Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: What India has to offer in the Gulf


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India Gulf countries relations


Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain underlines India’s continuing commitment to relations with the Gulf region.

Gulf region – a new approach to India

  1. Gulf Kingdoms are eager to develop an independent relationship with India, independent of their relationship with Pakistan. 
  2. Modi is being honored with the Zayed Medal, the highest civilian honor in the Emirates.
  3. Some Gulf countries have expanded counter-terror cooperation with India, extending support to India in the conflict over Jammu and Kashmir. They have sought to open the OIC platform for India despite Pakistan’s objections.
  4. Gulf kingdoms have begun to address many of the long-standing Indian concerns with respect to the Indian diaspora and expatriate labor. 
  5. Gulf has begun to see India as a major economic partner. Saudi decision to pick up a 2% stake in the oil business of Reliance Industries Limited and UAE’s support for the construction of India’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve are two examples of deepening energy interdependence.

Challenges/ Way ahead

  1. Regional political turbulence – Paying greater attention to the domestic dynamics in the different kingdoms. A new trend has been the effort to promote moderate Islam in the region.
    1. UAE has been at the forefront of this effort.
    2. In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince has taken some small but significant steps to liberalize the economy and society.
    3. India should offer strong public support for the reform agenda in the region.
  2. India must reciprocate the strategic economic cooperation ranging from energy and digital innovation to arms production and space technology. China has moved quickly to elevate its economic and commercial profile in the region.
  3. Expanding security cooperation: The highly vulnerable Gulf has long depended upon Britain and the US to protect themselves from threats.  Trump’s talk on downsizing America’s role in the Gulf is encouraging the region to diversify its security partnerships. India must have a proactive strategy for defense cooperation in the region.
  4. India’s instinct was to avoid getting drawn into the conflicts. But it can’t be a permanent Indian security strategy in the Gulf. India must vision itself contributing to the regional security in whatever manner it can.
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