he noted.

“The plan also involves improving visa application procedures, looking to achieve full automation to make the process as smooth as possible for the pilgrimage experience,” said Al-Sati.

He said that these efforts, among several others currently underway in Saudi Arabia, will boost trade and commerce in the region. “By 2030, we are committed to raising the share of non-oil exports in the non-oil GDP from its current standing of 16 percent to 50 percent,” said the envoy.

“Moreover, the Kingdom is on track to lower unemployment from 11.6 percent to 7 percent in 2030,” asserted Al-Sati.

On the question of giving permanent stay to top-notch foreign professionals and workers, he said that “Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman proposed a green card system, when he unveiled Vision 2030 in April … and the procedures of granting the permanent residence card are still being studied.”

To this end, he noted that India is a primary focus of the Kingdom’s campaign to court foreign investors. He pointed out that about 426 licenses have been issued to Indian companies to invest in the Kingdom, and long-established Indian companies like Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and Larsen & Toubro have made very significant investments in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

Referring to the growing relations between the Kingdom and India, Al-Sati said that the two countries are strategic partners, and among the top trading partners of each other.

“The economic partnership in the fields of investment, joint ventures and transfer of technology projects is steadily growing,” said the diplomat, adding that the Kingdom hosts over 3 million Indian nationals.

“They contribute to the progress and development of both the Kingdom and India, and they are serving as an important cultural bridge between the two peoples,” he noted.

He also recalled the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Saudi Arabia in April this year. The talks between Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Modi significantly contributed to further consolidation and deepening of the strategic partnership, expanding the excellent bilateral relations in various political, economic, security, cultural and technological fields, he observed.

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