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Saudi king's visit will herald a new era
Dr Waiel Awwad
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January 24, 2006

India shares a long history with Arab countries. It is a history that is deeply rooted and stretches back to ancient times.

The relation is multi faceted. India played a major role in the first half of the 20th century, when the Gulf countries were isolated from the rest of the Arab world by the British Empire, which left remarkable political, economical, social and cultural impacts on those countries.

There are more than four million expatriates living in the Gulf, generating revenue exceeding $13 billion annually. Saudi Arabia is home to a dynamic 1.6 million Indians who generate a total revenue of more than $2 billion.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud will be the chief guest for India's Republic Day celebrations this year. He is the first Saudi king to visit India in 50 years -- a remarkable boost for the bilateral relations.

India is the 15th largest exporter to Saudi Arabia and the fourth largest trade partner of the kingdom. The total trade between India and Saudi Arabia is nearly $7 billion. That figure is likely to double in a decade.

Meet India's Republic Day guest

This visit will pave the way to take these ties to new heights. A number of agreements will be signed to promote investments, joint ventures, avoidance of double taxation, and to fight crime and terrorism.

The king's India visit is part of a four-nation tour that includes China, Malaysia and Pakistan. It is part of Riyadh's new look-east policy by which it is trying to open opportunities in these countries for Saudi investors.

The king is keen on fostering good relations with the Asian giants. He recognises the role these economies will play in the current Asian Century where the future of economic growth, trade and advanced technology will continue -- at a time when the world's largest economies are recessing

Moreover, such relations will help peace and stability in the region.

India stands tall among these nations as a favourite destination for Saudi investors. It boasts of a large, skilled labour force, and a robust information technology sector. It is a multi-linguistic, multicultural and plural society enjoying democracy and stability. These factors will boost India's status not only for Saudi Arabia but for all Gulf States and their neighbours.

New Delhi also recognises the important role played by Saudi Arabia regionally and internationally.

Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holy shrines of Islam and the headquarters of the Organization of Islamic Conference, whose meetings India may attend as an observer.

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This is in recognition of the fact that more than 150 million Indian Muslims -- the second-largest Muslim community after Indonesia -- are enjoying equal rights and opportunities in their country and should have a say in the Islamic affairs and challenges facing many Islamic countries. This will also benefit the organisation and the sub-region. 

India enjoys a respectable position in the Arab minds and hearts because of the historical ties between the two nations and its support to the Palestinian cause, where it stood for the right of a Palestinian State to coexist peacefully with Israel.

India was among the first to recognise the Palestinian State -- a stance since the time of Mahatma Gandhi [Images] that has not changed even after normalisation of relations with Israel.

Many Arabs would like to see India enjoy the best ties with the Arab world. And Saudi Arabia, the most influential Arab country that can play a major role in this direction, is pursuing that goal as well.

The Saudi king's visit will open a new chapter in the relationship between the two countries and should work as a bridge for future cooperation. This visit will shape a better future for both the nations and remove the irritants that stalled progress for a long time.

Dr Waiel Awwad is South Asia correspondent, Al Arabiya

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