Sunday 29 March 2009 (03 Rabi` al-Thani 1430) 

      'India's progress hinges on secularism'
      K.S. Ramkumar | Arab News
      JEDDAH: There is no substitute for secularism, the hallmark of Indian 
polity, and if the country with its diverse ethnicity, religions and languages 
is to progress then it has to contain its extremist elements, Arab News Editor 
in Chief Khaled Almaeena said on Friday night.

      "Today, the world is looking toward China and India as among the fastest 
developing countries. India will be able to compete in the race only if the 
country's secular fabric is protected," Almaeena said while speaking as chief 
guest at a meeting of Indian professionals organized by Indian Consul General 
Sayeed Ahmed Baba at the InterContinental Hotel.

      Drawing a comparison between China and India, he said while China was a 
regimented country, Indian strengths include its strong judiciary and vibrant 
media. "The Indian judicial system and press have given a good account of 
themselves by taking up issues related to minority communities and providing 
them justice," Almaeena said.

      He wondered why India and Pakistan could not shed their animosity and 
work toward the common goal of being good to each other. "There are a number of 
secular people on both sides. They both have common ethnic groups like Punjabis 
who exist in both countries," he said. He also urged the media in both 
countries to remove mutual fears and suspicion. India has traditionally been 
close to the Arab world and remained a strong supporter of the Palestine 
Liberation Organization (PLO) headed by the late Yasser Arafat. The Arab world 
has also looked toward India as a strong supporter. Saudi and Indian traders 
have a long history. Both have been trading with each other for centuries. 
Indian pilgrims have also been visiting the two holy cities for centuries and 
have maintained a strong influence in Makkah. In the 1960s many Indian doctors 
and engineers began arriving in the Kingdom. The 1970s was also marked by a 
huge influx of Indian workers. Today, India has made great strides in 
technology, said Almaeena.

      "During the Cold War, Saudis looked upon India with suspicion as it was 
in the Soviet camp, whereas the Kingdom was with the West. Those were also the 
days when the Kingdom saw India through Pakistani eyes. But things started 
changing for the better for India with King Saud's visit to India in 1955 and 
former India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's visit which followed a couple of 
decades later. However, in the post-9/11 era, with the Kingdom following a 
'Look East' trend, India is among the countries that is benefiting. The Saudi 
Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) has its biggest research center in the 
western Indian city of Ahmedabad."

      Acknowledging that Indian expatriates had contributed a lot toward the 
development of the Kingdom through their expertise and technical know-how, 
Almaeena urged them to reach out to local Saudi organizations. "Young Saudi 
professionals are well educated and easy to get along," Almaeena said.

      In his welcome address, the consul general said there were a number of 
highly placed professionals in different companies in the Western Province. 
"This new initiative is intended to enable Indian professionals periodically 
interact with themselves and also with the consulate officials," he said. "Such 
interactions are aimed at providing a platform for Indian professionals to 
network among themselves and with the consulate officials," he added.

      Among prominent professionals attending the meeting were Hassan Ghias of 
the the Binzagr Group, Shoeb Kazi of the Batterjee Group of Companies, Mahmoud 
A. Al-Maimani of Cubic Saudia, Riaz Mulla of ATEICO Communications, Dr. M.S. 
Karimuddin of New Jeddah Clinic Hospital, Bosco Rodrigues of National Flight 
Service, Mohamed Abdul Hameed Saleem of TasHeel and Saadat Khan of Air India

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