Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Rediscovering Palestinian statehood

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: West Asia and arising conflict;

Mains level: Recent Geopolitical issues in news;

Israel-Palestine: No Simple Answers

Why in the News?

Recently, there are evolving dynamics surrounding Palestinian statehood, including global perspectives, Israeli leadership positions, and the potential implications for the region w.r.t two-state solution.

What are the Global Dynamics and Israeli Opposition towards Palestinian Statehood?

  • Global Expectations: Western nations and Arab States are hopeful for Israel to act sensibly amidst the challenging situation in Gaza. The UK and France express readiness to recognize a Palestinian state independently of an agreement with Israel, prompting speculation about US involvement.
  • Israeli stance: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu openly opposes a two-state solution and advocates for Israeli control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.
    • Netanyahu rejects international pressure and warns against unilateral recognition, citing concerns about terrorism and his political standing.
    • Netanyahu’s opposition to a Palestinian state without negotiations reflects his political strategy and the challenges within his ruling coalition.
    • Netanyahu’s plan echoes sentiments previously condemned when expressed by Hamas, raising concerns about Israel’s intentions.

Global Response to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

  • UN Secretary-General’s Call: UN emphasizes the importance of acknowledging Palestinian statehood and condemns the loss of life in Gaza.
  • Hearings at ICJ: The International Court of Justice began hearing arguments concerning the legal status of a Palestinian state.
  • Mixed Signals: The U.S.’s support for Israel’s security contradicts its calls for a two-state solution, as demonstrated by voting against a UN resolution regarding Israeli settlements. World leaders previously have largely neglected the Palestinian cause during the tenure of former Israeli PM Netanyahu and post-Abraham Accords era.
  • Sudden Interest from various Nations: Recently, there has been renewed interest in a two-state solution following Israel’s military actions in Gaza and increasing pressure from international bodies. The U.S. too have imposed sanctions on individual settlers rather than addressing broader issues related to settlements and violence.
  • Domestic Pressures: King Abdullah II of Jordan, along with Egypt, France, and Germany, issued a joint statement opposing Israel’s annexation plans. The U.S., EU, and Arab States face mounting pressure to address the crisis, hoping for positive changes within Israel’s leadership.
    • Saudi Demand: Saudi Arabia demands an immediate peace process for a Palestinian state before resuming normalization talks with Israel.
    • Threatening Proposal: Israel’s latest plan suggests dissolving the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which would compromise the two-state solution
BEYOND EDITORIAL: 

What are Abraham Accords?

  • The Abraham Accords, established in September 2020, represent a series of bilateral agreements aimed at normalizing relations between Israel and several Arab nations: the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco
  • These agreements marked a departure from traditional Arab League policies, which historically required resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before establishing formal ties with Israel.

How Abraham Accords have influenced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Despite not directly involving parties in active conflict, the Abraham Accords have influenced the broader context in several ways:

  • Normalization without Resolution: The Accords sidestepped the Palestinian issue, allowing Arab states to establish normalized relationships with Israel without addressing core issues like Palestinian self-determination and statehood
  • Domestic Repercussions: The Accords led to internal conflicts within Arab societies, as some citizens felt betrayed by their leadership’s decision to prioritize normalization over Palestinian rights
  • Regional Stability: While the Accords were promoted as increasing stability, critics argue that they have done little to address underlying causes of instability, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself

Critical Analysis of Accords towards the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

  • Critics argue that the Accords have failed to bring lasting peace or stability, instead serving as a means of authoritarian conflict management that ignores the root causes of the conflict
  • Supporters contend that the Accords offer opportunities for cooperation and economic growth, although these benefits may come at the expense of Palestinian rights.
  • The Abraham Accords have altered the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by shifting focus away from the centrality of Palestinian rights and towards normalization between Israel and select Arab states. Despite initial optimism, the Accords have faced challenges in achieving sustainable peace and stability, and their success remains a subject of debate.

What is the feasibility of a Single-State Solution?

If the two-state solution fails given recent developments and Israeli leadership positions, then:

  • Equal Rights: In a single-state scenario, Israel must provide equal rights to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to remain a democracy. Providing equal rights would reduce the percentage of Jews below 50%, challenging Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.
  • Apartheid or Ethnic Cleansing: Without equal rights, Palestinians risk becoming second-class citizens, resulting in either apartheid or ethnic cleansing.
  • Preservation of Status Quo: Continuing the present conditions would perpetuate the occupation and deny Palestinians self-determination.
  • Driving Out Palestinians: An alternative to providing equal rights might involve expelling Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
  • Decline of Support: Increasingly, Israelis have distanced themselves from developments in the Occupied Territories, reducing support for a two-state solution.
  • Rise of Right Wing: The growth of right-wing parties in Israel has led to the demise of groups supporting the Oslo Accords.
  • Shifting Attitudes: Following attacks by Hamas, support for a two-state solution has dwindled, leaving Israelis questioning whether Palestinians truly desire peace.
  • Recognition of Two-State Solution: Even Hamas once acknowledged a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, although this position has weakened over time.

How can be the ‘Afghan Model’ solution towards this issue?

The Afghan model refers to the acceptance of the Taliban’s return to power despite reservations. As the world grapples with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, comparisons have emerged between the Taliban’s ascension in Afghanistan and potential shifts in Hamas’ role in Palestine. 

  • Similarity between both cases: Both sides require transformative leadership changes. Israel needs to embrace a two-state solution, and Palestine requires an inclusive and representative leadership encompassing Gaza and the West Bank. 

What are the Challenges and Implications if Afghan model is applied?

  • Political stance: Centrist Israeli politicians have lost popularity due to their perceived inaction on the Palestinian issue. In short, replacing them as champions of a two-state solution is challenging.
  • Hamas’ inclusion in Palestinian governance structures would necessitate significant ideological shifts and concessions, which may prove difficult.
  • The international community’s reluctant approach to the two-state solution raises questions about their commitment to promoting meaningful change in the Middle East.

Conclusion: 

The ‘Afghan model,’ while imperfect, offers insights into the possibilities and limitations of accommodating hard-line forces within mainstream political processes. Ultimately, the success of such efforts depends upon the ability of all stakeholders—including Israel, Palestine, and the international community to overcome deeply ingrained mistrust and pursue genuine reconciliation.

Prelims PYQs:

  1. The term “two-state solution” is sometimes mentioned in the news in the context of the affairs of (UPSC CSE 2018)
  1. China
  2. Israel
  3. Iraq
  4. Yemen

Mains PYQs:

Too little cash, too much politics, leaves UNESCO fighting for life.’ Discuss the statement in the light of US’ withdrawal and its accusation of the cultural body as being ‘anti-Israel bias’ (UPSC CSE 2019)

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

C Raja Mohan writes: In closer ties with the Gulf, a significant win for Indian diplomacy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Mains level: India's evolving relations with the Gulf

India's Balancing Act in the Gulf | Middle East Institute

Central Idea:
The article discusses the significant transformation in India’s relations with the Gulf region under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, highlighted by recent diplomatic achievements such as the inauguration of a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi and the release of Indian ex-naval personnel from Qatar. It identifies five key factors contributing to this transformation: diplomatic efforts, political engagement, religious perceptions, economic collaboration, and counter-terrorism cooperation.

Key Highlights:

  • Modi’s proactive diplomacy in the Middle East, contrasting with the previous administration’s limited engagement.
  • The shift from transactional to strategic economic ties, recognizing the Gulf’s growing influence in global capitalism.
  • Improvement in religious tolerance in the Gulf, symbolized by the construction of a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi.
  • Enhanced counter-terror collaboration between India, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
  • The potential for deeper defense cooperation and India’s role as a regional security provider.

Key Challenges:

  • Historical religious tensions and the need to overcome past perceptions.
  • Maximizing defense collaboration potential amid shifting regional geopolitics.
  • Ensuring sustainable economic partnerships beyond oil purchases and labor exports.

Main Terms:

  • Diplomacy
  • Political engagement
  • Religious tolerance
  • Economic modernization
  • Counter-terrorism collaboration
  • Defense cooperation

Important Phrases:

  • “Transformation of India’s relations with the Gulf”
  • “Personal connection with the emirs”
  • “Gulf’s emergence as a major center of global capitalism”
  • “Growing religious tolerance”
  • “Counter-terror collaboration”
  • “Regional security provider”

Quotes/Useful Statements:

  • “Modi’s proactive diplomacy contrasts with the previous administration’s limited engagement.”
  • “The shift from transactional to strategic economic ties is crucial.”
  • “Enhanced counter-terror collaboration signals a new phase in regional security.”
  • “The construction of a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi symbolizes growing religious tolerance.”
  • “India must maximize defense collaboration potential amid shifting regional geopolitics.”

Examples and References:

  • Narendra Modi’s 15 visits to the Middle East contrasted with the previous Prime Minister’s limited engagements.
  • The inauguration of the Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi and the release of Indian ex-naval personnel from Qatar serve as tangible examples of improved relations.
  • The establishment of the I2U2 group and the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor illustrate India’s reoriented geopolitical engagement.

 

India & Gulf Countries

Facts and Data:

  • Modi’s 15 visits to the Middle East compared to the previous Prime Minister’s four visits during the UPA rule.
  • The release of Indian ex-naval personnel from Qatar following their espionage charges.
  • The establishment of the I2U2 group and the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor.

Critical Analysis:

  • The article provides a comprehensive overview of India’s evolving relations with the Gulf, highlighting both achievements and challenges.
  • It emphasizes the importance of Modi’s proactive diplomacy and the need for deeper economic and defense cooperation.
  • However, it also acknowledges historical tensions and the complexities of navigating religious and geopolitical dynamics in the region.

Way Forward:

  • India should continue to strengthen diplomatic ties and capitalize on economic opportunities in the Gulf.
  • Deeper defense collaboration and regional security cooperation should be prioritized.
  • Efforts to promote religious tolerance and overcome historical tensions are essential for fostering long-term stability and prosperity in the region.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

A privileged strategic partnership, without a gulf

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: na

Mains level: comprehensive overview of the evolving India-UAE relationship

 

 

I2U2 lies at the core of India-UAE relationship - Hindustan Times

Central Idea:

The article highlights the deepening and multifaceted relationship between India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), focusing on various aspects such as economic ties, strategic partnerships, cultural exchanges, and shared interests in global affairs.

Key Highlights:

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to the UAE signifies the strengthening of bilateral relations, marked by frequent high-level engagements.
  • The inauguration of the BAPS temple in Abu Dhabi underscores the growing acceptance and promotion of cultural diversity in the UAE.
  • Economic cooperation between India and the UAE has surged, with bilateral trade reaching $85 billion and significant investments in various sectors.
  • The UAE is a key partner for India in areas such as energy security, defense cooperation, and people-to-people ties.
  • Both countries have demonstrated exceptional gestures of friendship and cooperation, despite regional complexities and geopolitical challenges.
  • Strategic collaborations extend beyond bilateral relations to include participation in international forums and infrastructure projects.

Burning Issue] India-UAE Relations - Civilsdaily

Key Challenges:

  • Despite strong ties, there may be occasional divergences in interests and priorities between India and the UAE.
  • Regional conflicts and geopolitical tensions could pose challenges to the stability of the bilateral relationship.
  • Maintaining momentum in economic cooperation and addressing barriers to trade and investment require continued efforts.
  • Balancing relations with other regional actors, especially in the context of the Middle East, remains a delicate task for both countries.

Main Terms:

  • Bilateral Relations: Mutual interactions and agreements between two countries.
  • Economic Partnership: Collaborative efforts to enhance trade, investment, and economic cooperation.
  • Strategic Cooperation: Joint efforts to address common security challenges and pursue shared interests.
  • Cultural Exchange: Promotion of cultural understanding and appreciation through mutual exchanges.
  • Energy Security: Ensuring stable and reliable access to energy resources.
  • Global Leadership: A position of influence and responsibility in shaping international affairs.

Important Phrases:

  • “Strategic partnership agreements”
  • “Global leadership role”
  • “Economic engagement”
  • “Cultural diplomacy”
  • “Mutual respect”
  • “Strategic cooperation”
  • “International forums”
  • “Geopolitical challenges”

Quotes:

  • “India-UAE relationship is one of the most prominent bilateral relationships for New Delhi.”
  • “The UAE is India’s trusted partner in energy security.”
  • “Both countries recognise that this privileged strategic partnership is only set to grow stronger in the years ahead.”

India-UAE CEPA

Anecdotes:

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reception at the World Government Summit in Dubai as the ‘Guest of Honour’.
  • Conferment of the UAE’s top civilian honour, the Order of Zayed, upon Prime Minister Modi during his visit to the UAE.
  • India’s participation in the Abu Dhabi Festival as the ‘Guest of Honour’ in 2018.

Useful Statements:

  • “The visit underscores the deepening ties and mutual cooperation between India and the UAE.”
  • “Both countries have demonstrated exceptional gestures of friendship and cooperation.”
  • “The bilateral relationship faces challenges but remains resilient.”

Examples and References:

  • India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement
  • Participation in international forums like the G-20 summit
  • Establishment of IIT Delhi Abu Dhabi campus and UAE consulate in Hyderabad

Facts and Data:

  • Bilateral trade between India and the UAE reached $85 billion in 2022-23.
  • India’s export destination: UAE is the second-largest.
  • UAE is India’s third-largest trading partner.

Critical Analysis:

The article provides a comprehensive overview of the evolving India-UAE relationship, highlighting its strategic, economic, and cultural dimensions. It underscores the significance of the partnership amidst regional complexities and global challenges. However, it also acknowledges potential areas of divergence and the need for sustained efforts to overcome them.

Way Forward:

  • Strengthening economic cooperation through trade facilitation and investment promotion.
  • Enhancing strategic collaboration in areas of mutual interest, including defense and energy security.
  • Deepening cultural ties through continued exchanges and collaborative initiatives.
  • Addressing regional challenges through constructive dialogue and diplomacy.
  • Leveraging the privileged partnership to contribute positively to global issues and regional stability.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Vision 2030: Saudi Arabia’s Shift towards Modernity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Modernization in Saudi Arabia , MBS's Policies

Vision 2030

Introduction

  • Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 seeks to reshape Saudi Arabia, moving away from oil dependence and embracing modernity.
  • This transformation faces resistance from traditionalists but aligns with a changing global image of Saudi Arabia as a tourist-friendly, welcoming nation.

Al-Ula: A Modern Oasis

  • Historical Significance: Al-Ula, an ancient city along the incense route, is pivotal in MBS’s vision to modernize Saudi Arabia.
  • Breaking Stereotypes: Saudi Arabia aims to challenge traditional beliefs by welcoming tourists beyond pilgrimage destinations.
  • Nationalism Beyond Religion: The country’s evolving nationalism is detached from religion, emphasizing individual liberties and empowerment.

Winds of Change

  • Empowering Women: Saudi Arabia promotes gender equality, offering scholarships and opportunities for young women.
  • National Transformation: Young Saudis actively participate in the modernization drive, recognizing its benefits.
  • Welcoming the ‘Other’: Saudi Arabia’s newfound friendliness towards foreigners, including easing visa norms and hosting entertainment events.

Challenges on Path to Modernity

  • Cultural Sensitivities: Transitioning from conservative traditions is challenging, but Saudis are adapting to change.
  • Historical Significance: Al-Ula’s archaeological treasures pose challenges given their potential impact on religious perceptions.
  • Top-Down Change: Past experiences highlight the complexities of enforcing societal changes from the top.

Global Engagement

  • Strategic Foreign Policy: Saudi Arabia’s balanced foreign policy has insulated it from regional conflicts.
  • Cultural Riches: The country aims to showcase its archaeological wonders to the world.
  • Green Initiatives: MBS’s ‘green’ approach and emphasis on renewables align with global trends.

Opportunities for India

  • Improved Working Conditions: Indian migrant workers can expect better conditions and a renewed social contract.
  • Educational and Cultural Exchanges: Indian educators and artists have opportunities to contribute to Saudi Arabia’s educational overhaul.
  • Counter-Terrorism Cooperation: India can leverage Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism initiatives.
  • Bilateral Investments: Collaboration in infrastructure and service sectors presents growth potential for both nations.

Conclusion

  • Saudi Arabia’s journey towards modernity is marked by challenges and opportunities.
  • As it reshapes its identity and engages with the world, India stands to benefit from this evolving partnership, contributing to mutual growth and cooperation.
  • Saudi Arabia’s aspiration to excel in various fields aligns with India’s interests, paving the way for a fruitful relationship.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

A revival of the IMEC idea amid choppy geopolitics

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Suez Canal

Mains level: The Yemen conflict has seen an alarming erosion in the shipping industry’s confidence in the Suez Canal

What Is The Suez Canal? For Kids, 48% OFF

Central Idea:

The article discusses the growing relevance of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) in light of the Yemen conflict and its impact on the shipping industry’s confidence in the Suez Canal. The author highlights the potential challenges and geopolitical considerations for IMEC, emphasizing its significance for trade, infrastructure, and strategic partnerships.

Key Highlights:

  • Shippers are considering alternative routes around Africa due to concerns about the Suez Canal’s reliability amid the Yemen conflict.
  • IMEC gains importance as a viable alternative, connecting Saudi Arabia to Israel and potentially transforming trade routes.
  • Challenges include geopolitical complexities, opposition from the Arab Street, and alternative proposals by countries like Turkey.
  • Existing rail projects in the Middle East, such as Etihad Rail and GCC Railway, align with IMEC’s objectives, targeting ports like Fujairah and Jebel Ali.
  • Hydrogen pipelines and containerization through rail and road are proposed components of IMEC, contributing to decarbonization and efficient trade.

Key Challenges:

  • Geopolitical hurdles, especially after the Gaza war, may impact the implementation of IMEC.
  • Opposition from the Arab Street and concerns about major trade links between Saudi Arabia and Israel pose challenges.
  • Turkey’s proposed alternative route and its exclusion from IMEC could complicate regional dynamics.
  • The uncertain political landscape and potential changes in U.S. leadership raise questions about the project’s future.

India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor: A passage of possibilities -  Frontline

Key Terms/Phrases:

  • India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC).
  • Suez Canal.
  • Yemen conflict.
  • Gaza war.
  • Geopolitics.
  • Containerization.
  • Hydrogen pipelines.
  • Rail freight corridors.
  • Decarbonization.
  • Strategic partnerships.

Key Quotes:

  • “The Yemen conflict has seen an alarming erosion in the shipping industry’s confidence in the Suez Canal.”
  • “Critics of IMEC say the Arab Street would simply not allow any major trade link between Saudi Arabia and Israel.”
  • “Turkey, which has been explicitly left out of IMEC, has already been expressive about its irritation.”
  • “IMEC will be the sort of project that would sync with a business-focused Trump if he were to become President of the U.S. again.”

Key Statements:

  • The Yemen conflict has raised concerns about the reliability of the Suez Canal, prompting consideration of alternative routes like IMEC.
  • Geopolitical challenges and opposition from the Arab Street may impact the realization of IMEC.
  • The exclusion of Turkey and uncertainties in U.S. leadership pose additional complexities for the project.

Key Examples and References:

  • Etihad Rail and GCC Railway as existing rail projects aligning with IMEC.
  • The Gaza war’s impact on the potential meeting for stakeholders to flesh out IMEC details.
  • The Adani stake in Haifa port and its potential role in capacity expansion, drawing parallels with the Colombo deepwater container terminal.

Key Facts/Data:

  • The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) aims to connect Al Haditha in Saudi to Haifa in Israel.
  • Containerization through rail and road in IMEC is highlighted as a significant aspect for India’s trade goals.
  • IMEC promises to cut delivery schedules by 40%, emphasizing efficiency in trade.

Critical Analysis:

  • The article critically evaluates the geopolitical challenges and potential impediments to the successful implementation of IMEC.
  • It discusses the impact of recent conflicts and political developments on the project’s feasibility.
  • The inclusion of hydrogen pipelines and containerization as components of IMEC is analyzed in the context of global trends and India’s logistics goals.

Way Forward:

  • Advocate for addressing geopolitical hurdles and building consensus among stakeholders for IMEC.
  • Consider potential modifications to the project to accommodate geopolitical sensitivities, such as involving Turkey.
  • Emphasize the importance of IMEC in the context of global trade, decarbonization, and efficiency, especially with changing political landscapes.
  • Ensure that key stakeholders, including the U.S., European nations, and Saudi Arabia, remain committed to the project’s financing and implementation.
  • Explore opportunities for collaboration and financing models, drawing from successful templates like the United States International Development Finance Corporation funding for the Colombo deepwater container terminal.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Explained: India-UAE Relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Kafala System

Mains level: India-UAE Relations

India-UAE Relations

Introduction

  • PM Modi recently highlighted the strength of India-UAE relations at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit 2024.
  • Bilateral discussions were held with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, who was the Chief Guest.

India-UAE Relations: Historical Context

India-UAE relations have seen significant milestones:

  • India-UAE CEPA: Effective since May 1, 2022, this agreement has slashed tariffs on over 80% of products, facilitating duty-free access for 90% of Indian exports to the UAE. Non-oil trade surged to $50 billion from May 2022 to April 2023, with a $100 billion target by 2030.
  • IMEC: The UAE is vital to the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), offering an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
  • I2U2 Group: Comprising India, UAE, Israel, and the U.S., this group promotes technological and private-sector cooperation in water, energy, and transportation.
  • Rupee-Dirham Agreement: The Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of the UAE have established a framework for using local currencies in cross-border transactions, reducing dependence on the U.S. Dollar.
  • Cultural Exchange: The UAE’s tolerance is evident with the construction of the BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Dhabi, the first temple of its kind.

Significance of India-UAE Relations

These relations hold immense strategic, political, economic, and cultural importance:

[A] Strategic Significance:

  • Security Concerns: Amid conflicts in the Middle East, the India-UAE alliance enhances both nations’ security, including fighting piracy and terrorism.
  • Energy Security: The UAE is India’s sixth-largest crude oil exporter, playing a key role in India’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves Program.

[B] Political Significance:

  • Multilateral Reforms: The UAE supports India in various international platforms.
  • Counterbalancing China’s Regional Dominance: India’s strengthened relations with the UAE help offset China’s growing presence in the region.
  • Engagement with Regional Alliances: Enhanced India-UAE relations could pave the way for India’s membership in organizations like the OIC and a free trade agreement with the GCC.

[C] Economic Significance:

  • Remittances: The UAE is a major source of remittance inflows to India.
  • Trade and Investments: The UAE is India’s third-largest trade partner, with substantial investments in various sectors.
  • Access to the African Market: Relations with the UAE facilitate India’s entry into the African market.

[D] Cultural Significance:

  • Safeguarding Indian Diaspora Interests: A robust relationship protects the interests of the large Indian expatriate community.
  • Boosting India’s Soft Power: Positive relations enhance India’s soft power in the Middle East.

Challenges to India-UAE Relations

  • Trade Restrictions: The UAE’s Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs), including SPS measures and TBT, have affected Indian exports, particularly in sectors like poultry and processed foods.
  • Chinese Economic Influence: China’s “Cheque Book Diplomacy” overshadows Indian enterprises in the UAE.
  • Kafala Labour System: Harsh conditions for immigrant laborers, passport confiscation, and delayed wages pose significant issues.
  • Financial Aid to Pakistan: Concerns arise due to the UAE’s substantial financial assistance to Pakistan.
  • Iran-Arab Dispute: Balancing ties with the UAE and Iran amid their conflict is a diplomatic challenge.

Way Forward

  • Clarity in Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs): Establish transparent NTB practices for smoother trade relations.
  • Comprehensive Strategic Dialogue: Initiate high-level dialogues to address strategic, defense, and political issues.
  • Harmonization with UAE’s ‘Vision 2021’: Collaborate in emerging sectors to reinforce economic ties.
  • Joint Ventures in Technology and Innovation: Encourage collaborations in cutting-edge technology.
  • Healthcare Cooperation: Collaborate in healthcare research and public health initiatives.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

A time-honoured connect that will help bridge the Gulf

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: na

Mains level: engagement between India and Oman is multidimensional

Foreign Minister receives Indian National Security Advisor | Times of Oman  - Times of Oman

Central idea 

The state visit of Sultan Haitham bin Tarik of Oman to India underscores the historical ties and strategic importance of Oman as India’s closest neighbor in the Arabian Gulf region. The visit builds upon the robust India-Oman strategic partnership, focusing on defense, security, trade, and shared interests.

Key Highlights:

  • Sultan Haitham bin Tarik of Oman is on a state visit to India, marking his first visit since assuming office in January 2020.
  • Oman holds strategic importance to India due to its geographical location, being the closest neighbor in the Arabian Gulf region.
  • The historical ties between India and Oman, reinforced by the ruling family’s favorable disposition, have led to robust diplomatic relations.
  • Oman’s foreign policy emphasizes moderation, mediation, and deliberate neutrality, making it a key player in diffusing tensions in the Gulf region.

Key Challenges:

  • The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in the region poses challenges to stability, testing the diplomatic skills of India and Oman.
  • Balancing relations with Western powers, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and neighboring Iran requires a delicate approach.

Key Terms and Phrases:

  • India-Oman strategic partnership
  • Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)
  • Gulf of Oman
  • Operation Sankalp
  • Duqm Port
  • India-Middle-East-Europe Connectivity Corridor (IMEEC)
  • South Asia Gas Enterprise (SAGE)

Key Quotes:

  • “Oman is India’s gateway to West Asia.”
  • “Oman has pursued a foreign policy based on moderation, mediation, and deliberate neutrality.”

Anecdotes and Examples:

  • Sultan Qaboos’ favorable disposition toward India, inviting Indian companies for projects and sourcing supplies.
  • Oman’s role in diffusing tensions during the Persian Gulf crisis in 2019.

Key Statements:

  • The India-Oman strategic partnership is based on mutual trust and shared interests.
  • Oman’s deliberate neutrality during regional conflicts contributes to its role as an island of peace.

Key Facts and Data:

  • Bilateral trade between India and Oman reached $12.388 billion in FY2022-23.
  • Over 6,000 India-Oman joint ventures exist, with an estimated investment of over $7.5 billion.

Critical Analysis:

  • Oman’s ability to manage rival ideologies and power games in the region makes it vital to India’s interests.
  • The visit of Sultan Haitham bin Tarik is timely, given the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, testing the diplomatic resilience of both nations.

Way Forward:

  • Strengthening security cooperation and maritime security efforts in the Indian Ocean region.
  • Exploring increased collaboration in strategic areas such as space cooperation and joint exploration of rare earth metals.

The ongoing engagement between India and Oman is multidimensional, encompassing strategic, economic, and diplomatic facets. Both nations seek to enhance collaboration and navigate regional challenges for mutual benefit and stability.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

With life of eight Indians in Qatar at stake, India needs deft diplomacy

Central idea

Qatar’s unprecedented death sentences for eight retired Indian naval personnel on espionage charges pose a formidable diplomatic challenge for the government. Minister Jaishankar’s cautious response and public expectations add layers to this sensitive situation.

What Happened?

  • Recently, Qatar handed death sentences to eight retired Indian naval personnel, a shocking move.
  • Unlike previous cases involving murder or narcotics, these charges relate to espionage.

Minister Jaishankar’s Response and Diplomatic Sensitivity

  • Assurances to Parliament: Minister Jaishankar assured Parliament that the matter is a priority, urging patience due to its sensitivity. The focus is on keeping the welfare of the eight individuals at the forefront.
  • Media Statements and Caution: Media statements exercise caution due to the confidential nature of the case. Not commenting further is a diplomatic approach, respecting the sensitivity of ongoing proceedings.

Current Challenges:

  • Diplomatic Problem: The government faces a tough situation with Qatar giving death sentences to eight retired Indian naval people.
  • Public Worries: People, along with opposition parties, are worried about the safety of those convicted, putting pressure on the government to bring them back home.
  • Sensitive Matter: The case involves spying charges against a group of retired defense officers, making it a delicate issue in the diplomatic world.
  • Limited Information: Because the case details are confidential, the government can’t share much, leading to people guessing and worrying more.

Way Forward:

  • Talking with Qatar: India should keep discussing with Qatar, telling them to be fair and just while following their laws.
  • Helping with Consular Stuff: Making sure the convicted individuals can meet with Indian officials regularly and watching over their court case is really important.
  • Telling People What’s Up: The government needs to tell people what it can, being honest but also keeping some things private.
  • Getting Support: Asking other countries for support and help can make Qatar rethink its decision.
  • Using Legal Moves: Trying legal ways, like making appeals and talking with Qatar, is crucial to get the naval people released.
  • Calming People Down: Making sure veterans and the public know what’s happening and addressing their worries is super important.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India- Qatar Diplomatic Conundrum

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: India-Qatar Relations

qatar

Central Idea

  • The recent verdict of the death penalty for eight Indian Navy officials in Qatar has sent shockwaves through diplomatic circles.
  • The Indian MEA expressed deep shock and initiated a quest for legal remedies.

What is the case about?

  • Arrest Details: The Indian Embassy learned about their arrests in mid-September the previous year.
  • Consular Access: The first consular access was granted on October 3, more than a month after their detention.
  • Solitary Confinement: While the specific charges were never disclosed publicly, the detainees’ confinement in solitary cells hinted at possible security-related offences.

qatar

India-Qatar Relations

  • Historical Relations: India and Qatar have maintained friendly relations for decades. PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to Qatar in 2008 marked a significant turning point, followed by reciprocal visits from the Emir of Qatar and PM Narendra Modi.
  • Economic Ties: The bilateral trade between India and Qatar, valued at $15 billion, primarily involves LNG and LPG exports from Qatar to India.
  • Defence Cooperation: Defence cooperation is a key component of India-Qatar ties, with the India-Qatar Defence Cooperation Agreement serving as a pivotal milestone.

Challenges in the Relationship

  • Religious Controversy: In June 2022, a controversy involving derogatory remarks about the Prophet on a TV show led to tension between India and Qatar. Qatar demanded a public apology, which India addressed by swiftly sacking the individual responsible.
  • Recent shift-overs: The imprisonment of the eight ex-Navy personnel constitutes the second significant challenge. It took India by surprise in a country where a large Indian expatriate community resides, making India-Qatar relations a sensitive issue.

Why does Qatar matter to India?

  • Expatriate Community: Indians constitute the largest expatriate community in Qatar, with approximately 800,000 individuals working and living there.
  • Remittances: The flow of remittances from Qatar and the safety of Indian citizens make Qatar vital for India’s interests.
  • Energy Security: Qatar is the largest supplier of LNG to India, making it critical for India’s energy security.
  • GCC Membership: Qatar’s membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is strategically significant for India, especially concerning issues like Kashmir.
  • UNSC Support: India’s bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council requires support from countries like Qatar.
  • Business Presence: Several Indian companies, including Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Wipro, MahindraTech, and Larsen & Toubro Limited, operate in Qatar.
  • Stability in the Gulf: The stability of the Gulf region is of paramount importance to India’s energy and maritime security.

Conclusion

  • The detention and sentencing of eight Indian nationals in Qatar have posed a complex diplomatic challenge for India.
  • Against the backdrop of India-Qatar relations, this incident underscores the importance of navigating cultural sensitivities and geopolitical dynamics to secure the release of these individuals.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India’s Evolving Role in the Middle East Crisis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Israel-Hamas Crisis, India's growing role and diplomatic pressure

What’s the news?

  • As tensions continue to escalate in the Middle East, diplomatic efforts have gained momentum. US President Joe Biden’s decision to visit Israel to assess Israeli plans is a significant development.

Central idea

  • The world finds itself sharply divided on this issue, with emerging geopolitical faultlines becoming increasingly solidified. These divisions are not limited to international boundaries but are also being mirrored within nations. Given India’s growing interests in the Middle East, it cannot remain indifferent to the reverberations from its extended neighborhood.

India’s Growing Stake in the Middle East

  • Remarkable Foreign Policy Achievement: India’s engagement in the Middle East, under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, stands as a remarkable foreign policy achievement. This success transcends the often-debated.
  • Building Strong Ties: prime Minister’s efforts have resulted in India building strong ties with key stakeholders in the Middle East. These relationships have given India a distinct and influential role in the region.
  • Beyond Ideology: While the India-Israel relationship has been growing steadily since the 1990s. Prime minister Modi has emphasized the need for India’s Arab partners to build a relationship that addresses 21st-century challenges, shifting the focus away from religious heritage.

India’s Balanced Approach

  • Pragmatism in Diplomacy: India’s approach to the Middle East is marked by pragmatism and balance. It seeks to navigate the complex dynamics of the region with a steady hand.
  • Solidarity with Israel: India’s expression of solidarity with Israel in the wake of a terror attack should not be viewed as a shift in policy, but as a natural response to support a friendly nation in a time of crisis.
  • Support for a Two-State Solution: India’s Ministry of External Affairs reaffirms its support for negotiations aimed at establishing a sovereign, independent, and viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. This stance reflects India’s long-standing position and commitment to a peaceful resolution.

India’s Transformational Role

  • Recognizing Regional Shifts: India’s engagement with the Middle East is shaped by its keen recognition of the transformative changes taking place in the Arab world. It was among the first to acknowledge and adapt to these shifts.
  • Pragmatic Engagement: India’s foreign policy in the Middle East is no longer driven solely by religious considerations. Instead, it emphasizes pragmatic engagement with regional stakeholders.
  • Critical Player: This transformational role positions India as a critical player in the region. It allows India to respond effectively to emerging challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing Middle East.

Conclusion

  • As the Middle East sees soaring tensions, Indian diplomacy will inevitably be under scrutiny. While challenges in the region aren’t new for New Delhi, what has evolved is its ambition to play a significant role in alignment with changing strategic realities.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

An economic corridor, the Israel link and the geopolitics

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Delhi declaration , India-Middle East-Europe Corridor

Mains level: India's G- 20 presidency, Diplomatic win, key outcomes, IMEC and its significance

What’s the news?

  • A historic shift in Saudi policy and key global developments raise prospects for peace; Israel’s absence at the 2023 G-20 summit draws attention.

Central idea

  • The 2023 G-20 summit, held under India’s presidency, demonstrated India’s ability to address complex global challenges despite the group’s limited economic focus. India’s success at the summit, marked by various outcomes, garnered global attention.

Key Outcomes

  • Inclusion of the African Union: The G-20 welcomed the African Union, expanding its reach and global inclusivity.
  • Clean Energy Initiative: India offered a tangible solution through a biofuel alliance, promoting clean energy globally.
  • Substantial Aid for Asia-Africa: Increased aid for Asia-Africa cooperation was pledged, promoting development in the region.
  • Economic Corridor Announcement: The most significant surprise was the announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, connecting India to Europe via the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel.
  • The Delhi Declaration: A joint statement issued by all G-20 members emphasized the need for global cooperation in a fractured international order.

What is the Delhi Declaration?

  • The Delhi Declaration is a joint statement issued during the 2023 G-20 Summit held under India’s presidency.
  • It serves as a summary of the key agreements, commitments, and principles that member nations of the G-20, a group of major economies, endorse during the summit.
  • The declaration typically addresses various global challenges, including economic issues, climate change, geopolitical concerns, and social development.

What makes the Delhi Declaration a diplomatic triumph?

  • Inclusivity:
  • It is notable because it manages to garner the agreement of major world leaders, even in the context of international power struggles.
  • Despite the absence of China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summit, India succeeded in obtaining their agreement for the declaration.
  • This reflects India’s diplomatic acumen in bridging divides and fostering consensus among diverse nations.
  • Unity Amidst Differences:
  • The declaration manages to bring together countries with differing perspectives and interests. It is often challenging to find common ground on complex issues such as territorial disputes or geopolitical conflicts, but the Delhi Declaration demonstrates that the G-20 member nations can set aside differences to agree on a common agenda.
  • This unity is seen as a diplomatic success in a world marked by division and discord.
  • Balancing Act:
  • The Delhi Declaration strikes a balance between addressing global issues and not directly naming certain nations for their actions. In this case, it avoids naming Russia for its aggression against Ukraine but emphasizes the importance of upholding the United Nations charter and principles of territorial sovereignty.
  • This balanced approach allows each member to find something in the declaration that aligns with their interests, contributing to its success.
  • Diplomatic Skill:
  • India’s diplomats and leadership employed effective diplomatic strategies in crafting the Delhi Declaration. By creating a text that caters to the interests of each member, they ensured that all participating nations could claim a win.
  • This diplomatic skill in negotiation and consensus-building is viewed as a triumph for India’s presidency.

What is IMEC?

  • The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor is an economic initiative aimed at creating a strategic trade and transportation corridor that connects India with the Middle East and Europe.
  • It was established through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the leaders of India, the United States, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Italy, and the EU on September 10 in New Delhi.
  • IMEC envisions the development of a reliable and cost-effective transport network, including railways and ship-to-rail transit, to facilitate the movement of goods and services between India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and the European Union (EU).
  • It seeks to offer an alternative route for trade between Asia and Europe, reducing transit times and logistics costs compared to existing maritime routes like the Suez Canal.

What makes this initiative a game-changer?

  • Geopolitical Significance: The corridor’s establishment is seen as a transformative move in the geopolitics of the region. It directly challenges China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has been a major driver of China’s influence globally. By offering an alternative route and infrastructure, it diversifies strategic options for countries in the region and potentially reduces their reliance on the BRI.
  • Economic Benefits: The corridor has the potential to significantly boost trade and economic ties between India and Europe, two major economic regions. It’s expected to stimulate economic growth, create opportunities for investment, and contribute to prosperity along the corridor.
  • Improved Connectivity: The project enhances connectivity between regions, not only economically but also culturally. Enhanced connectivity can foster stability and cooperation among participating countries.
  • Diplomatic Significance: India’s success in securing the participation of Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, underscores its diplomatic influence and the importance of its strategic relationships in the region.
  • Global Recognition: The corridor’s announcement received international recognition, with leaders like U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledging its significance. This recognition highlights its potential to have a far-reaching impact on the global economic and geopolitical landscape.
  • Regional Development: The corridor has the potential to be a catalyst for regional development. It could encourage investment in infrastructure, technology, and industries along the route, leading to job creation and improved living standards for local populations.
  • Security Considerations: The corridor’s success is closely tied to regional stability and cooperation. It could incentivize countries in the Middle East, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, to work towards diplomatic normalization and conflict resolution. Achieving peace in the region is crucial for the corridor’s successful realization.

Israel’s Absence from the G-20 and Possible Factors

  • Israel’s absence from the 2023 G-20 summit, despite its involvement in the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor project, leads to questions about the reasons behind this decision.
  • Diplomatic Normalization: Diplomatic normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia may have played a role. The economic corridor project might have been linked to diplomatic normalization efforts, delaying public recognition of Israel’s involvement until full normalization was achieved.
  • Avoidance of Domestic Politics: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to publicly acknowledge Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative for the economic corridor could be a result of domestic political considerations. Netanyahu might have wanted to avoid appearing too eager for diplomatic achievements, given his domestic political situation.
  • U.S. Administration’s Preferences: The U.S. administration’s avoidance of Netanyahu for eight months due to domestic politics suggests that U.S. preferences or concerns might have influenced Israel’s role in the summit.
  • Regional Sensitivities: The complexities of the Middle East and sensitivities surrounding Israel’s involvement with Middle Eastern countries might have influenced the host’s decision on the guest list for the summit.

Way Forward: A Push for Peace

  • Saudi Arabia’s Diplomatic Shift: Saudi Arabia’s decision to end its diplomatic boycott of Israel signifies a historic opportunity for progress in the Middle East. This shift should be leveraged to promote peace and stability in the region.
  • Influencing Other Nations: Saudi Arabia’s acceptance of Israel could serve as a positive example for other Muslim-majority nations. Efforts should be made to encourage countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia to engage in diplomatic relations with Israel, fostering broader regional cooperation.
  • Conditional Diplomacy: Recognizing the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, diplomatic efforts should continue with a commitment to the two-state solution and the well-being of the Palestinian people as key conditions for acceptance. This approach acknowledges the need for a just and lasting resolution.
  • Promoting Negotiations: The Peace Day Effort initiated by Saudi Arabia, supported by the Arab League and the European Union, offers a path to incentivize Israeli and Palestinian leaders to come to the negotiating table. International stakeholders should continue to support and facilitate these efforts.
  • Addressing Extremism: While pursuing diplomacy, it is crucial to address extremism on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Counteracting extremism and promoting dialogue and reconciliation are essential components of any sustainable peace process.

Conclusion

  • The 2023 G-20 summit under India’s presidency showcased India’s leadership in addressing global challenges. Israel’s absence raised questions, but the path to diplomatic normalization and peace in the Middle East may have played a role. As India continues to drive global cooperation, the world watches with anticipation.

Also read:

India-Middle East-Europe Corridor: The way to a new world order

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Three years of the Abraham Accords

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Abraham Accords

Mains level: Abraham Accords, Significance, Impact and opportunities for India

What’s the news?

  • Three years after their signing, the Abraham Accords continue to promote peace and prosperity in West Asia. The accords have led to increased trade, tourism, and regional cooperation, with India benefiting from enhanced connectivity.

Central idea

  • Three years have passed since the historic signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain, facilitated by the U.S. government. These accords have not only connected governments but have also fostered unity among people. Importantly, the Abraham Accords have unlocked opportunities for India and its vibrant business community, strengthening the ties between nations.

What are Abraham Accords?

  • The Israel-UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
  • It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
  • The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel, as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
  • Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank. The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

Transformative Impact of the Abraham Accords on Regional Dynamics

  • Normalization of Relations: The Accords normalized diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab countries like the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. This marked a significant shift away from decades of tension and non-recognition.
  • Economic Cooperation: The agreements promoted economic cooperation and trade between Israel and participating Arab nations. This resulted in new economic opportunities and increased trade, contributing to regional stability.
  • Security Collaboration: Some accords included provisions for security and defense cooperation. This enhanced regional security through intelligence sharing and coordinated efforts to counter common threats.
  • People-to-People Contacts: The Accords encouraged cultural and people-to-people exchanges, including tourism, academic collaborations, and interfaith dialogue. These exchanges aimed to foster better understanding among citizens of the signatory nations.
  • Broader Regional Implications: The Accords set a precedent and sparked discussions about the potential for more Arab and Muslim-majority countries to normalize relations with Israel, further reshaping regional dynamics.

Benefits of the Abraham Accords for India

  • Enhanced Regional Connectivity: Direct flights between Israel and Arab countries improved regional connectivity. This benefited the Indian diaspora, students, and businesses, making travel and trade more convenient.
  • Economic Opportunities: Indian businesses engaged with Israel and participating Arab nations in various sectors, leading to commercial collaborations. This resulted in economic growth and job creation.
  • Educational and Cultural Exchanges: Indian students gained improved access to international study programs and universities in the region. Cultural exchanges promoted a better understanding of diverse cultures.
  • Partnerships in Critical Areas: The formation of groups like the I2U2 Group, comprising Israel, India, the UAE, and the U.S., highlighted opportunities for joint investments in critical sectors. This offered long-term economic and strategic benefits for India.

Youth Initiatives

  • Recognizing that 65% of the region’s population is under 30 years old, the Abraham Accords have initiated youth delegations to strengthen ties between the younger generation.
  • These delegations enable young influencers to immerse themselves in each other’s cultures, visit significant religious and historic sites, and build communities, fostering understanding and cooperation.
  • Educational exchange programs have also flourished, with Moroccan students attending Ben-Gurion University and Emirati students enrolling in Israeli universities.
  • Bahrain has similarly embraced educational collaborations with Israel to advance student and professor exchanges.

Promising Prospects for the Future

  • Peace and Stability: By normalizing relations and fostering cooperation, the Accords contribute to regional peace and stability, demonstrating that diplomacy can lead to positive outcomes.
  • Economic Growth: Increased trade, investment, and collaboration have the potential to boost economic growth, benefiting signatory nations, neighbouring countries, and the global economy.
  • Regional Integration: The Accords may encourage more countries to normalize relations, promoting greater regional integration and cooperation.
  • People-to-People Bonds: Cultural and educational exchanges foster mutual understanding, contributing to a more harmonious and interconnected region.
  • Diplomatic Model: The Accords serve as a diplomatic model for resolving conflicts through negotiation and compromise, potentially inspiring similar initiatives globally.

Conclusion

  • The Abraham Accords exemplifies the potential for peace and cooperation when both leaders and ordinary citizens prioritize it. They offer a glimpse into a brighter future for West Asia, and Israel hopes to see more countries join this endeavour for the sake of all children. India plays a significant role in this partnership, with shared interests in sustainable recovery, trade expansion, climate change mitigation, and international security.

Must read:

I2U2: Significance Of The Minilateral Grouping

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India-Saudi Arabia Relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor

Mains level: India-Saudi Arabia partnership, India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor

What’s the news?

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s India visit showcased a significant infrastructure project linking India to Europe. It also bolstered economic, energy, and defense cooperation through crucial agreements, underscoring his influential role in shaping the India-Saudi Arabia relationship.

Central idea

  • During his New Delhi visit, Prince Mohammed’s announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, challenging China’s Belt and Road Initiative, marked a significant milestone in bilateral ties. His extended stay for a state visit and the inaugural India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council meeting underscored the relationship’s growing significance.

Historical Foundations

  • Diplomatic relations between India and Saudi Arabia date back to 1947, reflecting centuries of socio-cultural and economic ties.
  • The watershed moment in their relationship occurred during King Abdullah’s visit to India in 200, which led to the Delhi Declaration.
  • Subsequently, the Riyadh Declaration in 2010 elevated their ties to a strategic partnership. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Riyadh in 2016 marked enhanced cooperation in various domains, highlighted by the conferment of Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian honor upon him.

Economic Ties: Driving India-Saudi Arabia Relations

  • Bilateral Trade:
  • In the fiscal year 2022–23, India and Saudi Arabia recorded a remarkable bilateral trade value of $52.76 billion, underscoring the depth of their economic engagement.
  • This bilateral trade figure accounted for 4.53% of India’s total trade during the same period, reflecting the significance of Saudi Arabia as a trade partner.
  • Investments in Saudi Arabia:
  • As of January 2022, a total of 2,783 Indian companies had registered as joint ventures or 100% owned entities in Saudi Arabia.
  • These investments collectively amounted to approximately $2 billion, showcasing the strong presence of Indian corporate giants such as L&T, Tata, Wipro, TCS, TCIL, and Shapoorji Pallonji in the Saudi market.
  • Saudi Investments in India:
  • Saudi Arabia reciprocates India’s economic overtures with substantial investments in various sectors.
  • Notable Saudi investors in India include Aramco, SABIC, Zamil, e-holidays, and the Al Batterjee Group, with a cumulative investment reaching $3.15 billion as of March 2022.
  • Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF):
  • The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) has emerged as a pivotal player in strengthening economic ties between the two nations.
  • PIF has strategically invested in several Indian startups, including Delhivery, FirstCry, Grofers, Ola, OYO, Paytm, and PolicyBazaar, through the SoftBank Vision Fund.
  • In June 2020, PIF announced a substantial investment of $1.49 billion (equating to a 2.32% stake) in Reliance Industries’ Jio Platforms, followed by a $1.3 billion investment (2.04% stake) in Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd. in November 2020.
  • PIF’s interest in the Indian market extends to the agriculture and food sectors, with the acquisition of a 29.91% stake in Daawat Foods Ltd. in May 2020, with an investment of $17.23 million.
  • West Coast Refinery and Petrochemicals Project:
  • Among the most significant proposed investments is the $44 billion West Coast Refinery and Petrochemicals Project in Maharashtra.
  • This mega project is a collaborative effort between Saudi Aramco, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and an Indian consortium comprising Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, and Bharat Petroleum Corporation.

Energy Cooperation: India’s Vital Link with Saudi Arabia

  • Crude Oil Supply:
  • Saudi Arabia stood as India’s third-largest source of crude oil and petroleum products in FY23.
  • India imported a substantial 39.5 million metric tonnes (MMT) of crude oil from Saudi Arabia during the fiscal year, constituting a significant 16.7% of India’s total crude oil imports.
  • LPG Imports:
  • Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) is a vital component of India’s energy mix, and Saudi Arabia contributes significantly to this sector.
  • India imported 7.85 MMT of LPG from Saudi Arabia in FY23, accounting for a noteworthy 11.2% of India’s total petroleum product imports during the same period.

Defence Partnership: Strengthening India-Saudi Arabia Security Ties

  • High-Level Visits:
  • A pivotal moment in the strengthening of defence ties was the landmark visit of General Manoj Mukund Naravane, the then Chief of the Indian Army, to Saudi Arabia in December 2020.
  • This visit underscored the commitment of both nations to enhancing their defence cooperation.
  • Naval Cooperation:
  • India and Saudi Arabia have forged extensive naval cooperation, as exemplified by the initiation of the bilateral naval exercise Al Mohed al Hindi.
  • Two editions of this exercise have already been successfully conducted, further cementing their maritime partnership.
  • Defence Industries and Capacity-Building:
  • Both countries have actively engaged in cooperation in the realm of defence industries and capacity-building.
  • This signifies their shared interest in fostering self-reliance and enhancing their defence capabilities.
  • Joint Development and Production:
  • The joint statement issued during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit emphasized the deepening of defence cooperation and expressed mutual interest in exploring avenues for joint development and production of defence equipment.

Indians in Saudi Arabia: A Strong and Respected Community

  • A Living Bridge: Comprising more than 2.4 million individuals, this community is not only an essential part of Saudi society but also serves as a living bridge connecting India and Saudi Arabia.
  • Contributions to Development:
  • The Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia plays an active and constructive role in the nation’s progress and development.
  • Members of this community are engaged in various sectors, including construction, healthcare, education, and services, contributing their expertise and labor to the kingdom’s advancement.
  • Humanitarian Assistance:
  • The joint statement issued during high-level visits and diplomatic interactions highlights the strong bond between India and Saudi Arabia. It acknowledges Saudi Arabia’s commitment to taking excellent care of the Indian diaspora, as exemplified by their support during critical situations.
  • In particular, Saudi Arabia’s assistance in the evacuation of Indian nationals stranded in Sudan through Jeddah under Operation Kaveri is a testament to the collaborative spirit and humanitarian approach of both nations.
  • Facilitating Religious Pilgrimage:
  • Saudi Arabia plays a crucial role in facilitating religious pilgrimages for Indian citizens.
  • The support provided to Indian Hajj and Umrah pilgrims underscores the kingdom’s commitment to ensuring a smooth and spiritually fulfilling journey for Indian Muslims.

The Importance of Mohammed bin Salman

  • Vision 2030 and Domestic Reforms:
  • MBS has introduced Vision 2030, a transformative plan aimed at modernizing Saudi Arabia’s economy and society.
  • Notable reforms include granting women the right to drive, opening cinemas, welcoming tourists, and diversifying the economy away from oil.
  • Economic Transformation:
  • Under Vision 2030, MBS has spearheaded efforts to attract foreign investments, boost non-oil sectors, and create jobs.
  • The plan has led to substantial investments in technology, entertainment, and tourism.
  • Regional Diplomacy:
  • MBS has pursued an active foreign policy to enhance Saudi Arabia’s regional influence and stability.
  • This includes initiatives to reconcile with regional adversaries like Iran and engage with Israel.
  • Strengthened Global Ties:
  • MBS has worked to bolster Saudi Arabia’s relationships with global powers, including the United States, India, and China.
  • These partnerships encompass economic collaborations, strategic alliances, and military cooperation.
  • Controversies and Criticisms:
  • MBS has faced criticism and controversy, notably concerning human rights issues and the Jamal Khashoggi case.
  • These events have affected Saudi Arabia’s international image and diplomatic relations.

Conclusion

  • The India-Saudi Arabia partnership is poised for further growth, fueled by economic, energy, defence, and cultural ties. As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues to navigate the global stage, India is actively engaging with Saudi Arabia to bolster this pragmatic partnership for mutual benefit and regional stability.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India-Egypt Relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: India-Egypt bilateral trade and initiatives

Mains level: India-Egypt bilateral relations, challenges and opportunities

Egypt

Central Idea

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to Egypt holds immense potential for revitalizing the historic ties between India and Egypt. While past interactions have been marked by goodwill, the bilateral relationship has yet to witness substantial progress. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was also the chief guest at the seventy-fourth republic day celebrations on 26 January 2023.

Historical linkages between India and Egypt

  • Ancient Maritime Trade: Historical evidence suggests that there were maritime trade links between ancient India and Egypt. In 2750 BCE, the Pharaoh Sahure sent ships to the Land of Punt, which is believed to be peninsular India. This indicates early trade and cultural connections between the two civilizations.
  • Cultural Exchanges: There have been instances of cultural exchanges between India and Egypt throughout history. One notable example is the use of Indian indigo-dyed muslin to wrap Egyptian mummies during the middle of the second millennium BCE.
  • Ancient Civilizational Connections:  The Indus Valley Civilization in India and the ancient Egyptian civilization are among the oldest and most advanced in the world. These civilizations have left behind a legacy of art, architecture, literature, and philosophy, showcasing shared human heritage.
  • Influence of Ancient Egypt in India: Egyptian ideas and concepts, such as the idea of life after death, have influenced various ancient Indian philosophies and religious traditions. There are similarities in symbolic representations, rituals, and beliefs between ancient Egyptian and Indian cultures.

The current status of trade between India and Egypt

  • Trade Volume: In the fiscal year 2022-23, the total trade between India and Egypt amounted to $6,061 million. However, this figure reflected a decline of 17% compared to the previous year, indicating a temporary setback in trade relations.
  • Trade Composition: A significant portion of the trade between the two countries is petroleum-related, representing nearly one-third of the total trade volume. Apart from petroleum, other major commodities in the trade include refined petroleum, wheat (Egypt being the world’s largest wheat importer), cars, corn, and pharmaceutical products.
  • Trade Rankings: India stands as Egypt’s sixth-largest trading partner, showcasing its importance in the Egyptian market. However, in terms of India’s overall trade relations, Egypt ranks 38th, indicating potential for further expansion and diversification.
  • Investment Scenario: Indian investments in Egypt are spread across 50 projects with a total investment value of $3.15 billion. Notably, a significant portion of this investment comes from a single company. In contrast, Egypt’s investments in India amount to a modest $37 million.
  • Indian Presence in Egypt: There are less than 5,000 Indians residing in Egypt, with approximately one-fifth of them being students. This indicates a relatively small Indian community presence in the country.

Reasons for the underperformance of bilateral ties between the two

  • Lack of Substantial Progress: Despite decades of diplomatic engagements and various institutional mechanisms, the bilateral relationship has delivered little in terms of substantial outcomes. While there has been goodwill and verbal exchanges on topics like decolonization and non-alignment, tangible progress has been limited.
  • Economic Factors: The decline in trade volume and limited investment flow between India and Egypt indicate economic challenges. The article highlights that trade between the two countries has declined by 17% in recent years, and India’s investments are primarily concentrated in a few projects. Economic crises, such as currency devaluation, high inflation, and financial constraints, have affected Egypt’s economy and impacted bilateral trade and investment.
  • Limited People-to-People Contacts: The presence of a relatively small Indian community in Egypt, with less than 5,000 Indian residents, signifies limited people-to-people contacts. A stronger and more diverse network of individuals and professionals from both countries could contribute to enhanced bilateral relations.
  • Bureaucratic Inefficiency: The existence of various institutional mechanisms, such as joint commissions, working groups, and consultations, indicates the bureaucratic framework in place. However, the article suggests that the efficacy and sense of purpose of these mechanisms may be lacking, leading to limited progress in concrete outcomes.
  • Economic Challenges in Egypt: Egypt faces economic challenges such as a static economy, pandemic-induced slowdown, and global economic fluctuations. These factors have impacted the overall economic environment and posed challenges for trade and investment opportunities.

Egypt

Way forward: Opportunities for collaboration

  • Supply of Commodities: Egypt has a demand for various commodities, including refined petroleum, wheat (as the world’s largest importer), cars, corn, and pharmaceuticals. India has the potential to supply these commodities, presenting an opportunity for increased trade and collaboration.
  • Infrastructure Development: Egypt has an ambitious infrastructure development agenda, including projects such as the construction of New Cairo ($58 billion), a nuclear power plant ($25 billion), and a high-speed rail network ($23 billion). India can actively participate in these projects, providing expertise, technology, and investments.
  • Defense Collaboration: Egypt has been a significant importer of arms, making it an area for potential defense collaboration. India, being a defense manufacturing and technology hub, can explore opportunities for collaboration in defense equipment supply, joint ventures, technology transfer, and training.
  • Economic Reforms and Investments: India can support Egypt’s economic reforms by exploring innovative financial instruments such as the EXIM line of credit, barter arrangements, and rupee trading. These mechanisms can facilitate trade and investment, especially during periods of financial challenges faced by Egypt.
  • Strategic Partnerships: India can leverage strategic partnerships with other countries and organizations, including Gulf countries, the G-20, and multilateral financial institutions. These partnerships can provide additional funding, expertise, and resources for joint projects and initiatives.

Conclusion

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Egypt presents a crucial opportunity to strengthen the bilateral relationship and leverage historical ties. By focusing on key sectors of trade, investment, and infrastructure collaboration, India can enhance its presence in Egypt’s growing economy. By exploring innovative funding mechanisms and strategic partnerships, India can foster sustainable development and mutually beneficial cooperation with Egypt while setting a precedent for engagements with other nations in the region.

Also read:

India-Egypt Relations

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India-Gulf Partnership: Opportunities and Challenges

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Guld Countries

Mains level: India's strengthening relations with Gulf countries, opportunities, challenges and way ahead

Gulf

Central Idea

  • The recent meeting in Riyadh between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the national security advisers of the US, UAE, and India highlights India’s new possibilities in the Arabian Peninsula. The growing strategic convergence between India and USA in the Gulf and the opportunities and challenges for India in the emerging.

India-US Gulf Partnership: Departure from Traditional Approaches

  • Shedding the Anti-Western Lens: The Nehruvian foreign policy of keeping a distance from the US in the Middle East is being discarded, and India is working with the US in the Gulf region.
  • Building New Partnerships: The formation of a four-nation grouping called I2U2, comprising the US, India, Israel, and the UAE, highlights the growing strategic convergence between Delhi and Washington in the Gulf.
  • Rejection of Ideological Taboo: India is shedding its ideological taboo of keeping its distance from Israel, and transforming its relations with the two Arabian kingdoms, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, into solid strategic partnerships.
  • Expansion of Partnerships: In addition to the US, India is beginning to work with France in the Gulf and the Western Indian Ocean.
  • Change in Perception: The US is leading the West to discard its pro-Pakistan bias and rethink the relationship between the Subcontinent and the Gulf.

New Strategic Opportunities for India in the Gulf

  • Economic growth: The emerging Arabian Peninsula presents enormous new possibilities for India’s economic growth, given the massive financial capital and ambitious economic transformation of Gulf kingdoms like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
  • Connectivity and security: India can play a productive role in promoting connectivity and security within Arabia and between it and abutting regions, including Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, and the Subcontinent.
  • Overcoming extremism: The engagement with the Gulf can also help India overcome the dangerous forces of violent religious extremism within the Subcontinent.
  • Elevating India’s standing: The new opportunities in Arabia and the emerging possibilities for partnership with the US and the West position India to rapidly elevate its own standing in the region.

Challenges that India may face in pursuing strategic opportunities in the Gulf

  • Regional instability: The Gulf region is prone to political and security instability due to ongoing conflicts, political tensions, and the presence of non-state actors. This can pose a challenge for India in pursuing its interests in the region.
  • Dependence on hydrocarbons: India is heavily dependent on hydrocarbon imports from the Gulf, which makes it vulnerable to supply disruptions and price volatility. The shift towards renewable energy sources and reducing dependence on hydrocarbons may take time and require significant investments.
  • Competition with other powers: India faces competition from other major powers such as China, the United States, and European countries, who are also seeking to expand their strategic presence in the Gulf region.
  • Cultural differences: There may be cultural differences between India and some Gulf countries, which could pose challenges in developing strong partnerships and cooperation in areas such as security and counter-terrorism.
  • Domestic political constraints: Domestic political constraints, such as political opposition to closer ties with certain Gulf countries, could hinder India’s efforts to deepen its strategic engagement in the region.

Way ahead: Steps is to continue building on the momentum

  • Strengthening economic ties: India should focus on deepening its economic relations with the Gulf countries, including diversifying its trade and investment portfolio, exploring opportunities in non-oil sectors, and leveraging its expertise in areas such as technology, healthcare, and renewable energy.
  • Enhancing security cooperation: India should work with its Gulf partners to enhance security cooperation, including counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing, and contribute to regional stability and security.
  • Promoting people-to-people ties: India should encourage greater people-to-people exchanges with the Gulf countries, including through cultural and educational exchanges, tourism, and sports.
  • Supporting regional initiatives: India should support regional initiatives aimed at promoting stability, connectivity, and development in the Gulf and the wider Middle East region.
  • Balancing relations with various actors: India should strive to balance its relations with various actors in the region, including the US, France, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran, and avoid getting embroiled in regional rivalries.

Conclusion

  • The emerging India-US partnership in the Gulf region presents a new era of cooperation that has the potential to promote economic growth, connectivity, and security within the region. The partnership marks a departure from traditional approaches to the Middle East and has the potential to elevate India’s standing in the Gulf.

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India and Saudi Arabia: Strengthening the Bond

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

CEPA is the Growth Engine For India-UAE Bilateral Trade

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: India-UAE relations and latest developments

Mains level: One year of India-UAE CEPA, its significance and impact

CEPA

Central Idea

  • The India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) signifies a deep, fraternal, and strategically important relationship between the two countries that goes beyond just economic cooperation. The success of the agreement in stimulating economic growth and providing investment opportunities has unlocked new possibilities for multi-sectoral collaboration and partnerships

Background: India-UAE relationship

  • Historical ties: The India-UAE relationship has been shaped by centuries of cultural and economic engagement on the Indian Ocean’s network of exchange. The two countries share historical ties that go back to pre-modern times, with Arab traders having visited the west coast of India since the fourth century AD.
  • India’s third-largest trading partner: The UAE emerged as India’s third-largest trading partner, highlighting the two countries’ positive outlook towards economic cooperation.
  • Trade partnership strengthened with oil: The India-UAE partnership was forged first on the trade of traditional items, and then strengthened with oil. It found a formal dimension after the creation of the UAE Federation in 1971, and then accelerated in the 1990s when a liberalised India embraced the opportunity to export to the UAE and markets beyond.
  • Relationship is today more than an economic partnership: It speaks to the Emirates’s deep, fraternal, and strategically important relationship with India, reinforcing the UAE’s position as a key partner in India’s foreign policy. The two countries share strong cultural and people-to-people ties, with a significant Indian diaspora in the UAE.
  • key partner in India’s development agenda: The UAE has been a key partner in India’s development agenda, including investments in the oil and gas sector, renewable energy, and infrastructure. The UAE has also been supportive of India’s efforts in combating terrorism and enhancing security cooperation.

India- UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)

  • The India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) is a bilateral trade agreement that aims to strengthen economic ties between the two countries.
  • The CEPA covers a wide range of subjects, including trade in goods, trade in services, investment, intellectual property rights, and competition policy.
  • The CEPA has been in the making for several years, with negotiations starting in 2017 and the agreement finally coming into force on May 1, 2022. The agreement builds on the decades of mutual enterprise between the two countries, with the UAE emerging as India’s third-largest trading partner.

How India- UAE CEPA benefits both the countries?

  • Increased trade: The CEPA is expected to significantly increase trade volumes between India and the UAE, with the potential to create new investment opportunities and increase business partnerships. This will help both countries to diversify their trade relationships beyond their traditional trading partners.
  • Diversified trade: The CEPA covers a wide range of subjects, including trade in goods, trade in services, investment, intellectual property rights, and competition policy, allowing for a more diversified trade relationship between the two countries.
  • Access to new markets: The CEPA is inspiring innovators and investors, catalysing SMEs, startups, and India Inc to make decisive inroads into new markets, particularly the Emirati market, and from there to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. This will benefit both countries in terms of access to new markets and opportunities.
  • Support for entrepreneurship: The CEPA provides support for startups in both India and the UAE, enabling them to explore growth and diversification into each other’s markets, as well as other markets in the region and beyond. The India-UAE Startup Bridge will also enable them to attract investment from venture capitalists and angel investors.
  • Addressing developmental challenges: The CEPA provides a trade lens to tackle issues such as energy and food security, agriculture, and sustainability, making it a strategic catalyst in addressing vital developmental challenges.

CEPA

Facts for prelims: UPI in UAE

  • Indian travelers can now seamlessly make payments in the UAE using the UPI-based apps.
  • National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has partnered with the Mashreq Bank’s NEOPAY to enable UPI-based payments in the Gulf Nation.
  • UPI payments will only be possible in UAE shops that have NEOPAY terminals. The user should have a bank account with an Indian bank account along with a mobile app like BHIM that supports UPI payments.
  • Currently, UPI payments are accepted in Bhutan and Nepal. It is likely to go live in Singapore by the end of this year.
  • Back in 2021, the UPI services were launched in Bhutan in collaboration with its central bank, the Royal Monetary Authority.

Way ahead?

  • Looking ahead, the India-UAE CEPA presents a unique opportunity to further deepen economic and strategic ties between the two countries. Some of the key steps that can be taken to build on the success of the CEPA include:
  • Strengthening infrastructure: India and the UAE can collaborate to strengthen infrastructure, including ports, airports, and logistics networks, to facilitate the movement of goods and people between the two countries.
  • Enhancing cooperation in emerging sectors: The two countries can explore cooperation in emerging sectors such as renewable energy, artificial intelligence, and fintech, among others, to promote innovation and economic growth.
  • Promoting investment: Both India and the UAE can take steps to promote investment in each other’s markets, including through the creation of investment promotion agencies, bilateral investment treaties, and other measures.
  • Strengthening cultural ties: Cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts can be further enhanced to deepen the historical and cultural ties between the two countries.
  • Addressing developmental challenges: The CEPA provides a platform for addressing key developmental challenges faced by both countries, such as energy and food security, sustainability, and agriculture. Further efforts can be made to leverage this platform to achieve meaningful progress in these areas.

Conclusion

  • The UAE-India CEPA has unlocked new possibilities for multi-sectoral collaboration and partnerships, leading the nations to build competitive, resilient, sustainable, and vibrant economies.

Mains Question

Q. India-UAE completed its one year of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) implementation. In this background discuss impact on the Bilateral Trade.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India and Saudi Arabia: Strengthening the Bond

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: India-Saudi Arabia bilateral trade and relationship

Saudi Arabia

Context

  • Saudi Arabia and India ties have undergone a significant transformation in recent years. The camaraderie between the two nations is rooted in our cultural and civilisational ties. The Kingdom and India share mutual respect and appreciation which opens doors for our collaboration and partnership. These ties have been cemented by diplomatic visits made by leaders from both countries.

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Saudi Arabia

Recent visits by the leaders of India and Saudi Arabia

  • Visit by Prince: The visit of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister then, to New Delhi in February 2019
  • PM Modis visit to Saudi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Riyadh in October of the same year are two watershed moments in our journey of strategic ties.

Outcome of such visits

  • Number of MoU’s for multiple sectors: During these visits, both nations concluded a number of MoUs for multiple sectors including energy, civil aviation, security, defence production, regulation of medical products, strategic petroleum reserves, small and medium scale industries, and the training of diplomats in our respective academies.
  • Strategic Partnership Council (SPC) and working group: These two high-level visits anchored the historic formation of Strategic Partnership Council (SPC) at the leadership level. The SPC also saw the formation of working groups in multiple sectors significant to both nations.
  • Comprehensive review of agreements and new opportunities: Since 2019, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and India have taken a comprehensive review of the agreements and have explored opportunities to work together.

Saudi Arabia

Energy security and Bilateral trade between the two

  • Trade extended to other sectors apart from energy: While our ties stem from energy security, over the years they have percolated into many other sectors, including pharma, IT and telecommunications. The Kingdom alone accounts for 18 per cent of India’s crude oil import.
  • India is the second largest trading partner: Saudi Arabia is also the fourth largest trading partner of India while India is the second largest trading partner of Saudi Arabia with our bilateral trade close to $43 billion.
  • Conducive business environment in the Kingdom: A number of leading Indian companies have also set up a base in Saudi Arabia, signifying the conducive business environment in the Kingdom.
  • Joint ventures signifies trust and strong relationship: There are close to 750 Indian companies registered as joint ventures or 100 per cent owned companies based in Saudi Arabia, further indicating the strong relationship and trust between the nations.
  • Huge investment via Public Investment fund: Since the formation of our SPC, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) has made investments of about $2.8 billion in digital and retail sectors of India. Similarly, Indian investments in Saudi Arabia have also reached $2 billion which are distributed amongst different sectors.
  • Shared vision of the two: Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and its 13 vision realisation programmes are closely aligned with India’s flagship initiatives of Make in India, Start-up India, Smart Cities, Clean India, and Digital India. Both economies have seen robust growth in the last decade.
  • Close cooperation in important fields: Both nations have now been working closely together in important fields to achieve mutual and strategic objectives. This was in part achieved by allocating funds to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI), The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI), and other international and regional health organisations and programmes.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030

  • Economic and social reforms: Under the aegis of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia aims to transform its economy and society. Saudi Arabia is undergoing path-breaking economic and social reforms. The Kingdom has been working towards fostering its growing investment sector that will stimulate the economy.
  • Cultural investment: The Kingdom, as part of Vision 2030, has also been investing in its culture with events such as the Red Sea Film Festival, which is dedicated to celebrating excellence in cinema and fostering the resurgent creative energy of Saudi and Arab filmmakers.
  • Investment for sustainable infrastructure: The launch of the Events Investment Fund (EIF) by HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to develop a sustainable infrastructure for the culture, tourism, entertainment, and sports sectors across the Kingdom. The fund seeks to develop world-class sustainable infrastructure including indoor arenas, art galleries, theatres, conference centres, horse-racing tracks, auto racing tracks, and other facilities across the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia

Way ahead

  • The opportunities presented under Vision 2030 can be leveraged by India to invest in the Kingdom.
  • With India assuming the G20 presidency, it paves the way for the perfect opportunity to sustain meaningful dialogue around accelerated and inclusive growth while achieving Sustainable Development Goals as the global economy navigates through the post-Covid era.

Conclusion

  • Amidst current global circumstances, India continues to successfully manoeuvre itself towards greater economic progress, built on strong foundations of sustainability and a thriving local community a feat and vision that it shares with its close partner Saudi Arabia. As India celebrates its 74th Republic Day with a vision of progress and prosperity, strengthening collaboration between India and Saudi Arabia will drive both economies and promote peace and stability in the region and the world.

Mains question

Q Discuss the key developments in the strategic relationship between Saudi Arabia and India. Highlight the growing bilateral trade.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NAM

Mains level: Read the attached story

India and Egypt reiterated their support for the Non-Aligned Movement.

Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)

  • NAM is a forum of 120 developing world states that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc.
  • After the United Nations, it is the largest grouping of states worldwide.
  • Drawing on the principles agreed at the Bandung Conference in 1955, the NAM was established in 1961 in Belgrade, SR Serbia, and Yugoslavia.
  • It was an initiative of then PM Jawaharlal Nehru, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Indonesian President Sukarno, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito.
  • The countries of the NAM represent nearly two-thirds of the United Nations’ members and contain 55% of the world population.

Reasons behind NAM creation

  • Balancing the US and USSR: Non-alignment, a policy fashioned for the Cold War, aimed to retain the autonomy of policy (not equidistance) between two politico-military blocs i.e. the US and the Soviet Union.
  • Platform beyond UN: The NAM provided a platform for newly independent developing nations to join together to protect this autonomy.

Relevance TODAY

  • Changing with emerging scenarios: Since the end of the Cold War, the NAM has been forced to redefine itself and reinvent its purpose in the current world system.
  • Focus towards development: It has focused on developing multilateral ties and connections as well as unity among the developing nations of the world, especially those within the Global South.

Fading significance of the NAM

  • Loosing relevance: The policy of non-alignment lost its relevance after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of unipolar world order under the leadership of the US since 1991.
  • De-colonization was largely complete by then, the apartheid regime in South Africa was being dismantled and the campaign for universal nuclear disarmament was going nowhere.
  • Freed from the shackles of the Cold War, the NAM countries were able to diversify their network of relationships across the erstwhile east-west divide.

India and the NAM

  • Important role played by India: India played an important role in the multilateral movements of colonies and newly independent countries that wanted into the NAM.
  • India as a leader: Country´s place in national diplomacy, its significant size and its economic miracle turned India into one of the leaders of the NAM and upholder of the Third World solidarity.
  • The principle of ‘acting and making its own choices’ also reflected India’s goal to remain independent in foreign policy choices, although posing dilemmas and challenges between national interests on international arena and poverty alleviation.
  • Preserving the state’s security required alternative measures: Namely, the economic situation with the aim to raise the population’s living standards challenged the country’s defense capacity and vice versa.
  • Fewer choices: Wars with China and Pakistan had led India to an economically difficult situation and brought along food crisis in the mid-1960s, which made the country dependent on US food.

What dictates India’s alignment now?

  • National security: China’s rise and assertiveness as a regional and global power and the simultaneous rise of middle powers in the region mean that this balancing act is increasing in both complexity and importance, simultaneously.
  • Global decision-making: Another distinctive feature of India’s foreign policy has been the aim to adjust international institutions consistent with changes in international system.
  • Prosperity and influence: India’s 21st century’s strategic partnerships aims for India becoming the voice of global South.
  • Multi-polarism: Another means to execute India’s foreign policy strategy of autonomy has been forming extensive partnerships with other emerging powers.

Why NAM still matters?

  • Global perception of India: India’s image abroad has suffered as a result of allegations that creep into our secular polity and a need arises to actively network and break out of isolation.
  • For the Impulsive US: For India complete dependence on the U.S. to counter China would be an error.
  • Ukrainian invasion has revitalized Cold War: Critics of NAM who term it as an outcome of the Cold War must also acknowledge that a new Cold War is beginning to unfold, this time between the US and China.
  • NAM provides a much bigger platform:NAM becomes relevant to mobilize international public opinion against terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), nuclear proliferation, ecological imbalance, safeguarding interests of developing countries in WTO etc.
  • NAM as a tool for autonomy:NAM’s total strength comprises 120 developing countries and most of them are members of the UN General Assembly. Thus, NAM members act as an important group in support of India’s candidature as a permanent member in UNSC.
  • NAM for multilateralism:Though globalization is facing an existential crisis, it is not possible to return to isolation. In the world of complex interdependence, countries are linked to each other one way or another.
  • NAM as a source for soft power:India can use its historic ties to bring together the NAM countries. India’s strength lies in soft power rather than hard power.

Way forward

  • Strategic autonomy: India is showing signs of pursuing strategic autonomy separately from non-alignment.
  • Bilateralism: Indo-US ties are complementary, and a formal alliance will only help realize the full potential of these relations.
  • Non-alliance: India interacts with other states in expectations to change the international system, but without expectations to ‘ally or oppose.’
  • Deep engagement: India needs deeper engagement with its friends and partners if it is to develop leverage in its dealings with its adversaries and competitors.

Conclusion

  • A wide and diverse range of strategic partners, including the U.S. as a major partner is the only viable diplomatic way forward in the current emerging multipolar world order.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Growing ties Between India-Saudi Arabia

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: India- Saudi Arabia relations

Saudi Arabia

Context

  • The presidency, which India has recently assumed for the period between 1 December 2022 and 30 November 2023, will likely open more avenues for cooperation on multiple fronts with countries like Saudi Arabia, a key Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country, also a member state of G20.

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Saudi Arabia

India-Saudi Arabia Relationship

  • Fourth largest trading partner: Since the last few years, India-Saudi Arabia relations have become comprehensive and robust, with the kingdom not only becoming New Delhi’s fourth largest trading partner but also an important collaborator in the joint combat against all forms of terrorism, money laundering, and terror financing.
  • 18% of India’s energy Imports: It is noteworthy that the bilateral trade in the fiscal year 2021-2022 stood at US$42.8 billion, and the kingdom alone accounts for 18 percent of India’s energy import, which reflects the significance of the country from the standpoint of New Delhi’s energy and economic security calculus.
  • Collaboration on defence corridor: Simultaneously, military-security and defence cooperation have also gained momentum, which has been triggered by a certain commonality of security threats and challenges, and the interests of the respective governments to collaborate in the defence industrial sector (within the ambit of their military modernisation programmes).
  • Non-oil areas of cooperation: The ties between the two countries, now, are not only concentrated on the oil-energy trade alone (as it has been the pattern) but both sides have started to explore the possibilities of working together on domains such as renewable energy, climate change, healthcare, food security, education, technology, etc.

Partnership in Green and clean energy

  • Collaboration with Indian companies: In November 2020, Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, called on foreign investors to “invest on their own” or to collaborate with Indian companies in the country’s green energy sector.
  • Reducing dependency on hydrocarbon: Similarly, Saudi Arabia, striving to reduce its dependency on a hydrocarbon-based economy, is investing in the same sector.
  • Saudi Vision 2030 programme: In line with its Saudi Vision 2030 programme, it launched (in 2021) the Saudi Green Initiative which works on “increasing Saudi Arabia’s reliance on clean energy, offsetting emissions, and protecting the environment.
  • Ambitious targets by both country: Riyadh, ushering in a new era of energy diplomacy, is building partnerships with countries that have similar ambitions. This, to a great extent, has facilitated the need to expand cooperation with India in the renewable energy sphere. While the Indian government works towards generating 450 Gigawatt about 60 percent of electricity using renewable and clean sources, Saudi Arabia also aims at about 50 per cent, both to be achieved by the year 2030.

Saudi Arabia

India-Saudi Arabia cooperation in health sector and during Covid19

  • Cooperation with west Asia region: India has stepped up its healthcare-related engagements with the wider West Asian region, and, particularly in matters related to the production of vaccines, joint medical researches, exchange of best-fit practices, and so on.
  • Healthcare professionals to Saudi Arabia: During the peak of the aforementioned pandemic, the Indian government assisted its Saudi counterpart in their fight against this outbreak, mainly by dispatching hundreds of Indian healthcare professionals.
  • Vaccine acceptancy: Saudi Arabia was also one of the few countries that recognised “Serum Institute of India’s Covishield as an approved COVID-19 vaccine” for any travellers who wanted to enter the kingdom.
  • MoU on health and medical products: Now, what could act as a catalyst in elevating the interactions from the existing level is the Indo-Saudi Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on health and medical products regulations that were signed during the 2019 visit of Modi to Riyadh.

Cooperation in Food Security

  • Investment by Saudi and UAE: It could be noted that, in 2019, to act as a safeguard from any food insecurity, UAE and Saudi Arabia GCC states decided to invest in India’s organic and food processing industries.
  • Win-win situation in food cooperation: With India’s expertise in the field of crop production and overall agricultural activities, and also being a net exporter of agricultural commodities (especially rice), strengthening of partnerships could prove to be highly beneficial for the populace of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and other GCC countries that continue to depend on external sources for their food security, mostly owing to the lack of fertile soil.

Saudi Arabia

Conclusion

  • While India-Saudi Arabia ties are expected to grow further, there also exists a potential for collaboration beyond this bilateral engagement. This is precisely because, in the emerging international order, there is also a growing call for a collective response to the multidimensional crises the world is facing today.

Mains Question

Q. Briefly describe the India-Saudi Arabia relationship? How both countries are collaborating on clean energy and food security?

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Lessons on navigating the evolving geopolitics in the Middle East

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: I2U2

Mains level: Paper 2- Geopolitics in the Middle East

Context

The US President’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel highlights not only some new trends that are reshaping the region but also eternal truths about international politics that are lost in the din of public discourse about the Middle East.

What is the significance of the visit

1] The US is not abandoning the Middle East

  • Contrary to the popular perception in the US, the region, and India, the US is not about to abandon the Middle East.
  • Many in the US political class believed that given America’s oil independence from the Middle East no longer needed the region.
  • American withdrawal from Afghanistan last year intensified these concerns and the region looked for alternative means to secure itself.
  • But as in the Indo-Pacific and Europe, the Biden Administration has concluded that it can’t cede its regional primacy in the Middle East and is ready to reclaim its leadership.
  • But as in the Indo-Pacific and Europe, the Biden Administration has concluded that it can’t cede its regional primacy in the Middle East and is ready to reclaim its leadership.

2] No direct involvement

  • While the US will stay put in the Middle East, it is certainly changing the manner in which it acts.
  • In the past, the US saw itself as the sole provider of regional security and was ready to send its troops frequently into the region.
  • While the US does not want to be drawn directly into the region’s wars, it is determined to help its partners develop capabilities to secure themselves.
  • Arab-Israel reconciliation: Efforts are also being taken to produce greater reconciliation among Arabs and Israel and create stronger networks within and beyond the region to strengthen deterrence against adversaries.
  • The current effort to craft a Middle East Air Defence coalition is an example of this,
  • The I2U2 signals that the US no longer views the Middle East in isolation from its neighbourhood.

3] Setting aside the differences on democracy vs autocracy debate

  • Biden had to modify his sweeping rhetoric about the “conflict between democracies and autocracies” as the principal contradiction in the world.
  • To sustain the US position in the region, Biden had no option but to sit with leaders of monarchies and autocracies that are America’s long-standing partners.

4] Nation above identities

  • Biden’s focus on national interest found an echo in the Middle East, which is learning to put nation above other identities such as ethnicity and religion.
  • In the past, the region seemed immune to nationalism as it focused on transcendental notions of “pan Arabism” and “pan Islamism”.
  • Although the idea of Arab solidarity on the Palestine issue endures, many Arab leaders are not willing to let that come in the way of normalisation of relations with Israel.
  • A critical section of the Arabs, long seen as irreconcilably opposed to Israel, are now joining hands with the Jewish state to counter threats to their national security from Iran.
  • Many Gulf kingdoms, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are now consciously promoting a national identity among their peoples.
  •  Despite shared religion, Turkey’s leader Recep Erdogan has in recent years sought to undermine many of the Arab regimes.
  • Qatar has often found itself closer to non-Arab Turkey and in opposition to its Gulf Arab neighbours.

Conclusion

Delhi, whose Middle East policy today is imbued with greater realism, can hopefully discard the inherited ideological inertia, avoid the temptation of seeing the Middle East through a religious lens, and strive hard to realise the full possibilities awaiting India in the region.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India’s new West Asia approach is a welcome break with past diffidence

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- I2U2

Context

The first summit this week of I2U2, which brings together India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States – is exploratory in nature.

I2U2 forum

  • Following the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE, I2U2 was founded in October 2021 to address marine security, infrastructure, and transportation challenges in the region.
  • It was known as the ‘International Forum for Economic Cooperation’at the time. At that time, UAE had referred to the new grouping as the ‘West Asian Quad’.
  • I2U2 seeks to empower the partners and encourages them to collaborate more closely, resulting in a more stable region.
  • India is seen as a large consumer market as well as a large producer of high-tech and highly sought-after items in the United States.
  • This has led India to enhance its relationship with Israel without jeopardising its ties with the UAE and other Arab states.

How I2U2 matters to India

  • India can contribute to peace and prosperity in the region: The initiative signifies the US bet that India can contribute significantly to peace and prosperity in the region.
  • West Asian engagement: It also underlines a new political will in Delhi to break the old taboos on India’s West Asian engagement.
  • Consolidation of  India’s Middle East Policy: The I2U2 marks the consolidation of a number of new trends in India’s Middle East policy that acquired greater momentum in the past few years.
  • What stands out sharply in India’s new thinking in the Middle East is that the summit involves three countries that Delhi had traditionally kept a safe political distance from.

India-Israel relations

  • Although India was one of the first countries to extend recognition to Israel in 1950, Jawaharlal Nehru held back from establishing full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
  •  PV Narasimha Rao reversed that policy in 1992 but he did not travel to Israel nor did he receive an Israeli prime minister.
  • Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP, which had a more empathetic view of Israel, hosted Israeli PM Ariel Sharon in 2003.
  • While the relationship steadily expanded, there was ideological reluctance in Delhi to give the partnership a political profile.
  • In the past few years India imparted a political character to the Israel ties.
  • No backlash from the Arab countries: There was little negative reaction to the more open pursuit of India’s ties with Israel.
  • The problem was never with the Middle East but Delhi’s ideological preconceptions that distorted India’s view of the region.
  • Turkey, now a champion of political Islam, had diplomatic ties with Israel since 1949.
  • Egypt normalised ties in 1980.
  • Under the Abrahamic accords promoted by the Trump Administration, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco set up formal ties with Israel in 2020.

India’s relations with the Arab countries

  • India’s engagement with Israel was matched by effort to deepen India’s ties with the Arab world.
  •  During his first visit to Israel in 2018, Prime Minister Mode also became the first Indian PM to visit Palestine.
  • Even more important has been the transformation of India’s relations with the Gulf Kingdoms, especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
  • India’s traditional preference in the Arab world was for engaging the republics.
  • Engagement with monarchies: Delhi remained wary of engagement with the monarchies, telling itself that they were pro-Pakistan.
  •  No Indian PM visited Saudi Arabia between 1982 and 2010 and UAE between 1981 and 2015.
  • After 2015 India developed strong ties with these governments without a reference to Pakistan.
  • Despite Delhi’s ideological posturing, the Middle East had long ceased to be a political priority for India.
  • In contrast with the past, recently the prime minister has travelled four times to the UAE alone, negotiated a free trade agreement with it, and has ambitious plans for the transformation of bilateral relations.
  • The UAE has also backed India’s 2019 constitutional changes in Kashmir and is ready to invest in the union territory.

Change in India’s approach to the region

  • India-US ties: For political Delhi, the US and Western policies in the region were a main part of the problem.
  • The immediate focus of Nehru’s policy after independence was to actively oppose US moves in the region in the name of promoting an “area of peace”.
  • That policy had no lasting impact as many regional countries sought active economic, political, and security cooperation with the US and the West.
  • The I2U2 then marks a big break from the anti-Western tradition in India’s approach to the region.
  • Negotiating the terms of joint engagement: In the past, standing up to the West in the Middle East was part of India’s approach, India now is prepared to confidently negotiate the terms of a joint engagement.

Conclusion

India’s participation in the West Asian Quad brings Delhi in line with other major powers– including Europe, China, and Russia – to try and engage all parties in the region. The I2U2 sets the stage for a new and dynamic phase in India’s relations with the Middle East.

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Back2Basics: Abraham Accords

  • The Israel–UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
  • It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
  • The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
  • Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank.
  • The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

The significance of PM’s visit to the UAE

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- India-UAE relations

Context

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UAE on June 28 was his fourth, having visited the country earlier in August 2015, in February 2018 and again in August 2019.

Why do the Gulf and UAE matters to India?

  • The UAE has given crucial support to India in the Islamic world, first by inviting our late External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as a guest of honour at an OIC foreign ministers meeting in Abu Dhabi.
  • The UAE stood with us on Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370.
  • The Gulf is our third-largest trading partner.
  • The Gulf region is our principal source of hydrocarbons.
  • It is also a major source of foreign investment.
  • The region is home to some 8 million Indians who send in over $50 billion annually in remittances.

Deepening bilateral ties

  • CEPA: In a virtual summit with Sheikh Mohamed in February 2022, both sides signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
  • CEPA is a significant milestone that was negotiated and finalised in just 88 days and promises to increase bilateral trade from $60 billion to $ 100 billion in five years.
  •  It is expected to help Indian exports in areas ranging from gems and jewellery and textiles to footwear and pharmaceuticals, apart from enhanced access for Indian service providers to 11 specific sectors.
  • Vision statement: An ambitious, forward-looking Joint Vision Statement titled, “Advancing the India and UAE Comprehensive Strategic Partnership: New Frontiers, New Milestones” was also issued.
  • The Dubai-based DP World and India’s National Skills Development Council signed an agreement to set up a Skill India Centre in Varanasi to train local youth in logistics, port operations and allied areas so that they can pursue overseas employment.

New avenues for multilateral cooperation

  • The rapid normalisation of ties between the UAE and Israel following the Abraham Accords of August 2020 has also opened new avenues of trilateral and multilateral cooperation.
  • Technology, capital and scale: Some Israeli tech companies are already establishing a base in Dubai and seeking to marry niche technologies with Emirati capital and Indian scale. 
  • 2I2U: The US has announced that President Joe Biden’s forthcoming visit to West Asia will see a virtual summit of what it calls the 2I2U, a new grouping that brings together India, Israel, the US and UAE.

Conclusion

The UAE today is India’s closest partner in the Arab world. Both countries need to expand the areas of cooperation and deepen their engagement.

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Back2Basics: Abraham Accords

  • The Israel–UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
  • It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
  • The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
  • Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank.
  • The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India-UAE free trade agreement

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA)

Mains level: Paper 2- India-UAE FTA

Context

India has embarked on a new journey — a new free trade agreement (FTA) journey to be precise — with renewed zeal and vigor.

India’s revamped FTA strategy

  • Gaining meaningful market access: India’s approach towards FTAs is now focusing more on gaining meaningful market access and facilitating the Indian industry’s integration into global value chains.
  • Under the revamped FTA strategy, the Government of India has prioritized at least six countries or regions to deal with, in which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) figures at the top of the list for an early harvest deal.
  • The others are the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, Canada, Israel, and a group of countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
  • The early harvest deal is to be enlarged into a comprehensive FTA in due course of time.

Why does the FTA with UAE matter?

  • Important economic hub: The UAE has emerged as an important economic hub not just within the context of the Middle East/West Asia, but also globally.
  • Strategic location: The UAE, due to its strategic location, has emerged as an important economic centre in the world.
  • Although the UAE has diversified its economy, ‘the hydrocarbon sector remains very important followed by services and manufacturing.
  • Within services, financial services, wholesale and retail trade, and real estate and business services are the main contributors.
  • As part of the GCC, the UAE has strong economic ties with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman, meaning the UAE shares a common market and a customs union with these nations.
  • Under the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) Agreement, the UAE has free trade access to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Palestine, Syria, Libya, and Yemen.

India-UAE trade and investment ties

  • India and the UAE established diplomatic relations in 1972.
  • The India-UAE total trade merchandise has been valued at U.S.$52.76 billion for the first nine months of the fiscal year 2021-22, making the UAE India’s third-largest trading partner.
  • As India and the UAE strive to further deepen trade and investment ties, the soon-to-be-announced early harvest agreement comes at the most opportune time.
  • The aim is to boost bilateral merchandise trade to above U.S.$100 billion and services trade to U.S.$15 billion in five years.
  • Attractive export market: As we are witnessing a big turnaround in manufacturing, the UAE would be an attractive export market for Indian electronics, automobiles, and other engineering products.
  • Ninth biggest investor: The UAE’s investment in India is estimated to be around U.S.$11.67 billion, which makes it the ninth biggest investor in India.
  • On the other hand, many Indian companies have set up manufacturing units either as joint ventures or in Special Economic Zones for cement, building materials, textiles, engineering products, consumer electronics, etc.

Challenges

  • The UAE tariff structure is bound with the GCC, and the applied average tariff rate is 5%. Therefore, the scope of addressing Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) becomes very important.
  • The reflection of NTBs can be seen through Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs) which have mostly been covered by Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). The UAE has 451 SPS notifications.
  • Most of the notifications are related to consumer information, labelling, licensing or permit requirements and import monitoring and surveillance requirements.
  • These compliances pose a challenge for Indian exporters.

Conclusion

This FTA with the UAE will pave the way for India to enter the UAE’s strategic location, and have relatively easy access to the Africa market and its various trade partners which can help India to become a part of that supply chain, especially in handlooms, handicrafts, textiles and pharma.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

30 years of India-Israel Diplomatic Relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India-Israel-Gulf Trilateral

A recent speech by the PM Modi has marked three decades since New Delhi established formal diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv on January 29, 1992, when P.V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister.

India-Israel Relation: A Backgrounder

(I) Recognition of Israel

  • Both nations became independent almost at the same time, in the late 1940s, following a long struggle against British Colonialism.
  • Though India had recognized Israel on September 17, 1950, full-fledged diplomatic relations between the countries were established on January 29, 1992.
  • Their diplomatic relationship was previously based on popular consensus and only much later became official.

(II) India’s reluctance for extending ties

  • The popular perception of Israel was negative as it was a state formed on religion and analogous to Pakistan.
  • This was because during that time India was a young state that needed to take into account Arab states’ numerical impact at the United Nations.
  • Furthermore, it could not afford to antagonize its Muslim population by establishing ties with a Jewish state.
  • Sympathizing the Palestinian cause is a by-product of these motives.

(III) India’s shift towards Israel

  • Though India voted against a UN resolution for the creation of Israel, once Israel is created, India officially recognized Israel (in 1950).
  • But full diplomatic ties were established only in 1992.

Reasons for India prioritizing Israel

  • India’s exclusion from OIC: The formation of an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1969 which neglected the sentiments of Indian Muslims by blocking India’s membership to this group by Pakistan is one of the primary triggers for the change instance.
  • Backing of Kashmir: India has received no backing from the Arab countries on the Kashmir Issue. There have been no serious attempts by the Arab world to put pressure on Pakistan to reign in the cross-border insurgency in Kashmir.
  • Support in crucial wars: Israel supported India during the Indo-Pak wars even before full diplomatic ties were established.
  • India’s US allegiance: With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the US as a superpower, India started aligning itself with the US, and this further added to our improved relations with Israel.
  • Deviation from NAM: After decades of Non-Alignment and Pro-Arab policy, in 1992 India changed its stance and established full diplomatic ties with Israel.
  • Support at global forums: Israel has always been a vocal supporter of India’s permanent seat in the UNSC.
  • Technology: India’s world-class institutes of higher education could benefit from the strong culture of research and high-end innovation that thrives in Israel.

Israeli interests in India

  • India presents a massive market for Israel’s manufactured goods and technology.
  • India has for long enjoyed great goodwill among Israel’s citizens as the only country in the world where Jews have not faced anti-Semitism.
  • There are many instances of Jews under Hitler’s persecution finding shelter in India including some that were said to have been facilitated by Nehru.
  • The minuscule Jew community was able to rise to eminence in various fields.
  • Israel cherishes its admirers in India for its ability to thrive in spite of very adverse situations in its short history as an independent nation.

Collaborations between India and Israel

[A] Military collaboration

  • Against terrorism: India and Israel have increased collaboration in military ventures since both nations face the threats of rising radical terrorism and separatism.
  • Arms trade: India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest defense supplier to India after Russia.
  • Security: Working groups in areas of border management, internal security and public safety, police modernization, and capacity building for combating crime, crime prevention, and cybercrime were established.
  • Defence R&D: IAI is developing the Barak 8 missile for the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force which is capable of protecting sea vessels and ground facilities from aircraft and cruise missiles.

[B] Political collaboration

  • Since the up-gradation of relations in 1992, defense and agriculture have become the two main pillars of the bilateral engagement.
  • The political ties have become especially cordial under the Modi Government.
  • In 2017, Prime Minister Modi became the first-ever Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel.

[C] Agriculture collaboration

  • India has chosen Israel as a strategic partner (G2G) in the field of agriculture.
  • This partnership evolved into the Indo-Israel Agricultural Project (IIAP), under the Indo-Israel Action Plan, based on an MOU signed by Indian and Israeli ministers of Agriculture in 2006.
  • The partnership aims to introduce crop diversity, increase productivity & increase water use efficiency.
  • India has a lot to learn from the dryland agriculture of Israel. The Economic Survey 2016-17 batted for Indo-Israel cooperation in drip-irrigation technologies.

[D] Economic collaboration

  • India is Israel’s third-largest trading partner in Asia after China and Hong Kong.
  • In recent years, bilateral trade has diversified to include several sectors like pharmaceuticals, agriculture, IT and telecom, and homeland security.
  • Major exports from India to Israel include precious stones and metals, chemical products, textiles, etc.
  • Major imports from Israel include chemicals and mineral products, base metals and machinery, and transport equipment. Potash is a major item of Israel’s exports to India.

Various deterrents in ties

  • Bilateral Trade and investment still below potential: From just $200 million in 1992, bilateral trade (excluding defense) peaked at about $5 billion in 2012 but since then it has dropped to about $4 billion. Also, bilateral trade has not diversified much—diamonds and chemicals still make up for the large chunk of the pie.
  • Connectivity between the two countries is still poor with just one direct flight from Mumbai 3 times a week and no direct flights from Delhi.
  • Historical retrenchment: India’s consistent support for a sovereign, independent, viable, and united Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognized borders, side by side, and at peace with Israel and Pro-Arab stance has been a sticky point.
  • Limited People to People ties and cultural differences: Israelis and Indian approach business differently and often find it difficult to get on the same page.
  • India’s support for Palestinian Cause: Though formal ties were established in 1992, the ideological divide resurfaces time and again due to India’s affinity for Palestine.

Way forward

  • Indian policy appears to be guided primarily by strategic considerations.
  • There is a strong need to use soft power diplomacy to build people-to-people bridges and to add to economic benefits through robust inter-country tourism.
  • The Indian and Israeli markets do not compete with one another but complete one another.
  • A potential quadrilateral with US and UAE can help this relationship soar to new heights.

 

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Also read:

Indo-Abrahamic Accord: A new QUAD

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Vying for influence over Kabul

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Importance of middle powers in Arab Gulf

Context

On December 19, Pakistan hosted a special session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to address the crisis in Afghanistan.

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and how regional countries are responding to it

  • The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is peaking with no basic amenities available for its population and a harsh winter ahead.
  • While Pakistan hosted the OIC, India played host to foreign ministers of Central Asian states where Afghanistan topped the agenda as well.
  • All the attending countries — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan — also OIC members, chose to prioritise deliberations with New Delhi.

Qatar’s growing influence in Afghanistan and implications for the region

  • Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Pakistan were the only three countries that had officially recognised the previous Taliban government in 1996, until its fall in 2001.
  • Fast forward to the 2010s, and it was the small but rich state of Qatar that became the mediating force on Afghanistan.
  • Doha hosted the official Taliban political office from 2013 to allow negotiations with the U.S.
  • Qatar’s new role on Afghanistan gave it significant diplomatic and political visibility the world over.
  • In West Asia, Qatar’s growing influence was causing unease in the traditional power centres in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, specifically on issues such as the Qatari leadership’s support for political Islam and organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fundamental changes

  • Economic blockade: In 2017 the UAE and Saudi Arabia initiated an economic blockade against Doha in the hope of reigning the Kingdom in and disallowing it from pursuing its geopolitical designs that were challenging the long-held power status quos.
  • This four-year long impasse ended in 2021.
  • These four years created fundamental changes within the larger Arab Gulf construct.
  • Qatar mitigated risk and moved closer towards Turkey and Iran.
  • Today, both Qatar and Turkey are bidding to operate a landlocked Afghanistan’s airports under the Taliban regime.
  • For the Gulf specifically, Qatar’s punching-above-its-weight approach in geopolitics was also making it more powerful and influential with Washington D.C.
  • To mitigate this, the Saudis played a central role during the recent OIC special session.
  •  They repaired their broken relationship with Pakistan.

Way forward for India

  • Over the past decade, India has recognised the importance of middle powers in the Arab Gulf to a fast-evolving global order, from fighting against terrorism to newer diplomacy challenges such as Afghanistan.

Conclusion

The Arab Gulf is poised to become an important player once again in Afghanistan under the shadow of the Taliban.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

What the rise of pan-Turkism means for India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Lapis Lazuli corridor

Mains level: Paper 2- India-Turkey relations

Context

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been playing internationalist card for national benefit. India, which has been worried about Erdogan’s Islamist politics, must now begin to pay attention to another political idea from the Turkish president — promoting pan-Turkism.

Impact of political ideas on global politics

  • Internationalism based on religion, region or secular ideologies has always run headlong into resistance from sectarianism and nationalism.
  • Yet, these ideas have a profound impact on global politics.
  • Calls for regionalism and internationalism as well as religious and ethnic solidarity often end up as instruments for the pursuit of national interest.

The rise of pan-Turkism

  • Foundation of OTS: The international symbol of solidarity among peoples of Turkic ethnicity has been the Council of Turkic States, formed in 2009 by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
  •  At a summit of the Council’s leaders last week in Istanbul, it was announced that the forum has been elevated to an “Organisation of Turkic States”.
  • Hungary, which has a long history of association with Turkic people, and Turkmenistan have observer status.
  •  At least a dozen other countries have apparently shown interest in getting observer status.
  • Implications: There is no escaping the fact that Turkey is determined to rewrite the geopolitics of Eurasia.
  • The rise of pan-Turkism is bound to have important consequences for Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Central Asia and, more broadly, India’s Eurasian neighbourhood.

Rise of Turkey in Central Asia

  • Soft power initiatives: Over the last three decades, a number of soft power initiatives — in education, culture, and religion — have raised Turkey’s profile in Central Asia and generated new bonds with the region’s elites.
  • Military power: It is in the domains of hard power — commercial and military — that Turkey’s progress has been impressive.
  • Turkey has stunned much of the world with its military power projection into the region.
  • That Kazakhstan, a member of the Russia-led regional security bloc, is moving towards strategic cooperation with Turkey, a member of US-led NATO, points to the thickening pan-Turkic bonds in a rapidly changing regional order.
  • The dominance of economy and trade: Nearly 5,000 Turkish companies work in Central Asia. Turkish annual trade with the region is around $10 billion.
  • This could change as Turkey strengthens connectivity with Central Asia through the Caucasus.
  • For the Central Asian states, living under the shadow of Chinese economic power and Russian military power, Turkey offers a chance for economic diversification and greater strategic autonomy.
  • Connectivity: Turkey has also made impressive progress in building transportation corridors to Central Asia and beyond, to China, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
  • The so-called Lapis Lazuli Corridor now connects Turkey to Afghanistan via Turkmenistan.

What should be India’s approach towards Turkey?

  • Pan-Turkism is a good reason for India to explore a more purposeful engagement with Turkey.
  • Issues: There is no denying that the current differences between Delhi and Ankara over Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan are real and serious.
  • Need for dialogue: The current political divergence only reinforces the case for a sustained dialogue between the two governments and the strategic communities of the two countries.
  • Lessons for India: Turkey’s own geopolitics offers valuable lessons on how to deal with Ankara.
  • That Turkey is a NATO member has not stopped Erdogan from a strategic liaison with Russian.
  • Purchase of advanced weapons like S-400 missiles from Moscow  does not stop Erdogan from meddling in Russia’s Central Asian backyard.
  • Criticism of China’s repression of Turkic Uighurs in Xinjiang — that was once called “Eastern Turkestan” — goes hand-in-hand with deep economic collaboration with Beijing.
  • What does this policy tell India? One, Erdogan’s enduring enthusiasm for Pakistan does not preclude Turkey from doing business — economic and strategic — with India.
  • Limiting Turkish hegemony: Erdogan’s ambitions have offended many countries in Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Caucasus.
  • Many of them are eager to expand strategic cooperation with India in limiting Turkish hegemony.
  • This opens a range of new opportunities for Indian foreign and security policy in Eurasia.
  • Imperative to engage: Sceptics will point to the fact that Erdogan’s time is running out.
  • That does not, however, alter the Indian imperative to engage with Turkey.

Consider the question “Turkey’s influence in Eurasian region is expanding. In this context examine the issues that adds friction between India and Turkey and suggest the approach India should adopt in dealing with Turkey.”

Conclusion

Independent India has struggled to develop good relations with Turkey over the decades. A hard-headed approach in Delhi today, however, might open new possibilities with Ankara and in Turkey’s Eurasian periphery.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Indo-Abrahamic Accord: A new QUAD

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Abraham Accord

Mains level: India-Israel-Gulf Trilateral

 

The first-ever meeting between the foreign ministers of India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States is being widely perceived as a new QUAD group.

What is Abraham Accord?

  • The Israel–UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
  • It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
  • The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
  • Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank.
  • The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

The idea of the Indo-Abrahamic Accord

  • The idea of an accord between India, the UAE and Israel was first suggested by Mohammed Soliman, an Egyptian scholar based in Washington.
  • The focus, then, was on India taking full advantage of the normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arabs.

Prospects of India joining the accord

  • Adding “Indo” to the Abrahamic Accords — from think tank level to the policy domain underlines the extraordinary churn in the geopolitics of the Middle East.
  • It also points to new openings for India in the region and ever-widening possibilities for Delhi’s strategic cooperation with Washington.

Significance for India

The new minilateral consultation with the US, Israel and the UAE should started breaking that political taboo by:

(1) Creating a minilateral in the Middle-East:

  • Such events mark an important turning point in Delhi’s engagement with the Middle East.
  • It suggests India is now ready to move from bilateral relations conducted in separate silos towards an integrated regional policy.
  • As in the Indo-Pacific, so in the Middle East, regional coalitions are bound to widen Delhi’s reach and deepen its impact.

(2) India bridging the Arab-Israeli rift:

  • Often the Arab nations and Israel are divided over Palestine.
  • The simultaneous expansion of Delhi’s cooperation with Israel and the Arab world was considered impossible.
  • However, India’s new foreign policy broke from that assessment and demonstrated the feasibility of a non-ideological engagement with the Middle East.
  • This diplomatic pragmatism allows Delhi to reimagine its policies towards the Middle East.

(3) Extension of cooperation with the US:

  • Thinking of the US as a partner in the Middle East is part of the reimagination.
  • For long, India defined the US, and more broadly the West, as part of the problem in the Middle East.
  • As a result, Delhi kept a reasonable political distance from the US in the region.

(4) Miscellaneous:

  • India’s scale with Israeli innovation and Emirati capital could produce immense benefits to all three countries.
  • Add American strategic support and you would see a powerful dynamic unfolding in the region.

Is it a new Quad in making?

  • It is perhaps too early to call the new minilateral with the US, UAE and Israel the “new Quad” for the Middle East.
  • It will be a while before this grouping will find its feet and evolve.
  • After all, it took quite some effort to build the Quad in the east with Australia, India, Japan and the United States.

What is the kind of agenda that this group can develop?

Economic Cooperation: Like the eastern Quad, it would make sense for the new Middle Eastern minilateral to focus on non-military issues like trade, energy, and environment and focus on promoting public goods.

Technology cooperation: Beyond trade, there is potential for India, UAE and Israel to collaborate on many areas — from semiconductor design and fabrication to space technology.

A new geopolitical entity: The new “Quad” in the Middle East is likely to be India’s only new coalition in the region. It provides a thrust to new regionalism to the west involving India.

‘Extended’ neighborhood: This engagement will open the door for extending the collaboration with other common regional partners like Egypt (better call it Suez Canal), who will lend great strategic depth to the Indo-Abrahamic accords.

Conclusion

  • This engagement has thus opened up a new opportunity for India to go for deeper engagement with Israel without risking its relations with the other Arab states of the Persian Gulf.
  • In the evolving scenario, there seems much scope for a profitable trilateral synergy, but India cannot take its preponderance as a given.
  • There is much to be done in realizing the full potential of the “Indo-Abrahamic Accords”.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

The Abraham Accords as India’s West Asia bridge

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Implications of Abrahams Accord for India

Context

The recent visit by the Indian Air Force chief, to Israel offers a window to study how India is taking advantage of the Abraham Accords deal signed between Israel and a consortium of Arab States led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2020.

Increasing defence cooperation between India and West Asia region

  • India’s trajectory towards an increased strategic footprint in West Asia has been in development for some time now.
  • Starting from the relatively low-key staging visit to Saudi Arabia conducted by the IAF in 2015.
  • India hosted visiting Iranian naval warships in 2018.
  • India takes an active part in the defence of the critical waterways in and around the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the extended Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
  • An Indian contingent of the Indian Air Force (IAF) will visit Israel in October to take part in multilateral military exercises.
  • India also conducted the ‘Zayed Talwar’ naval exercises with the UAE off the coast of Abu Dhabi, further deepening the fast-developing strategic cooperation between the two countries.
  • In December 2020, Indian Army chief visited the UAE and Saudi Arabia, becoming the first chief of the Indian Army to do so.
  • In 2017, India signed a deal with Oman, the home to Duqm Port  for access to the facility, including dry dock use by the Indian Navy.

How Abraham Accords accelerated India’s engagement with West Asia region?

  • No need for balancing act: The signing of the Accords has removed a significant strategic obstacle for India — delicate balancing act India has had to play out between the Arab Gulf and Israel over the decades.
  • India had welcomed the Accords, highlighting its support for mechanisms that offer peace and stability in the region.
  • From the UAE’s perspective, Accords were to make sure the emirate along with its international centres of trade such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi do not become targets between Jerusalem and Tehran.
  • However, not all Arab States have been on board with the geopolitical shifts the Accords have pushed through.
  • Saudi Arabia has maintained a distance from this arrangement.

India’s West Asia construct and relations with Iran

  • Iran, as part of India’s ‘West Asia’ construct, will also play a significant part in India’s outreach in the months to come as the crisis in Afghanistan deepens.
  • Connectivity projects such as Chabahar Port and Chabahar-Zahedan rail project (project discussions are still on) amongst others remain critical.
  • Recently,  strategic cooperation revitalised despite multiple obstacles in the bilateral relations, led by U.S. sanctions against Tehran and the general tensions between Israel, the Gulf and Iran via proxy battles in theatres such as Yemen, Syria and beyond.

Conclusion

India’s strategic play in West Asia will be reflective of its economic growth, and by association, an increasingly important place in the global order.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Abraham Accords as India’s West Asia bridge

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Abraham Accord

Mains level: India's West-Asia plan

The recent visit by the Indian Air Force chief to Israel offers a window to study how New Delhi is taking advantage of the Abraham Accords deal signed between Israel and a consortium of Arab States.

Try this question:

What are Abraham Accords? Discuss how the Israel-Gulf synergy could impact India’s relations with Israel.

0
Please leave a feedback on thisx

What are Abraham Accords?

  • The Israel–UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
  • It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
  • The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
  • Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank. The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

Do you know?

Abraham was the first of the Hebrew patriarchs and a figure revered by the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

New friendships

  • For common enemy: Externally, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain share the common threat perception of Iran.
  • Upholding modern values: They are relatively more modern societies that share the overarching and immediate priority of post-pandemic economic resuscitation.
  • Extended cooperation: They have lost no time to set up logistics such as Internet connectivity and direct flights to pave the way for more active economic engagement.

India and the Gulf

  • Now India has stronger, multifaceted and growing socioeconomic engagements with Israel and the Gulf countries.
  • With over eight million Indian diasporas in the Gulf remitting annually nearly $50 billion, annual merchandise trade of over $150 billion.
  • It sources nearly two-thirds of India’s hydrocarbon imports, major investments, etc. Hence it is natural to ask how the new regional dynamic would affect India.
  • India has acquired a large and rewarding regional footprint, particularly as the preferred source of manpower, food products, pharmaceuticals, gem and jewellery, light engineering items, etc.
  • Indians are also the biggest stakeholders in Dubai’s real estate, tourism, and Free Economic Zones.
  • In the evolving scenario, there may be scope for a profitable trilateral synergy, but India cannot take its preponderance as a given.

The Israel-GCC synergy

  • Culture: Even the Israeli Arabs may find career opportunities to bridge the cultural divide. Israel is known as the start-up nation and its stakeholders could easily fit in the various duty-free incubators in the UAE.
  • Tourism: Tourism, real estate and financial service sectors on both sides have suffered due to the pandemic and hope for a positive spin-off from the peer-to-peer interactions.
  • Defense: Israel has niche strengths in defence, security and surveillance equipment, arid farming, solar power, horticultural products, high-tech, gem and jewellery, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Technology: Further, Israel has the potential to supply skilled and semi-skilled manpower to the GCC states, particularly from the Sephardim and Mizrahim ethnicities, many of whom speak Arabic.

The Iran link

  • Iran, as part of India’s ‘West Asia’ construct, will also play a significant part in India’s outreach in the months to come as the crisis in Afghanistan deepens.
  • The fact that New Delhi used Iranian airspace and facilities when evacuating its diplomatic staff from Kandahar in July showcases a level of strategic commonality.
  • Keeping this in mind, connectivity projects such as Chabahar Port and Chabahar-Zahedan rail project (project discussions are still on) amongst others remain critical.

Conclusion

  • India’s strategic play in West Asia will be reflective of its economic growth, and by association, an increasingly important place in the global order.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Making a case for Indo-Abrahamic accord

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Abraham Accords

Mains level: Paper 2- Opportunities for India in middle east

Context

An Egyptian scholar, Mohammed Soliman, has recently written about the significance of what he calls the emerging “Indo-Abrahamic Accord” and its trans-regional implications to the west of India.

About Abraham Accord

  • Abraham Accord, signed in August last year in Washington, signifies the normalisation of Israel’s relations with the UAE and Bahrain.
  • The UAE and Bahrain were followed by Sudan and Morocco in signing the Abraham Accords.
  • Although Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) had established diplomatic relations with Israel earlier, the Abraham Accords are widely seen as making a definitive breakthrough in the relations between Israel and the Arabs.

Factors in favour of accord

  • Depth of trilateral relationship: Although India had relations with UAE and Israel for many years, they certainly have acquired political depth and strategic character recently.
  • Converging interests: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s assertive claims for the leadership of the Islamic world and hostile stand against India on several issues, indicates converging interests between India, the UAE, and Israel.
  • One of the unintended consequences of Erdogan’s overweening regional ambition, his alienation of Israel as well as moderate Arabs, his conflict with Greece, and his embrace of Pakistan is the extraordinary opportunity for India to widen India’s reach to the west of the Subcontinent
  • Cooperation: There are many areas like defence, aerospace and digital innovation where the three countries can pool their resources and coordinate development policies.
  • India’s extended neighbourhood: The notion of a “Greater Middle East” can provide a huge fillip to India’s engagement with the extended neighbourhood to the west.

India-Turkey relations

  • Hostile approach on Kashmir: Turkey has been championing Pakistan’s case on Kashmir after India changed the territorial status quo of the state in August 2019.
  • Blocking NSG entry: At Pakistan’s behest, Turkey is also blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
  • The new geopolitical churn is also driven by Pakistan’s growing alignment with Turkey and its alienation from its traditionally strong supporters in the Arab Gulf — the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Opportunities for India in extended neighbourhood to the west

  • Relations with Greece: The renewed territorial disputes between Turkey and Greece, and Turkey’s quest for regional dominance has drawn Greece and the UAE closer.
  • Greece has also looked towards India to enhance bilateral security cooperation. 
  • Greece’s European partners like France, which have a big stake in the Mediterranean as well as the Arab Gulf, have taken an active interest in countering Turkey’s regional ambitions.
  • Erdogan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to overthrow the current political order in the region, has deeply angered the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
  • India’s relations with Egypt: If there is one country that can give substantive depth to the Indo-Abrahamic Accord it is Egypt.
  • Located at the cusp of Mediterranean Europe, Africa, and Asia, Egypt is the very heart of the Greater Middle East.
  • Independent India’s engagement with the region in the 1950s was centred on a close partnership with Egypt.
  • If Delhi and Cairo lost each other in recent decades, India can rebuild the strategic partnership jointly with the Egypt government which is calling for the construction of a “New Republic” in Egypt.
  • The notion of a “Greater Middle East” can provide a huge fillip to India’s engagement with the extended neighbourhood to the west.
  • The familiar regional institutions like the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation might endure but are incapable of addressing the region’s contradictions.

Consider the question “Amid Turkey’s quest for regional dominance and hostility towards India, the deepening engagement between India, the UAE and Israel can be converted into a formal coalition on the lines of Abraham Accords” Comment.

Conclusion

The opportunities that are coming India’s way to the west of the Subcontinent are as consequential as those that have recently emerged in the east.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India-Turkey relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Turkey's rising space in geopolitical arena

As a new round of geopolitical jousting begins on India’s north-western frontiers, Delhi must deal with a number of new actors that have carved out a role for themselves in the region.

Overambitious Turkey

  • Our focus today is on Turkey’s regional ambitions (particularly in Afghanistan) and their implications for India.
  • Ankara is in negotiations with the US on taking charge of the Kabul airport which is critical for an international presence in Afghanistan that is coming under the Taliban’s control.
  • Turkey has been running Kabul airport security for a while, but doing so after the US pullout will be quite demanding.
  • Taking a longer view, though, Turkey is not a new regional actor in India’s northwest.

Turkey and Afghanistan

  • Ankara and Kabul have recently celebrated the centennial of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
  • Through this century, Turkey has engaged purposefully with Afghanistan over a wide domain.
  • While it joined the NATO military mission in Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban at the end of 2001, Turkey avoided any combat role and differentiated itself from the Western powers.
  • Ankara has contributed to the training of the Afghan military and police forces.
  • It has also undertaken much independent humanitarian and developmental work.

Affinity with Pakistan

  • Turkey’s good relations with both Afghanistan and Pakistan have also given space for Ankara to present itself as a mediator between the warring South Asian neighbours.
  • Turkey’s “Heart of Asia” conference or the Istanbul Process has been a major diplomatic vehicle for attempted Afghan reconciliation in the last few years.
  • Widespread goodwill for Turkey in Afghanistan has now come in handy for the US in managing some elements of the post-withdrawal phase.
  • In Pakistan, PM Imran Khan has rallied behind Erdogan’s ambition to seize the leadership of the Islamic world from Saudi Arabia.
  • Pakistan’s Army Chief had to step in to limit the damage with Saudi Arabia, which has long been Pakistan’s major economic benefactor.

Challenges for India

  • Turkey’s growing role in Afghanistan opens a more difficult phase in relations between Delhi and Ankara.
  • India’s opposition to alliances and Turkey’s alignments reflected divergent international orientations of Delhi and Ankara after the Second World War.
  • And Turkey’s deepening bilateral military-security cooperation with Pakistan made it even harder for Delhi to take a positive view of Ankara.
  • Turkey and Pakistan were part of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) that was set up in 1955 by the British.
  • Although CENTO eventually wound up in 1979, Turkey and Pakistan remained close partners in a number of regional organizations and international forums like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Pre-Erdogan era Turkey

  • The shared secular values between Delhi and Ankara in the pre-Erdogan era were not enough to overcome the strategic differences between the two in the Cold War.
  • To make matters more complicated, the positive legacy of the Subcontinent’s solidarity with the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic, emerged out of its ruins in the early 20th century, accrued mostly to Pakistan.
  • There were moments — during the tenures of PM Rajiv Gandhi and Mr Vajpayee, when India and Turkey seemed poised for a more productive relationship.
  • But those have been rather few and far between.

Turkey’s departure from Secularism

  • Meanwhile, Turkey’s Islamist internationalism under Recep Tayyip Erdogan has inevitably led to its deeper alliance with Pakistan, greater meddling in South Asia, and a sharper contraction with India.
  • The Pakistani prism through which Delhi has long seen Ankara, however, has prevented it from fully appreciating the growing strategic salience of Turkey.
  • Erdogan’s active claim for leadership of the Islamic world has seen a more intensive Turkish political, religious, and cultural outreach to the Subcontinent’s 600 million Muslims.

Self-goals on Kashmir

  • Turkey has become the most active international supporter of Pakistan on the Kashmir question.
  • Delhi is aware of Erdogan’s hypocrisy on minority rights.
  • While pitching for self-determination in Kashmir, Erdogan actively tramples on the rights of its Kurdish minority at home and confronts them across Turkey’s border in Syria and Iraq.

Other ambitions in Asia

  • Erdogan was quick to condemn the Bangladesh government’s hanging of a senior extremist leader in 2016.
  • But in a reflection of his strategic suppleness, Erdogan also offered strong political support for Dhaka on the Rohingya refugee crisis.
  • As Bangladesh emerges as an attractive economy, Ankara is now stepping up its commercial cooperation with Dhaka.
  • Turkey, which hosted the Caliphate in the Ottoman era, had natural spiritual resonance among the South Asian Muslims.

Riving the Caliphate

  • With the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924, Turkey’s Westernization under Ataturk reduced its religious significance.
  • Erdogan’s Islamist politics are about regaining that salience.
  • Erdogan’s strategy marks the declining relevance of the old antinomies — between alliances and autonomy, East and West, North and South, Islam and the West, Arabs and the Jews — that so resonate with the traditional Indian foreign policy discourse.

Stance on Israel

  • Turkey was the first Muslim-majority nation that established full diplomatic relations with Israel.
  • Erdogan now actively mobilizes the Arab and Islamic world against Israel without breaking relations with Tel Aviv.
  • Erdogan’s outrage on Israel is about presenting himself as a better champion of Palestine than his Arab rivals.

India’s option against Turkey

  • India, which has been at the receiving end of Erdogan’s internationalism, has multiple options in pushing back.
  • The recent naval exercise between India and Greece in the Mediterranean offers a small hint of India’s possibilities in Turkey’s neighbourhood.
  • Many Arab leaders reject Erdogan’s policies that remind them of Ottoman imperialism.
  • They resent Erdogan’s support of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood that seek to overthrow moderate governments in the Middle East.
  • There is much that India can do to up its game in the Arab world.

Lessons for India

  • The new fluidity in geopolitics in India’s extended neighbourhood to the west.
  • Agency for regional powers is growing as the influence of great power weakens.
  • Religious ideology, like the more secular ones, is a cover for the pursuit of power.
  • Finally, Erdogan has carefully modulated his confrontation with major powers by avoiding a breakdown in relations.

Conclusion

  • For Erdogan, the choices are not between black and white. That should be a good guide for India’s own relations with Turkey.
  • Delhi needs to vigorously challenge Turkey’s positions where it must, seize the opportunities opened by regional resentments against Erdogan’s adventurism, and at the same time prepare for a more intensive bilateral engagement with Ankara.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Explained: India, Israel and Palestine Ties

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: India's position on Israel-Palestine conflict

Recently India’s permanent representative to the UN made a carefully crafted statement at the UN Security Council “open debate” on the escalating Israel-Palestine violence.

Must read:

[Burning Issue] West Asia Peace Plan

The story so far

  • The violence started on 6 May, when Palestinian protests began in Jerusalem over an anticipated decision of the Supreme Court of Israel on the eviction of six Palestinian families a neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem.
  • Israel’s operation “Guardian of the Walls” began with attacks on Hamas (a fundamentalist Palestinian group) tunnels close to the border fence with Israel.
  • India has adopted a balanced approach to the current Israeli-Palestine conflict that has pushed the volatile region into yet another cycle of violence.

India’s long-standing position

  • India has since long been maintaining that the Israel-Palestine conflict should be resolved through negotiation resulting in sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
  • India has urged both countries to “engage with each other, including on the recent proposals put forward by the United States, and find an acceptable two-state solution for peaceful coexistence”.

The dilemma

  • India seems to strive to maintain a balance between India’s historic ties with Palestine and its blossoming relations with Israel.
  • The request that both sides refrain from “attempts to unilaterally change the existing status quo including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhoods” seems to be a message to Israel about its settler policy.
  • The statement was also emphatic that “the historic status quo at the holy places of Jerusalem including the Haraml al-Sharif/Temple Mount must be respected”.

Ties with spikes

  • India’s policy on the longest-running conflict in the world has gone from being unequivocally pro-Palestine for the first four decades, to a tense balancing act with its three-decade-old friendly ties with Israel.
  • In recent years, India’s position has also been perceived as pro-Israel.

From Nehru to Rao

  • The balancing began with India’s decision to normalize ties with Israel in 1992, which came against the backdrop of the break-up of the Soviet Union.
  • There were massive shifts in the geopolitics of West Asia on account of the first Gulf War in 1990.
  • That year, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) lost much of its clout in the Arab world by siding with Iraq and Saddam Hussein in the occupation of Kuwait.
  • The opening of an Indian embassy in Tel Aviv in January 1992 marked an end to four decades of giving Israel the cold shoulder, as India’s recognition of Israel in 1950 had been minus full diplomatic ties.
  • PM Nehru’s reasoning for the decision to recognise Israel was that it was “an established fact”, and that not doing so would create bitterness between two UN members.

Why did India then support Palestine?

  • In 1948, India was the only non-Arab-state among 13 countries that voted against the UN partition plan of Palestine in the General Assembly that led to the creation of Israel.
  • Scholars ascribe various reasons for this India’s own Partition along religious lines; as a new nation that had just thrown off its colonial yoke; solidarity with the Palestinian people who would be dispossessed; and to ward off Pakistan’s plan to isolate India over Kashmir.
  • Later, India’s energy dependence on the Arab countries also became a factor, as did the sentiments of India’s own Muslim citizens.

India and Palestine

  • The relationship with Palestine was almost an article of faith in Indian foreign policy for over four decades.
  • At the 53rd UN session, India co-sponsored the draft resolution on the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.
  • In the 1967 and 1973 wars, India lashed out at Israel as the aggressor.
  • In the 1970s, India rallied behind the PLO and its leader as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
  • In 1975, India became the first non-Arab country to recognise the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people and invited it to open an office in Delhi.
  • In 1988, when the PLO declared an independent state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, India granted recognition immediately.

Continuity for the cause

  • India voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution in October 2003 against Israel’s construction of a separation wall.
  • It voted for Palestine to become a full member of UNESCO in 2011, and a year later, co-sponsored the UNGA resolution that enabled Palestine to become a “non-member” observer state at the UN without voting rights.
  • India also supported the installation of the Palestinian flag on the UN premises in September 2015.

Changes after 2014

  • For two-and-a-half decades from 1992, the India-Israel relationship continued to grow, mostly through defence deals, and in sectors such as science and technology and agriculture.
  • But India never acknowledged the relationship fully.
  • There were few high-profile visits, and they all took place when the PM Vajpayee was in office.
  • Israel was perceived as an ideal of a “strong state” that deals “firmly” with “terrorists”.
  • It was during NDA-2 that the government under PM Modi decided to take full ownership of the relationship with Israel.

Balancing act

  • Meanwhile, India continues to improve ties with Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE and feels vindicated by the decision of some Arab states to improve ties with Israel.
  • For instance, even as it abstained at UNESCO in December 2017, India voted in favour of a resolution in the UNGA opposing Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Factors driving India’s growing security footprints in West Asia

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- India's growing security footprints in West Asia

The article examines the factors that are leading to a growing footprint of Asian economies in West Asia.

Growing interest of Asian Economies  in West Asia

  • This month, a contingent of the Indian Air Force participated in a multi-nation exercise hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) named Desert Flag (March 3-27).
  • Other than India and the UAE, Bahrain, France, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the United States are also participating.
  • While joint exercises in West Asia between Arab states and their western counterparts is common, the 2021 edition’s involvement of contingents from India and South Korea.
  • This showcases the growing interests of Asian economies.
  • As net importers of crude oil, these Asian economies rely heavily on the West Asian states for their supplies,
  • And, by association, Asian economies have increased stakes in the safety and security of the region from the perspective of political and economic stability.
  • And more importantly, in the protection of vital sea lanes in areas such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea stretching out into the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean.

Declining U.S. influence

  • In April 2020, Saudi Arabia was India’s top supplier of oil followed by Iraq.
  • For South Korea, in late 2019, it was also Saudi Arabia as the top supplier.
  • The participation of both India and South Korea in these exercises in the Persian Gulf is reflective of these trends and growing concerns in Asian capitals over an eroding U.S. security blanket in the region.

Tension in Iran-U.S. relations

  • Both India and South Korea have found themselves caught in regional tensions as the pressure on Iran to restart the 2015 nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) increases.
  • Both India and South Korea have faced carbon-copy consequences over the past decade as the West first negotiated with Iran, and later tried to manage the fallout of the JCPOA collapse.

India’s role in protecting it’s energy interests

  • The idea of Asian nations having to band together to protect their energy interests in West Asia is not new.
  • Former Indian diplomats have even suggested an idea equitable to an ‘importers OPEC’ led by Asian states which today have a much larger stake in West Asia’s oil than the West.
  • The Indian Navy has made multiple port calls from the UAE and Kuwait to Iran and Qatar in recent years.
  • In 2020, India had also planned its first bilateral naval exercise with Saudi Arabia.

Consider the question “Examine the factors responsible for India’s growing security footprint in West Asia and how India is achieving its objectives?”

Conclusion

Regional states will become more responsible for their own security, and as Asian economies become stronger stakeholders, their geopolitics will become more visible across this geography.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Geopolitical turbulence in the Middle East and consequences for Indian subcontinent

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Countries of the Middle East

Mains level: Paper 3- Trends from the Middle East and implications for the Indian subcontinent

Three broad trends emerging from the Middle East and its implication for the region have been discussed here.

Growing vulnerability of Iran and implications for subcontinent

  • The brazen murder of a top Iranian nuclear scientist highlights the Islamic Republic of Iran’s growing strategic vulnerabilities.
  • This geopolitical turbulence in the Middle East has major consequences for the subcontinent.
  • Whether they want to or not, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh must deal with three broad trends that define the new Middle East.

3 Trends in the Middle East

1) Iran’s growing isolation

  •  The Trump administration and the Republicans, Israel and the Gulf Arabs have a shared interest in preventing the next US President from renewing nuclear diplomacy with Iran and ending Tehran’s isolation.
  • The assassination of Fakhrizadeh is about achieving that political objective.
  • If Iran retaliates vigorously, it will invite an all-out confrontation with Israel and the US.
  • Holding back will expose Iran’s weakness and sharpen internal divisions between pragmatists who want to engage the US and the hardliners.
  • The frequent attacks on high-profile Iranian targets indicate hostile penetration of its society such that domestic opponents of the regime are now willing to collaborate with foreign security agencies, including Israel’s Mossad.
  •  Iran’s internal political weakness is compounded by the massive economic pain imposed by the Trump administration through sanctions.
  • Iran has much goodwill in South Asia, but India and its neighbours have no desire to get sucked into Tehran’s conflicts with the Arabs or the US.

2)  Transformation of Arab relations with Israel

  • The fear of Iran has been driving Gulf Arabs to embrace Israel.
  • In the last few months, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have normalised ties with Israel.
  • There is speculation of an impending normalisation of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  • Pakistan’s Prime Minister has talked of pressure, apparently from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, on recognising Israel.
  • If Pakistan recognises Israel, Bangladesh would not want to be left behind.
  • Economic and technological collaboration with Israel will give Bangladesh’s economy and foreign policy a big boost.
  • For Israel, having Bangladesh and Pakistan, two of the world’s largest Islamic nations, recognise it would be a great ideological and political bonus
  • An India that proclaims the virtues of engaging all sides in the Middle East can’t grudge the same privilege for Israel in South Asia.

3) Rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Turkey

  • While Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE want to return the Middle East towards political and religious moderation, the once secular Turkey has become the new champion of political Islam.
  • Turkey’s contestation with Saudi Arabia is already having an impact on India and Pakistan.
  • Turkey is now hostile to India and has joined Pakistan in taking up the Kashmir question at international forums.
  • For Pakistan, this seemed a useful counter to the Gulf Arabs, who were ramping up strategic ties with India.
  • However, UAE and Saudi Arabia have the option to put massive costs on the Pakistani economy that can’t be plugged by Turkey or Malaysia.

Conclusion

Although India has made some important adjustments to its engagement with the Middle East in recent years, Delhi can’t take its eyes off the rapid changes in the region.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India &Gulf regions

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Gulf countries

Mains level: Paper 2- New possibilities in cooperation with the Gulf countries

The Gulf region offers new possibilities of cooperation to India. The article explains these possibilities.

Context

  • External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s visit to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recently is a good moment to reflect on the structural changes taking place in the Gulf and the region’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean.

Issues in approach towards the region

  • For decades, India’s mercantilism saw the Gulf as a source of oil and a destination for labour exports.
  • India’s bureaucratic approach to the Gulf was incapable of a political engagement with the region’s interests.
  • The Indian elite has long viewed the Gulf as a collection of extractive petro-states run by conservative feudatories.
  • Although the Gulf kingdoms were eager to build strong and independent political ties with India without a reference to Islamabad, India viewed them through the prism of Pakistan.

Influence in the Indian Ocean

  • Delhi’s traditional focus in the Indian Ocean was riveted on Mauritius and the large Indian diaspora there.
  • P.M.s visit to Mauritius and Seychelles in March 2015 saw the articulation of a long-overdue Indian Ocean policy and an acknowledgement of the strategic significance of the island states.
  • Since then, India has brought Madagascar and Comoros along with Mauritius and Seychelles into the Indian Ocean Division.
  • India also unveiled a maritime strategic partnership with France, a resident and influential power in the Western Indian Ocean.
  • Earlier this year, Delhi became an observer at the Indian Ocean Commission — the regional grouping that brings France’s island territory of Reunion together with Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles.
  • India has also become an observer to the Djibouti Code of Conduct — a regional framework for cooperation against piracy between the states of the Gulf, the Horn of Africa and East Africa.

5 Areas of new possibilities with the Gulf

1) Protecting India’s interests

  • First is the immediate need to shield India’s interests in the post-pandemic turbulence that is enveloping the region.
  • As the Gulf considers cutting back on foreign labour, Delhi would want to make sure its workers in the region are insulated.
  • Delhi is also eager to improve the working conditions of its large labour force — close to eight million — in the Gulf.

2) New and long-term economic cooperation

  • As the Gulf looks at a future beyond oil, they have embarked on massive economic diversification and are investing in a variety of new projects including renewable energy, higher education.
  • India must get its businesses to focus on the range of new opportunities in the Gulf.
  • India also needs to tap into the full possibilities of Gulf capital for its own economic development.

3) Financial power translating into political influence

  • The Gulf’s financial power is increasingly translating into political influence shaping political narrative in the Middle East.
  • The influence has been manifest in their successful transformation of the debate on Arab relations with Israel.

4) Influence on regional conflicts

  • The Gulf’s ability to influence regional conflicts from Afghanistan to Lebanon and from Libya to Somalia has increased.
  • The Gulf today delivers economic and security assistance to friendly states.
  • The UAE currently chairs the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and has been eager to work with India in developing joint infrastructure projects.
  • India needs to bring scale and depth to its regional initiatives on connectivity and security in the Indian Ocean.

5) Reforms taking place in the region

  • The Gulf seek to reduce the heavy hand of religion on social life, expand the rights of women, widen religious freedoms, promote tolerance, and develop a national identity that is not tied exclusively to religion.
  • The UAE has been the leader in this regard.

Consider the question “India’s engagement with the Gulf countries has been limited in several aspects. However, the region offers new possibilities of strategic and cooperation to India. Evaluate these possibilities.” 

Conclusion

As India seeks to recalibrate it’s ties with the Gulf, the real challenge for South Block is to get the rest of the Indian establishment to discard outdated perceptions of the Gulf and seize the new strategic possibilities with the region.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

UAE’s Golden Visa Program

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Indian diaspora in Gulf region

The United Arab Emirates will extend its “golden” visa system — which grants 10-year residency in the West Asian nation — to certain professionals, specialised degree-holders and others.

Do you know?

 India is the world’s top recipient of remittances with its diaspora sending a whopping $79 billion back home in 2018 a/c to the World Bank.

Golden Visa Programme

  • The “Golden Card” programme is open to investors and “exceptional talents” such as doctors, engineers, scientists, students and artists.
  • The visa categories include:
  1. General investors who will be granted a 10 years visa
  2. Real estate investors, who can get a visa for 5 years Visa
  3. Entrepreneurs and talented professionals such as doctors, researchers and innovators: 10 years Visa
  4. Outstanding students — will also be permitted residency visas for 5 years
  • All categories of visas can be renewed upon expiry.

Benefits for India

  • The Indian expatriate community is reportedly the largest ethnic community in the UAE, constituting roughly about 30 per cent of the country’s population of around nine million.
  • Though most of the Indians living in the UAE are employed, about 10 per cent of the Indian population constitutes dependent family members, according to the Indian Embassy.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

New dimension to the bilateral engegement

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Contrasting India and China's engagement with West Asia

The article draws parallels in the past in India and China’s engagement with West Asia and contrasts it with the present approach adopted by China in dealing with the region.

Strategic autonomy

  • According to a former Foreign Secretary of India, Vijay Gokhale, the ideation of ‘strategic autonomy’ is much different from the Nehruvian era thinking of ‘non-alignment’.
  • Speaking in January 2019, Mr. Gokhale said: “The alignment is issue based, and not ideological.”

India’s engagement with West Asia

  • Pre-dating 2020, India’s outreach to West Asia sharpened since 2014.
  •  Oil-rich Gulf states looked at India as investment alternative away from the West to deepen their own strategic depth.
  • India also doubled down on its relations with the likes of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, giving open economic and political preference to the larger Gulf region.
  • While engagements with Israel moved steadily forward, Iran lagged behind, constrained by U.S. sanctions, which in turn significantly slowed the pace of India-Iran engagements.

China’s engagement with West Asia

  • China’s overtures have been steadily more adventurous as it realises two major shifts that have taken place in West Asia.
  • First, the thinking in the Gulf that the American security safety net is not absolute.
  • Second, the Gulf economies such as Saudi Arabia, even though trying to shift away from petro dollar, will still need growing markets to sell oil to in the coming decade as they reform their economic systems.
  • The obvious two markets here are China and India.

Similarity in India and China’s approach to West Asia

  • Both India and China employed similar versions of ‘non-alignment’ thinking is in West Asia based on equitable engagement with the three poles of power in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel.
  • Both countries did it without getting involved into the region’s multi-layered conflicts and political fissures.
  • However, deteriorating U.S.-China ties, the COVID-19 pandemic that started in China, followed by the Ladakh crisis, is forcing a drastic change in the geopolitical playbooks of the two Asian giants, and, by association, global security architectures as well.

Changing approach of China

  •  A report in September shone a light on a $400 billion, 25-year understanding between Iran and China, with Beijing taking advantage of abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal.
  • China is no longer happy with a passive role in West Asia, and through concepts such as “negative peace” and “peace through development”.
  • In concert with tools such as the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing is now ready to offer an alternative model for “investment and influence”.
  •  It remains to be seen, however, how China balances itself between the poles of power while backing one so aggressively.

Stability of the region and opportunity for India

  • From India’s perspective, the overt outreach to the Gulf and the ensuing announcements of multi-billion-dollar investments on Indian shores by entities from Saudi Arabia and the UAE is only New Delhi recognising the economic realities of the region. 
  • Despite entanglements in the Yemen war and general tensions between the Gulf states and Iran, the likes of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and so on have maintained relatively strong and stable economic progression.
  • Israel’s recent peace accords with the UAE and Bahrain add much further weight towards a more stable Gulf region — the caveats withstanding that the operationalisation of the accords is smooth and long-lasting.

Consider the question “Despite turbulence in the region, India’s engagement with West Asia has always been characterised by non-alignment and ethos of equitable engagement. In light of this, elaborate on India’s approach to the region and region’s importance for India.”

Conclusion

While in the recent past, the Indo-Pacific, with the development of the Quad, has taken centre stage, other geographies such as West Asia have also started to showcase bolder examples of New Delhi and Beijing’s metamorphosing approaches towards the international arena.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

What are Abraham Accords?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Abraham Accord

Mains level: Balance of relations between India, Israel and the Gulf

The White House has marked the formal normalization of Israel’s ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Bahrain has created a significant inflexion point in regional history and geopolitics.

Try this question:

Q. What are Abraham Accords? Discuss how the Israel-Gulf synergy could impact India’s relations with Israel.

What are Abraham Accords?

  • The Israel–UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
  • It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
  • The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
  • Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank. The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

New friendships

  • Externally, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain share the common threat perception of Iran.
  • Internally, while all three have their respective hotheads opposing this reconciliation, these seem manageable.
  • They are relatively more modern societies which share the overarching and immediate priority of post-pandemic economic resuscitation.
  • They have lost no time to set up logistics such as Internet connectivity and direct flights to pave the way for more active economic engagement.
  • If these sinews evolve, other moderate Arab countries are likely to join the Israel fan club.

India and the Gulf

  • Now India has stronger, multifaceted and growing socioeconomic engagements with Israel and the Gulf countries.
  • With over eight million Indian diasporas in the Gulf remitting annually nearly $50 billion, annual merchandise trade of over $150 billion.
  • It sources nearly two-thirds of India’s hydrocarbon imports, major investments, etc. Hence it is natural to ask how the new regional dynamic would affect India.

The Israel-GCC synergy

  • With defence and security cooperation as a strong impetus, both sides are ready to realize the full potential of their economic complementarity.
  • The UAE and Bahrain can become the entrepôts to Israeli exports of goods and services to diverse geographies.
  • Israel has niche strengths in defence, security and surveillance equipment, arid farming, solar power, horticultural products, high-tech, gem and jewellery, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Tourism, real estate and financial service sectors on both sides have suffered due to the pandemic and hope for a positive spin-off from the peer-to-peer interactions.
  • Further, Israel has the potential to supply skilled and semi-skilled manpower to the GCC states, particularly from the Sephardim and Mizrahim ethnicities, many of whom speak Arabic.
  • Even the Israeli Arabs may find career opportunities to bridge the cultural divide. Israel is known as the start-up nation and its stakeholders could easily fit in the various duty-free incubators in the UAE.

Implications of the new trinity

  • Geopolitically, India has welcomed the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel, calling both its strategic partners.
  • In general, the Israel-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) breakthrough widens the moderate constituency for peaceful resolution of the Palestine dispute, easing India’s diplomatic balancing act.
  • However, nothing in West Asia is monochromatic: The Israel-GCC ties may provoke new polarization between the Jihadi fringe and the mainstream.
  • The possibility of the southern Gulf becoming the new arena of the proxy war between Iran and Israel cannot be ruled out, particularly in Shia pockets.
  • India would have to be on its guard to monitor and even pre-empt any threat to its interests in the Gulf.

Way forward

  • Israeli foray into the Gulf has the potential to disrupt the existing politico-economic architecture India has carefully built with the GCC states.
  • India has acquired a large and rewarding regional footprint, particularly as the preferred source of manpower, food products, pharmaceuticals, gem and jewellery, light engineering items, etc.
  • Indians are also the biggest stakeholders in Dubai’s real estate, tourism and Free Economic Zones.
  • In the evolving scenario, there may be scope for a profitable trilateral synergy, but India cannot take its preponderance as a given.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India needs to change the framework of non-involvement

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Peace in the Middle East

Realignment of relations is taking place in the Middle East with wider implications for the future of the region. India needs to reconsider its framework based on the non-involvement.

Recent geopolitical developments

  • India-China tensions have soared over the border issue.
  • The Afghan peace process is underway with the first direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban insurgents at Doha, in Qatar.
  • The normalisation of the relations between Israel and Arab countries began with the UAE and Bahrain normalising the relations.

Issues with the development

  • The chances of failure in Afghanistan are real.
  • The momentum behind the normalisation of ties between Israel and the Gulf kingdoms, may not necessarily lead to broader peace in the Middle East.
  • The US initiatives in Afghanistan and Arabia are driven by President Donald Trump’s quest for diplomatic victories.

Why it matters to India

1) The vulnerability of the peace process

  • Because of competing interests, the peace process in Afghanistan and the Middle East remain vulnerable.
  • The unfolding dynamic will alter the geopolitical landscape in both places.
  • Whether peace breaks out in Afghanistan or not, the Taliban is here to stay.
  • As UAE and Bahrain join Egypt and Jordan in having formal relationships with Israel, the contradiction between Arabs and Israelis is no longer the dominant one in the region.

2) India should recognise the importance of Arabia

  •  India’s strategic community tends to take too narrow a view of the Arabian salience.
  • The focus is mostly on ensuring oil supplies, promoting manpower exports, and managing the Pakistan problem.
  • We should consider that the Afghan peace talks are taking place in Qatar, a tiny Gulf Kingdom.
  • The UAE and Saudi Arabia were the only countries to recognise the Taliban government in the late 1990s.
  • This time around, they appear to have taken a backseat.
  • Delhi will need to pay more attention to the unfolding realignments between the Arabs and non-Arab states like Iran, Turkey and Israel.

3) Paradox of American power

  • The U.S. is being seen as a declining power in the matters of the Middle East and Afghanistan.
  •  But the reality remains that the US is the one forcing a change in both the places.

4) Implications of strategic vacuum created by the U.S. exit

  • As the US steps back from the region, the resulting strategic vacuum is likely to be filled by Russia and China.
  • Russia and China are quite active in both the Middle East and Afghanistan.
  •  China’s future role in Afghanistan, in partnership with Pakistan, could be quite significant and will be of some concern for India.
  • Regional powers have already acquired much say in the new geopolitics of the Middle East.
  • Qatar and UAE punch way above their weight, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are locked in a major contest for regional influence.

5) Domestic politics in the country

  • Religious radicalism, sectarian and ethnic divisions, and the clamour for more representative governments are sharpening conflicts within and between countries.
  • The collapse of the oil market is undermining the region’s economic fortunes.
  • Collapsing oil market is also making it harder for political elites to address the emerging political challenges.

Consider the question “Middle East is going through the major realignment of relations. What are its implications for India?.

Conclusion

As the old order begins to crumble in the greater Middle East, the question is no longer whether India should join the geopolitical jousting there; but when, how and in partnership with whom.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Importance of close alignment with moderate Arab centre

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Threat to sovereignty of the Arab countries and India's role

The article analyses the threat the Arab countries faces from the new geopolitical realignment and India’s role in it.

Geopolitical realignment in the middle east

  • Agreement on the normalisation of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel was signed recently.
  • At the same time, there is an equally significant reorientation of the Subcontinent’s relationship with the region.
  • This is marked by Pakistan’s alignment with non-Arab powers.

Deteriorating relation of Pakistan with Arab world

  • Pakistan has been angry with UAE’s invitation to India to address the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in early 2019.
  • Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to convene a meeting to condemn Indian actions in Kashmir last August has angered Pakistan.
  • While Pakistan appears to be dreaming of a new regional alliance with Turkey and Iran.
  • Pakistan is also betting that a rising China and an assertive Russia will both support this new geopolitical formation as part of their own efforts to oust America from the Middle East.

Threat to the Arab world

  • Saudis and Emiratis see sharpening existential threats to their kingdoms from both Turkey and Iran.
  • Both Turkey and Iran now intervene with impunity in the internal affairs of the Arab world.
  • Two other states have joined this Great Game.
  • Malaysia’s Mahathir fancied himself as a leader of the Islamic world.
  • Arab Qatar, which is locked in a fraternal fight with the Saudis and the Emiratis, wants to carve out an outsized role for itself in the Middle East.

India’s should follow five principles for Arab Sovereignty

  • 1) India must resist the temptation of telling the Arabs what is good for them.
  • India should support their efforts to reconcile with non-Arab neighbours, including Israel, Turkey and Iran.
  • 2) Oppose foreign interventions in the Arab world. In the past, those came from the West and Israel.
  • Today, most Arabs see the greatest threat to their security from Turkish and Iranian interventions.
  • 3) Extend support to Arab economic integration, intra-Arab political reconciliation and the strengthening of regional institutions.
  • 4) Recognise that India’s geopolitical interests are in close alignment with those in the moderate Arab Centre — including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.
  • 5) India can’t be passive amidst the unfolding geopolitical realignment in West Asia.
  • Some members of the incipient alliance — Turkey, Malaysia and China — have been the most vocal in challenging India’s territorial sovereignty in Kashmir.

Consider the question “Examine the importance of India’s relations with Arab countries. What are the threats the region faces to their sovereignty and how India can play an important role to ensure their sovereignty.”

Conclusion

Standing up for Arab sovereignty and opposing the forces of regional destabilisation must be at the very heart of India’s new engagement with the Middle East.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

The South Asian-Gulf Migrant Crisis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Indian diaspora in the Gulf countries

The pandemic has exacerbated the plight of the migrant workers in the Gulf countries. This article examines the issue and suggests the ways to deal with it.

Context

  • The Covid-19 exposed the precarious conditions of migrant workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
  • Employers have used the crisis as an opportunity to retrench masses of migrant labourers without paying them wages or allowances.

Impact of Covid-19

  • The South Asia-Gulf migration corridor is among the largest in the world.
  • The South Asian labour force forms the backbone of the Gulf economies.
  • The pandemic, the shutdown of companies, the tightening of borders, and the exploitative nature of the Kafala sponsorship system have all aggravated the miseries of South Asian migrant workers.
  • They have no safety net, social security protection, welfare mechanisms, or labour rights.
  • Now, thousands have returned home empty-handed from the host countries.
  • Indians constitute the largest segment of the South Asian workforce.
  • Gulf migration is predominantly a male-driven phenomenon.
  • A majority of the migrants are single men living in congested labour camps.
  • The COVID-19 spike in these labour camps has mainly been due to overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions.

Nationalisation of labour in Gulf

  • Now, the movement for nationalisation of labour and the anti-migrant sentiment has peaked in Gulf countries.
  • Countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia have provided subsidies to private companies to prevent native lay-offs.
  • However, the nationalisation process is not going to be smooth given the stigma attached to certain jobs and the influence of ‘royal sheikh culture’.

Challenges and solutions

  • The countries of origin are now faced with the challenge of rehabilitating, reintegrating, and resettling these migrant workers.
  • The Indian government has announced ‘SWADES’ for skill mapping of citizens returning from abroad.
  • But implementation seems uncertain.
  • Kerala, the largest beneficiary of international migration, has announced ‘Dream Kerala’ to utilise the multifaceted resources of the migrants.
  • Countries that are sending migrant workers abroad are caught between the promotion of migration, on the one hand, and the protection of migrant rights in increasingly hostile countries receiving migrants, on the other.

Way forward

  • The need of the hour is a comprehensive migration management system for countries that send workers as well as those that receive them.
  • No South Asian country except Sri Lanka has an adequate migration policy.

Conclusion

The pandemic has given us an opportunity to voice the rights of South Asian migrants and to bring the South Asia-Gulf migration corridor within the ambit of SAARC, the ILO, and UN conventions.

Original article:

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-south-asian-gulf-migrant-crisis/article32215146.ece

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