Venue: IDSA Auditorium
Topic: “The Ongoing Developments in the Middle East and the Importance of Bilateral Relations between Saudi Arabia and India”
Chair: Ambassador Leela Ponappa
HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal’s address touched on ongoing developments in the Middle East, how Saudi Arabia is placed in the current situation and bilateral relations between India and Saudi Arabia. His analysis of the developments taking place in the region revolved around four major aspects – political changes; the role of Iran especially its nuclear programme and interference in the affairs of other nations; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and the creation and exploitation of terrorist enclaves.
In the midst of the regional turmoil, Saudi Arabia is stable and secure under the leadership of King Abdullah and will use its vast resources to assist its neighbours. He touched upon the importance of finding alternative fuel sources in order to achieve energy independence and protect the environment. The Saudi Arabian Government is investing in solar energy and nuclear power plants so that these may play a leading role in augmenting oil as the primary energy source.
In its relations with Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia has played an intermediary role in talks between the Karzai Government and the Taliban. He stressed that resolving the issues of Kashmir (India-Pakistan) and the Durand Line (Pakistan-Afghanistan) is crucial to lasting peace in the Indian subcontinent. HRH pointed out specific examples that indicate progressiveness, security and stability in Saudi Arabia and stressed that the forward looking reforms undertaken by King Abdullah will continue under future leadership.
During the discussion that followed his address, HRH noted that with regard to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Saudi Arabia would be against any military strike on Iranian nuclear installations unless authorised by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Saudi Arabia also views sanctions against Iran as effective in constraining the latter’s nuclear ambitions. He recalled the joint proposal by Egypt and Iran in 1974 to create a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. Iran is hence publicly supportive of such a zone and needs only be pushed towards it. He stressed that any steps taken by the GCC and other regional countries towards acquiring nuclear weapons should be preceded by a very careful study of and a public debate on the threats they face.
On developments in Syria, HRH stressed the need for Arab leaders to continue to monitor the situation and take action if required to end the killings of innocent people. He noted that such a situation is not sustainable and the Arab League has taken a bold step by suspending Syria and imposing sanctions.
On the American presence in Afghanistan, HRH held the view that continued US presence in the country would be met with resistance. He also pointed out that the Taliban as a political force may not enjoy much popular support among the Afghan population, and there must be concerted efforts to incentivise the population against participating in violence.
With regard to Turkey’s role in the region, he characterized it as a welcome engagement especially since it is a very transparent and open process.
HRH also emphasised the excellent relations between India and Saudi Arabia based on mutual tolerance and goodwill. The relationship has deepened following mutual visits by the country’s leaders and signing of the Delhi and Riyadh Declarations in recent years.
In response to questions on the export of extremist ideologies from the region, HRH stressed the need to understand the roots of Islamic streams of thought and practice and the role of modern communication technologies in assigning unintended meanings to terms such as jihad.
HRH also expressed his belief that the recent shift of American focus to Southeast Asia may not necessarily lead to a dramatic change in US policy in the Middle East.
Prepared by Princy Marin George, Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and and Analyses, New Delhi.