Mohamed H. Zakaria, Jeddah published Tuesday 28 March 2006 (27 Safar 1427H)

Asian Visit

King Abdullah’s Asian visit that took him to China, India, Malaysia and Pakistan indicates a major shift in Saudi Arabia’s priorities in the new geopolitical scenario.

India has recently gained prominence as a potential market because of its 90 million plus middle-class consumers and as the third largest Asian economy and the fourth largest crude oil consumer in the world, importing more than $29 billion worth of crude oil and petroleum products in 2005, in addition to the 700,000 barrels of crude oil per day it produces.

While India has become an important customer for oil and a vital source of cheap labor for construction, services and manufacturing jobs in the Gulf states, Pakistan has chosen to remain a mere manpower supplier.

The Indian economy is undergoing massive expansion and growth and now ranks the 12th largest in the world.

With its rapid economic growth its energy demand is growing and making it an attractive customer for Gulf oil, a customer with a massive forex reserves of more than $150 billion and stable political structure.

Indian political influence in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf, is growing.

Indian exports to the region stood at $12 billion last year compared to only $3 billion in 1997, with the UAE alone receiving Indian exports worth $7.1 billion despite the fact that most of the Pakistani political leaders spend more time in Dubai than in Pakistan.

It is high time that Pakistan stopped competing with India and started building an industrial base to provide employment to its 30 million plus labor force.

China may soon become an expensive place for manufacturing and decide to subcontract some industries to its old friend, Pakistan.