HomeBridges of FriendshipIndia is deepening its Defence Engagement with Arab World. Why it's vital...

India is deepening its Defence Engagement with Arab World. Why it’s vital for security and stability

Source : ABP News

India is deepening its Defence Engagement with Arab World. Why it's vital for security and stability
Indian Navy ship INS Sumedha, a naval offshore vessel birthed at Abu Dhabi Naval base to take part in NAVDEX 2023 naval exercise with UAE Navy held on 23rd February 2023

A week after INS Sumedha, a naval offshore vessel, birthed at the Abu Dhabi naval base, the Indian Air Force fleet of eight fighters, tankers and transport planes were extended hospitality by the Royal Saudi Air Force for refuelling and interaction with Saudi air warriors. Two days later, on February 28, Indian Navy’s Kalvari class submarine made a port call to Omanese naval Port Salalah, for operational turnaround.

Likewise, Indian armed forces combatants and commanders have been deepening their engagement with the generals and soldiers of other Middle Eastern countries, the abode of around 9 million overseas Indians, during the last few years, though the process started almost four decades ago. In 1993, India first initiated its naval diplomacy with Oman, the first West Asian country to engage in military field with India.

The overnight halt at the Riyadh airbase by the Indian Air Force fighter and transport planes on February 26 added another page to India’s expanding strategic outreach efforts to bring the Arab region politically closer to India. Senior Saudi defence officials welcomed the IAF contingent, which was flying to the UK to join the Cobra Warrior exercise. The fact that the IAF chose to make the halt at a Saudi base, and Saudi officials warmly receiving the IAF warriors indicate the real change in mindset of the country, which has traditionally maintained closer political relations with India’s arch-rival Pakistan, on whose behest Saudi Arabia used to deride India on various pretext.

During the halt, the Indian ambassador in Riyadh and the contingent commander were given an opportunity to interact with base commander of the Royal Saudi Air Force, who wished all the best to the IAF contingent in their mission.

‘Scripting History’

Signalling growing defence ties between India and Saudi Arabia, the overnight halt at the Saudi air base has been described by the Indian ambassador to Riyadh, Dr Suhail Ajaz Khan, as “scripting history in India Saudi defence relations”. Khan emphasised on the importance of military diplomacy as an important aspect of bilateral relations and the stellar role played by the air warriors in the same. This overnight halt was described as friendly “stopover” where refuelling and maintenance checks were undertaken.

This was not the first occasion for display of such bonhomie between two nations. In August 2021, the two countries held first-ever joint naval exercise called the Al-Mohed Al-Hindi, at the King Abdul Aziz naval base, the headquarters of the Saudi naval eastern fleet. This first-ever naval exercise with a hardline Islamic State signalled India’s wider acceptance in the region. Prior to the naval exercise, the two countries had exchanged the visit of their respective army chiefs during the last three years. In fact, the visit of the then Army Chief General MM Narawane in December 2020 was the first to the West Asian region, which was responded by the first ever visit of the Saudi land forces commander, Lieutenant General Fahd Bin Abdullah Mohammed Al-Mutair, in February 2022, during which the two countries decided to identify new areas of cooperation such as Intelligence sharing, counter terrorism ,artificial intelligence and cyber security.

India began its strategic outreach with the West-Asian region way back in 1993, when India and Oman began joint naval exercise called Nasee Al-Bahr (Sea Breeze). The India-Oman defence relationship has now emerged as a key pillar of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

This relationship perhaps inspired other Gulf countries such as the UAE and Qatar, who have also entered into cosy defence ties with India. In fact, India widened this engagement by inviting Egypt President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations this year. With Egypt also, India has inked defence and military cooperation agreements.

Why West Asia Is Vital

At a time when the United States is downsizing its presence in the West Asia, India as a distant neighbour of the region has a role to play in ensuring peace, security and stability, which is also vital for taking care of the interests of over 8.9 million overseas Indians, who are contributing not only to the West Asian but also Indian economy. With this aim, India has not only marked its presence in the region but also assuming a leadership role in guiding its destiny, through groups like I2U2, nicknamed West Asian QUAD, which comprises India, USA, Israel and UAE, besides the India-France-UAE trilateral cooperation initiative.

The emergency response to provide relief to earthquake victims of Turkiye and Syria a month ago was not just humanitarian but has strategic significance also. This has enhanced India’s strategic profile in the region.

West Asia is vital for maintaining India’s energy and economic security, as the country also receives substantial remittances from expatriate Indian workers. The region is also significant for India’s security concerns, especially regarding Islamic extremism and terrorism. India has to prepare in advance for any fallout from the withdrawal of the United States from the greater Middle-Eastern region. Hence, the Narendra Modi government has given a huge push to India’s West Asia policy by developing personal rapport with the leaders of countries in the region.

Any instability in the region would certainly impact the lives of millions of Indian workers. Security crisis in the region would compel Indian workers to return home, which would have consequences for the Indian economy also. India is dependent on the Middle-Eastern countries for over 60 percent of petroleum requirements. The region is also a major destination of Indian exports, which greatly contributes to Indian economy.

The United Arab Emirates is India’s third largest global trading partner, with whom India has signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. Another Gulf giant Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trading partner. Overall, during last one decade, trade and investment relations with the west Asian region has substantially deepened. India is also trying to manage its estranged relationship with other West Asian nations Iran and Turkiye.

Safeguarding of India’s vital energy and security interests requires deeper political and strategic engagements with West Asia. The West Asian strategists also see a potential in India where they can beneficially invest their huge oil revenues. Probably they have realised that with India they can develop win-win partnership. In return, India also hopes to manage anti-India rhetoric from the Islamic Ummah. It would be prudent for them to have deeper engagements with India in strategic and economic arena and secure their future as their petroleum resources are not everlasting.

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