Modi takes India’s ties with West Asia to the Next Level

by Feb 17, 2024Defence & Foreign Policy0 comments

India’s ties have now become multifaceted


Prime Minister Narendra Modi has concluded a highly successful visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. This was his 7th visit to the UAE and second to Qatar as the Prime Minister over the last 10 years. In fact, it was for the fifth time in the last eight months that Modi met His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE.

Modi is perhaps the only Prime Minister of India who has visited all the countries in the Middle East/West Asia, with the exception of Kuwait. He has visited some of them multiple times. If anything , this shows the remarkable increase in the intensity of India’s interactions with West Asia as a region under the Modi government.

West Asia has been a part of India’s extended neighbourhood. Continued peace and stability in the region has been of vital strategic interest to India. Traditionally, India’s policy towards religion has been influenced by three important factors. One, the region has been home to millions of Indians( around 9 million at present ). They happen to be managers, doctors, technicians, engineers, IT experts, chartered accountants, bankers, workers, and domestic help. In fact, in most of the countries of the region, Indians hold the number one rank in the number of expatriates. And they happen to be the biggest source of the foreign remittances of billions of dollars every year for the Indian economy.

Two, the region has been the principal source of energy for the country. It contributes over 60 per cent of India’s total imports of crude oil and over 85 per cent of India’s LNG requirements.

Three, given the facts that the region comprises countries where Islam is the principal religion and India is the second largest home of the Muslims in the world, this religious factor was considered by the previous government of India to be a constraint , though not admitted as such publicly, for the country to develop its ties with Israel comprehensively.

Modi’s coming to power in 2014 has almost made this factor of religion totally redundant. Whether it is Israel or Saudi Arabia or Iran or even Palestine, India’s ties with all of them have grown manifold in the last 10 years, not otherwise. Religion has played no stumbling role.

Here, the changing contours of geopolitics and geoeconomics have also helped. Though the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas has disturbed the emerging pattern a bit, the fact remains that Israel has now official relations with the UAE and Bahrain following the Abraham accords brokered by the United States and the process of normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia remains very much alive.

Besides, there is now a growing realisation in the region that countries cannot be governed through a narrow prism of religious rigidity and there must be concerted efforts to prevent and fight terrorism emanating from religious fundamentalism. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are very clear on this.

Geoeconomically, there is a broad realisation among the rich Gulf countries that their economies cannot remain confined to oil and must be diversified. They want to be financial and technological hubs of the world a la Singapore, which is small and devoid of natural resources but one of the world’s richest countries.

These developments have been taken advantage of by Prime Minister Modi while taking bold steps to further deepen the bonds with West Asia. And here, the UAE has proved to be India’s best partner. Modi’s approach is apparent in the formations of two recent groupings. In 2022, Israel, India, the United Arab Emirates and the United States formed a bloc and named it I2U2(India-Israel, UAE-USA). It has been formed to deepen technological and private sector collaboration in the region and tackle transnational challenges in six focus areas: water, energy, transportation, space, health and food security.

The second is the formation of India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), on 9 September 2023. It would help promote economic integration between India and Europe.An MOU on IMEC has already been signed by India, the USA, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, European Union, Italy, France and Germany in this regard. The idea of this proposed big trade route is that from Indian ports commodities could be shipped to the UAE and from there with the rails to Saudi Arabia and Israel. From their ports, Europe, particularly Greece, could be reached again by ships. It is a shipping and Railway project that will enable the flow of commerce, energy and data from India across the Middle East to Europe. In fact, it is being projected to be “a green and digital bridge across continents and civilizations” ultimately (the major parts of the route will be covered by railways, resulting in the less consumption of petroleum sourced energy).

In other words, India’s relations with West Asia or Middle East are getting increasingly diversified in many areas of mutual concerns and benefits. And these were reflected by Modi’s just concluded visit to the UAE and Qatar. Though his visit to the UAE was marked by his participation in the World Governments Summit in Dubai as Guest of Honour, and then in the inauguration of the BAPS Hindu Mandir on February 14, in terms of substance it resulted in the signing of ten (10) MoUs and Agreements.

Important among them was the MoU on cooperation in the field of electricity connection and trade.Clean energy trade is an important segment of this MoU. This would focus naturally on green Hydrogen and also on energy storage.

There was also an “Agreement on Intergovernmental Framework” concerning the IMEC cooperation, particularly relating to cooperation on logistics platforms, which is a crucial element of furthering the objectives of this particular Corridor.

There was also the MoU on cooperation on digital infrastructure projects that would focus on some of the key areas of digital space, including high-power computing, digital innovation, and the platforms relating to management of data.

India and the UAE have also agreed on a Bilateral Investment Treaty that will set the basis for a stronger and more extensive and wide-ranging investment partnership, because it focuses not just on protecting the existing investments, it also advances the objective of promoting further capital flows between the two economies.

Significantly, Modi’s visit has been marked by India and the UAE agreeing on the interlinking of the instant payment platforms, UPI of India and AANI of the UAE, thus bringing together the financial platforms of the two economies. There was also the Agreement on the interlinking domestic card, credit cards, that is RuPay of India and JAYWAN of UAE.

What emerges from all this is the obvious point that relations between India and the UAE are no longer centred on one area. It is comprehensive and multifaceted, ranging from energy to education( Modi interacted with students of the first batch of students of the IIT Delhi, Abu Dhabi campus), from joint collaborations on infrastructures to security and technology.

Similar emphasis was given to the diversifications on the areas of cooperation during the Prime Minister’s second leg of visit to Qatar, whose goodwill was reflected on the eve of the visit, with the Emir of Qatar, His Highness Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, releasing eight former Indian naval officials, who were given death sentence by the court on the alleged espionage charges.

The growing bilateral relationship between India and Qatar includes a comprehensive span of political ties, culture, education, and investment linkages. They have signed an agreement for the supply of 7.5 MMTPA LNG from Qatar to India for 20 years, starting 2028. Strong bilateral trade between India and Qatar currently stands at roughly $20 billion, and Qatar is also a significant investor in India across the whole range of economies.

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