Army Chief to visit Saudi Arabia and UAE next week; The region is important for India, experts say

By: |
December 4, 2020 12:59 PM

“During the last few years the defence and security cooperation between India and some Gulf countries have acquired a strategic salience,” experts opine.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visiting Bahrain and the UAE, Indian Chief of Army Staff, General Naravane , Navarane visit to Saudi Arabia, India-UAE relationsIn recent past India has made major efforts to improve its diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. (AP Image)

Close on the heels of the External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visiting Bahrain and the UAE last week, next week the Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane is expected to visit Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “During the last few years the defence and security cooperation between India and some Gulf countries have acquired a strategic salience,” experts opine.

“The upcoming visit of Indian Chief of Army Staff, General Naravane to Saudi Arabia and UAE indicates a titanic shift in security dynamics and geopolitical equations between India and the Middle East in the backdrop of changing dynamics in the Islamic world,” Brig NK Bhatia, an Indian Army Veteran, tells Financial Express Online.

Experts’ Views

Sharing his views former Ambassador Amb Anil Trigunayat says, “Joint defence production is being explored. As such Saudi Arabia is the biggest importer of sophisticated arms and ammunition followed by India hence greater scope if mutually beneficial collaboration in joint production is incumbent. Since both Saudi Arabia and UAE are India’s largest trading and investment partners in the region greater collaboration in the Gulf security architecture becomes essential.”

“GCC countries have often sought a role for India in the provision of security which has been gradually moving forward. As such West Asia especially the Gulf is strategically most important for India’s overall security spectrum including energy and Diaspora security. Moreover, West Asia is an integral part of India’s Indo-Pacific maritime domain hence mutually beneficial areas of cooperation could be discussed in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi as the geopolitical dynamic in the region confronts newer security challenges. Hence the visit of COAS could provide the requisite impetus to ongoing collaboration apart from deepening strategic ties even more,” Ambassador Anil Trigunayat opines.

Adding, “The training and exchanges between the forces of the two have become frequent, and the joint exercises and goodwill visits between the three wings of the militaries have taken place.”

“The visit provides for new opportunities for the Indian army to open up its defence cooperation with Saudi Arabia which had remained dormant in the backdrop of Pakistan’s close relations with Saudi Arabia nurtured through a formal Defence agreement signed in 1967,” opines Brig NK Bhatia.

“The agreement had allowed for Pakistan to place its soldiers on Saudi soil and commence training of Saudi armed forces personnel in its military training establishments. During mid- 1980s thousands of Pakistani soldiers were deployed on Saudi soil. In addition to this extensive military cooperation, Pakistan had played a pivotal role to be a vanguard to train and equip anti-Soviet mujaheddin in Afghanistan in exchange for substantial Saudi economic assistance.” Brig Bhatia tells Financial Express Online.

In his opinion, “The fissures in Islamic world have been out in the open with the idea of an alternate forum for Islamic world being a direct challenge to the leadership of Saudi led OIC. Pakistan has been playing an active role against Saudi interests having ramifications across countries that are close to Saudi Arabia, especially UAE. This has led to Saudi led bloc opening itself to cooperation outside the Islamic world, more particularly Israel.”

In recent past India has made major efforts to improve its diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This has resulted in improved economic relations and close cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism leading to the repatriation of a number of Indian fugitives from these countries to India to face prosecution. “Expansion of these relations in the field of defence is a natural corollary of the improved ties,” the Indian Army veteran says.

In conclusion says, “The Indian Chief of Army Staff has visited two neighbouring countries in the recent past. His visit Saudi Arabia and UAE is an indication that military diplomacy has come of age and can play an important role in enhancing Indian geo-political interests.”

Says Ehtesham Shahid, Editor at TRENDS Research & Advisory “India’s engagement has been growing in this part of the world for several years now and some of these visits sometimes appear like routine matters seeking to broaden the horizon.”

“Amid a pandemic and a downward looking economy, the security dimension acquires immense significance considering an anti-terror mechanism has developed between the two sides. There is scope for extending this mechanism to other areas including health security, as was emphasized by the External Affairs Minister. During S Jaishankar’s visit, India and the UAE reviewed cooperation on their comprehensive strategic partnership including trade, investment, infrastructure, energy, food security and defence,” says Ehtesham Shahid, who is based in the region.

In his opinion, “Army Chief Navrane’s visit, beginning next week, is likely to bring a renewed focus on defence cooperation. His visit should also be seen in the context of India’s determination to maintain and even further its relations with a region with which it has had decades of energy interdependence. The millions of Indians working in this part of the world, and sending billions in remittances back home, are also factors that cannot be ignored. Any major shift in either of these arrangements could have implications for India in short and long terms.”

“Moreover, with a power transition taking place in the United States, there has been a significant jostling for position in the region before Biden takes charge. India has done a reasonable job of maintaining a balancing act between Saudi Arabia on one hand and Iran on the other and New Delhi will look to do the same even as it keeps an eye on its borders with China and Pakistan,” Mr Shahid concludes.

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