India’s engagement with Arab world under Modi

Talmiz Ahmad
Talmiz Ahmad

Talmiz Ahmad

By : Talmiz Ahmad

:: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi sat beside Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, at India’s Republic Day parade on Jan. 26, he marked an unprecedented Indian diplomatic engagement with Gulf countries: Over the previous two years, Modi had visited the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar, and hosted the crown prince in India in February 2016.

The Gulf is already India’s principal source of energy, meeting most of the country’s oil and gas requirements. It is also India’s major economic partner, with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries collectively in the Top 3 of India’s trade partners, the No. 1 export destination and major investment partners. The GCC is also home to about 8 million Indians, who have made a significant contribution to the development of the region.

New dimensions

Modi’s recent interactions with the Gulf have not only consolidated India’s traditional ties with the region, they have also prepared the ground for a new dimension in India’s relations with the Middle East.

During his engagements, his interlocutors expressed their admiration for India’s economic achievements and pledged to become partners in India’s developmental efforts, with the UAE even setting aside a fund of $75 billion to invest in India’s infrastructure sector.

They also expressed anxiety about the threat from terrorism and pledged to work closely with India to combat it, not only via strong armed action but also by countering radicalization through promotion of a moderate religious discourse espousing peace, tolerance and inclusiveness.

Enhancing defense ties — from frequent dialogue between senior officers and training, to joint military exercises, maritime operations, and supply and development of arms and ammunition — was given central importance by all the countries Modi visited.

Defense cooperation has been complemented by the countries agreeing to intelligence-sharing, counter-terrorism operations, capacity-building, and adoption of best practices and technologies among the security agencies on both sides.

Strategic partnership

Most of the Gulf countries see India as their “strategic partner,” a status that represents shared values, perceptions and approaches on matters of security concern. Thus the joint statement with the UAE spoke of “shared threats to peace, stability and security,” and agreed to a “shared endeavor” to address these concerns, founded on “common ideals and convergent interests.”

It also spoke of the need for the two countries to establish a “close strategic partnership” for “these uncertain times,” and called on them to “work together to promote peace, reconciliation, stability… in the wider South Asia, Gulf and West Asia.”

Similarly, the joint statement with Saudi Arabia talked of the two countries’ responsibility to promote regional peace, security and stability. It noted “the close interlinkage of the stability and security of the Gulf region and the Indian sub-continent and the need for maintaining a secure and peaceful environment for the development of the countries of the region.”

In Tehran, Modi said India and Iran “share a crucial stake in peace, stability and prosperity” in the region, and concerns relating to “instability, radicalism and terror.” The two countries agreed to enhance cooperation between their defense and security institutions.

Diplomatic initiative

The deteriorating security scenario in the Middle East — marked by raging conflicts in Syria and Yemen, GCC countries’ concerns about Iran’s hegemonic intentions in the region, the burgeoning sectarian divide, and the threat from extremist organizations such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda — is a matter of deep concern for India.

Escalating regional conflicts would jeopardize India’s energy and economic interests, and the welfare of its community in the region. Above all, India cannot just sit on the fence while its neighborhood, with which it has longstanding civilizational and political ties, finds itself at the edge of a catastrophic abyss.

The Indian initiative will bring to the Middle East, for the first time in a century, a non-military approach to regional security that is based on the active participation of the regional states themselves as key players, working with other nations that have a stake in regional security.

Talmiz Ahmad

The interaction of the Indian and UAE leaders at the Republic Day celebrations gave central importance to India shaping and pursuing a strategic role in the Middle East to promote regional security.

Thus a joint article authored by the two leaders stated: “We are using the springboard of our friendship to give our partnership a bold new vision that goes beyond our bilateral relations. We will contribute to a regional order that reflects our shared interest in stability, prosperity and tolerance.”

The India-UAE joint statement said: “The two leaders resolved to harness the shared strengths and complementarities to expand the India-UAE partnership for the benefit of their countries, for peace, stability and prosperity in their region, and for the betterment of the world.”

In this background, it is proposed that India pursue a diplomatic effort, on its own or with like-minded Asian countries, to promote mutual trust and confidence between the estranged countries of the region. Over the longer term, the diplomatic initiative should seek to shape the framework of a new, inclusive and cooperative regional security order.

The Indian initiative will bring to the Middle East, for the first time in a century, a non-military approach to regional security that is based on the active participation of the regional states themselves as key players, working with other nations that have a stake in regional security.

Talmiz Ahmad is a former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.

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