From the UAE and Saudi Arabia to Qatar and Oman, Delhi’s outreach to the Gulf this year has been unprecedented amid the pandemic. The response from these Arab states towards India has been even more overwhelming setting the template for robust and sustainable associations.
From India foreign minister Dr S Jaishankar’s elaborate trips to the UAE and Qatar to Indian minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan’s visit to Oman to Indian Army chief General MM Naravane’s historic tour of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, India’s outreach to the Gulf this year has been unprecedented amid the pandemic.
And the best description of this continuing bonhomie came from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who has described the six states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as India’s extended neighbourhood.
From strengthening trade and bilateral business to expanding security cooperation to finding new opportunities for mutual collaboration and partnering in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, India has turned the spotlight on heightened engagement with the Gulf at a time of much geopolitical flux elsewhere in the world.
One of the reasons behind New Delhi’s deeper engagement and understanding with the Gulf is also to protect the interests of the 3-million plus Indian workers employed in the region as coronavirus pandemic disrupted economic activity and plunged the global economy into turmoil.
“India shares warm, close and multi-faceted relations with the Gulf countries underpinned by historic cultural, religious and economic linkages,” an Indian diplomat told Hindustan Times, underpinning how critical New Delhi’s relations have become with the Gulf.
The traditionally warm and friendly relationship between India and the UAE was further cemented this year with the top leadership of both nations holding regular parleys to boost cooperation on bilateral and multilateral fronts in the post-COVID era. The visits of Dr Jaishankar in November and Gen. Naravane in December also reflect the depth of strategic relations between the two countries.
“It is a relationship where the highest leadership of both countries have invested goodwill and energy. As a result, you can see the transformation during the last five years,” said Dr Jaishankar.
In May, the UAE sent seven metric tonnes of medical supplies to India to bolster its fight against the pandemic. “The UAE’s assistance to India comes in recognition of the profound and brotherly ties our two countries have shared throughout the years,” said the UAE’s Ambassador to India Ahmed Abdul Rahman Al Banna.
With robust flow of bilateral investments and an annual bilateral trade of about $60 billion, the UAE is India’s third-largest trade partner, apart from being a major exporter of crude oil to India. India has also invited further investments from the UAE in key sectors of the Indian economy such as infrastructure including logistics, food parks, highways, ports, airports, renewable energy and defence. In September, the Consulate General of India, Dubai, and Tea Board India co-organised a virtual B2B Meet to promote Indian tea in the UAE.
As the pandemic wreaked havoc across the world, it thus provided an opportunity for India to come closer and extend a helping hand to Gulf states such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia to sail through the crisis.
“Two-way investments can increase significantly, with sovereign wealth funds and portfolio investments from the Gulf region and Indian corporate investments playing a leading role,” said Sanjay Bhattacharyya, who heads the Overseas Indian Affairs division at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. “Similarly, diversification of the trade basket beyond hydrocarbons, to include engineering goods, gems and jewellery, precious metals, food products, textiles and chemicals in our exports and new products in our imports can give impetus to our trade relations,” he added.
This was reflected in the discussions of Dr Jaishankar in the UAE, who met the country’s top leadership, focusing on enhancing cooperation on various facets of their comprehensive strategic partnership including trade, investment, infrastructure, energy, food security and defence. He held high-level meetings with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and Vice President of UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Gen Naravane’s visit to Saudi Arabia and the UAE was historic as it was the first-ever by the head of the Indian Army. He met Commanders of the Saudi and UAE Land Forces to discuss key issues of mutual interest and defence cooperation. The visit is expected to further open up new avenues for cooperation in the defence and security sphere.
The Arabic tweet states that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are interested in purchasing the Indian Brahmos missile. BrahMos is the world’s only supersonic cruise missile with Mach 2.8 3 times the speed of sound. This news comes just before the visit of the Indian Army Chief of Staff, General MMM. Naravane
The normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel – both India’s key strategic allies – under a historic peace deal brokered by the US, has also been fruitful for Delhi. On December 14, it was announced that the International Federation of the Indo-Israel Chambers of Commerce (IFIICC) has been launched in the UAE to broaden the relationship between the Indian diaspora and Israel.
With 2020 spent in consolidating the huge potential to expand economic engagement between India and the Gulf, it has set the foundation for relations to take off in 2021 to unparalleled heights and robustly diversifying the trade basket beyond hydrocarbons.