India & West Asia – New Frontiers
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests ;
- India and the World ; India and its neighbourhood- relations.
- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
In News: India and Saudi Arabia have inked over a dozen agreements in several key sectors including oil and gas, defence and civil aviation to bolster their ties as Prime Minister Narendra Modi held extensive talks with the Kingdom’s top leadership during which a Strategic Partnership Council was established to coordinate on important issues.
- Saudi Arabia has, for some time now, been looking for new friends in the East.
- The disappointing response of the United States after half of the kingdom’s oil production was knocked out by drone attacks last month, or when the West cornered Riyadh on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, has only driven it to look east.
- India is also achieving its strategic goals alongside trade with Saudi Arabia.
- Meanwhile, the bilateral ties between India and the UAE too have reached new heights. Having prospered for several decades, it has more recently advanced into a sterling partnership spanning multiple dimensions, with both countries firmly committed to expanding collaboration in new sectors. Not just Saudi and the UAE, the whole of West Asia is looking to engage with India and explore new frontiers.
Geopolitically West Asia occupies an important position in international relations due to its geographical location and proximity to continents and countries – South Asia, China, Central Asia, Europe, and Africa. The region is strategically significant due to its enormous energy resources, trade route links to different parts of the world and the fact that it is a place of origin for the Abrahamic religions. It is the world largest oil-producing region accounting for 34% of world production, 45% of crude oil exports and 48% of oil proven reserves. All powers seek a stake in the affairs of the region due to the abundance of natural resources. It is also a region plagued with instability largely due to the involvement of external forces, and sometimes due to internal conflicts.
West Asia & India
India’s commercial and cultural relations with the region have ancient roots. People to people contacts were established between the two great civilizations in those early days when the merchants of the Kulli culture in Southern Baluchistan and the early Sumer dynasties were in existence. Later the period between the rise of Islam in the 7th century A.D. to about the 10th century A.D. may be termed as the golden age of trade relations between India and the Arab world.
An important factor influencing India’s foreign policy is her socio-cultural affinity of Indian Muslims owing to – Macca and Madina located in this region. Every year more than a lakh Indian Muslims go for Hajj, providing a binding force between two regions. For the past four decades trade, energy and human resource have been the principal drivers of India’s economic relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.). India has been heavily dependent on energy supplies from the region, while Indian expatriates have constituted a substantial share of the regional labor market. Remittances from the region were last estimated to be fifty percent of the total of 80 million USD coming to India.
The Islamic countries in our western neighbourhood are challenged by sectarian (Shia-Sunni), civilisational (Persian-Arab-Turkish) and religious (Jewish-Islamic), rivalries and tensions. India has skilfully conducted its diplomacy, avoiding taking sides in sectarian and civilisational differences, while advocating reconciliation between contesting states.
There are two ways that India has been engaging with the region in terms of geopolitical strategy –
- It has been making allies and collaborating economically with countries to safeguard its energy security.
- It has been engaging selectively in socio-political contacts. As one of the largest diaspora population in the region, it is one of the largest targets for India’s practice of soft-power diplomacy.
- India’s soft power is clearly visible in terms of culture, language, skills, Bollywood, food, yoga, its democratic character, neutrality, and non-interference, international law and multilateral diplomacy to name a few.
- India’s rise in high-tech sectors is reflected in the senior positions Indian experts hold in the Gulf, where professionally and technically qualified Indians are significantly engaged in the knowledge-based economic projects, such as Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and the Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZ).
The India-UAE bilateral relationship has evolved into a significant partnership in the economic and commercial spheres. India-UAE trade is around $52 billion, making India the largest trading partner of UAE, while UAE is India’s third largest trading partner, after China and the US. The UAE is significantly, the second largest export destination of India, with exports of over $30 billion.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Saudi Arabia last week for his second visit in three years. If during his first visit in 2016, King Salman conferred Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian award on him, his second visit saw him participate in the high-profile Future Investment Initiative Summit, dubbed ‘Davos in the Desert,’ an initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The crown prince had also visited India earlier this year in February. The fact that this visit happened against the backdrop of India’s decision to abrogate Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan’s desperate attempt to internationalise the issue makes Modi’s visit to Riyadh even more significant.
India’s trade ties with Saudi Arabia have been growing and the relationship is no longer merely a buyer-seller one, though energy remains the driver of the engagement with Saudi Arabia being India’s second-biggest supplier of oil after Iraq. Saudi Arabia is now India’s fourth-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade at $27.48 billion in 2017-18 and Saudi investment to the tune of around $100 billion is in the pipeline in areas ranging from energy, refining, petrochemicals and infrastructure to agriculture, minerals and mining.
During Modi’s visit, two important pacts were signed:
- While the first was a preliminary agreement between Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Ltd and Saudi Aramco that will result in a greater Saudi role in setting up a second fuel reserve facility in Karnataka,
- The second was between the West Asia unit of India’s Indian Oil Corporation and Saudi Arabia’s Al Jeri company for downstream sector cooperation.
- Modi also announced the formation of the India-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council that will be led by the leaderships of both countries to “help India address its expectations and aspirations.”
Both India and Saudi Arabia are re-defining their foreign policy priorities at a time of global and regional turmoil. For New Delhi, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states are becoming key interlocutors in the Middle East. Developing stronger ties with Saudi Arabia has been an important diplomatic achievement in Modi’s first term.
And for Riyadh, India is one of the eight major powers with which it wants to forge strategic partnerships as part of its Vision 2030.
The reform agenda of Prince Mohammed offers an opportunity for the PM to lend the relationship a durable strategic dimension. It is not surprising, therefore, that there is a new energy in India-Saudi bilateral partnership.
Connecting the Dots
- What importance does the West Asian region hold for India’s economic and strategic interests? Discuss. Also elaborate upon the role of past economic and cultural ties in shaping India’s relations with West Asia today.
- The recent engagements of India and UAE embark India’s Look West Policy but it equally defines GCC’s Look East Policy for the greater Indian engagements with West Asia. Elaborate
- Analyse the geostrategic and economic significance of the region for India. What initiatives have been taken recently to impart momentum to India’s ties with West Asia?
- Rivalries and tensions in the Islamic world could throw some challenges to India’s dealings in West Asia. Analyse.
- How did newly found petroleum resources change the fate of Southwest Asian nations? Discuss.