2023 MAY 19
International relations > India and Global Regions > India & West Asia
- The recent meeting in Riyadh between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the national security advisers of the US, UAE, and India underlines the growing strategic convergence between Delhi and Washington in the Gulf.
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- The leaders discussed a joint infrastructure project that would connect the Middle Eastern countries via rail during the meeting.
- The ambitious connectivity project aims to link the Middle East to India through roads, rails, and seaports.
- The idea emerged during meetings of the I2U2 group, which also includes Israel, over the last year.
I2U2- ‘West Asian Quad’
- I2U2 stands for India, Israel, the UAE, and the US and was also referred to as the ‘West Asian Quad’ by Ahmed Albanna, Ambassador of the UAE to India.
- I2U2 was formed in October 2021, when a meeting of the foreign ministers of the four countries took place when External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was visiting Israel.
- At that time, the grouping was called the ‘International Forum for Economic Cooperation’.
- The four-nation framework would foster support and cooperation in various domains like infrastructure, technology and maritime security.
WHY IS THE GULF IMPORTANT TO INDIA?
- India’s trade with Gulf nations:
- India’s trade with the GCC countries nearly doubled in just one year since 2020-21, and is around 155 billion dollars presently.
- The share of India’s exports that go to GCC is now above 10 per cent.
- India imports predominately crude oil and natural gas from the Gulf nations and exports pearls, precious and semi-precious stones, metals, imitation jewellery, electrical machinery, iron and steel, and chemicals to these countries.
- The GCC countries also constitute an important destination for software and other services exports.
ABOUT GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL (GCC):
- The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf or GCC is a regional intergovernmental political and economic union consisting of all Arab states of the Persian Gulf except Iraq, namely: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates
- It was originally known as the Gulf Cooperation Council.
- The Charter of the GCC was signed on 25 May 1981, formally establishing the institution.
- The GCC has extensive cooperation in political and economic fields.
- The countries have together established a joint military arm known as Peninsula Shield Force.
- Oil imports:
- Oil imports from Gulf region are needed not only to meet India’s own consumption requirements, but also as feedstock for India’s huge export of petroleum products.
- Petroleum product exports of India constitute nearly one-fifth of all manufacturing exports in dollar terms.
- Presence of Indian diaspora:
- Gulf nations are host to a sizeable Indian population. They are a big source of remittance from abroad for the Indian economy.
- Out of about 32 million non-resident Indians (NRIs), nearly half are estimated to be working in Gulf countries.
- For example, in the UAE alone, the population of people of Indian origin is nearly 40%, and a substantial proportion of these are Indian Muslims.
- Gulf countries host large proportion of blue-collar work:
- Gulf countries are host to a large proportion of blue-collar work, and people of Indian origin constitute a major proportion of this blue collar work force.
- Civilizational ties:
- Countries like the UAE and Oman can be natural allies to India due to a much older linkage between the people of these countries.
- This linkage and alliance provides geostrategic advantages for India as it explore land links to Central Asia and the possibilities of energy pipelines.
- National Security:
- India needs effective coordination with Gulf countries to combat national security threats like terrorism which has its roots in the Middle East.
- Strategic convergence between India and the US:
- The formation of a four-nation grouping called I2U2, comprising the US, India, Israel, and the UAE, highlights the growing strategic convergence between India and the US in the Gulf.
CHALLENGES IN RELATION:
- Lack of a comprehensive policy:
- Unlike the Act East policy, India has not established a comprehensive West Asia policy despite the regions having similar geopolitical significance.
- Absence of cooperation beyond energy and oil needs:
- Most of the bilateral & multilateral engagements of India with GCC countries are focused on energy and oil needs without much focus on other diverse sectors like renewable energy, higher education, technological innovation, smart cities, space commerce etc.
- Security concerns emanating from gulf nations:
- Security concerns emanating from gulf nations like the transnational terrorist linkages that exist between India and Gulf Arab countries.
- Religious polarization in India’s domestic politics:
- Experts criticized the issues, like the controversial remarks on Prophet Muhammad made by two BJP functionaries, as a reflection of the religious polarization that exists in India’s domestic politics, and such incidents may adversely impact cordial relations with Gulf countries and other Islamic nations.
- Nationalization drives in Gulf countries:
- The workforce nationalization in Gulf countries would adversely impact the Indian expatriates in the GCC countries.
- Chinese influence in the region:
- For instance, an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March 2023, brokered by Beijing, could put China in a leading role in West Asia, a position once held by the United States of America.
- India needs to focus on long-term plans for economic cooperation with GCC beyond oil, including finalizing the free trade agreement with GCC.
- Also India needs to broaden the engagement domains to defence, culture, technology etc.
- Despite having a large Diaspora, India has not leveraged on its use as a soft power. It needs to bring in this factor to its future endeavours with the region.
Q. “Seizing opportunities in the Gulf would require long overdue modernisation of Delhi’s strategic discourse, a conscious effort to change outdated narratives”. Discuss