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Tuesday, Jan 24, 2006
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King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz
DUBAI : The visit of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to India has raised high expectations among the intelligentsia of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, who see it as a path-breaking event that would set the course of a new round of engagement between the oil rich region and New Delhi.
An editorial in Saudi Arabia's English daily, Arab News, on the eve of his visit said"India and China are political superpowers in the making that already have to be contended with. And as far as business goes, they are very much as much commercial giants as the United States or Europe." Further, the newspaper pointed out that there are political nuances associated with King Abdullah's visit that should not be missed. "Saudi Arabia already has strong, deep-rooted bonds with Pakistan and Malaysia. Ties with India and China are also good, but they are relatively young in comparison. This trip will help entrench them."
`Regional weight, influence'
Writing in his column in the Gulf News from Dubai, Abdullah Al Madani notes that the Saudi monarch's visit was significant "not only because of its nature, level, timing and implications, but because of the two countries' regional weight and influence." He observed that this visit could anchor the "Look East" concept that many in the Gulf have been advocating since the nineties. The groundwork has already been laid as eighteen months ago, the GCC countries Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, and India signed a document to establish an economic partnership with the intent of forming a free trade zone between the two regions.
Political irritants erased
Academics in the region's think tanks have noted that King Abdullah's visit comes at a time when the political irritants of the past have been virtually erased. A study by the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center (GRC) has emphasised that since 2001, Saudi Arabia has stated that the Kashmir issue should be resolved through peaceful and meaningful dialogue, "thereby marking a shift from the emphasis on the third-party mediation." The study recommended that " King Abdullah's visit should kick-start a process that will look beyond religion and employment, as well as remain completely independent of Pakistan."
From a Saudi Arabian perspective, India could become a gateway for fostering a deeper relationship between Riyadh, South Asia and South-east Asia. India could also support Saudi Arabia's membership to the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation. Based on its close ties with Iran, India is well placed to mediate between the GCC countries and Teheran to ease tensions. Besides, Saudi Arabia could take advantages of Indian intellectual resources, as the successes in the Information Technology sector were likely to be replicated in biotechnology, biogenetics and pharmaceuticals.
Saudi Arabia, on its part, should support India's membership to an expanded United Nations Security Council, help India establish linkages with the Organisation of Islamic Conference countries, apart from meeting its growing oil and gas requirements.
The Kingdom could also play its part in ensuring the safety and security of the Indian expatriate population.
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