Army Chief’s visit to Saudi Arabia and UAE: India cements its ties with the Gulf countries

December 7, 2020 2:55 PM

What needs to be examined is the recent changes that have occurred that have lead to this visit.

Indian army, army chief MM Naravane, army chief visit to UAE, india-UAE ties, visit of Dr S Jaishankar the Minister for External Affairs to UAE and Bahrain.The Army Chief first visit to a country which is the largest provider of our energy requirements . (PTI Image)

By Maj Gen Jagatbir Singh

The visit of General MM Naravane to Saudi Arabia and the UAE follows his recent visits to Myanmar and Nepal and comes close on the heels of the visit of Dr S Jaishankar the Minister for External Affairs to UAE and Bahrain. While the visit at a time when Indian troops are still combating the Chinese intrusions in Eastern Ladakh has great significance, it is also reflective of the deepening military ties with these countries. This is the first visit by the Army Chief to a country which is the largest provider of our energy requirements in the form of crude oil and a region where we have large diasporas whose remittances drive the economy of some of our states.

What needs to be examined is the recent changes that have occurred that have lead to this visit. The foremost being the snub given by Saudi Arabia to Pakistan recently when General Qamar Javed Bajwa accompanied by the  Director-General ISI was denied an audience by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salaman when he rushed to Riyadh in August  with a view to controlling the damaging Pakistan – Saudi ties. These ties started deteriorating with Pakistan’s refusal to join a Saudi- UAE coalition in Yemen and an upswing in their ties with Turkey and Malaysia.

The next of course is the recent breakthrough in ties between Israel and UAE and the signs of a similar trajectory in ties with Saudi Arabia. Simultaneously, China is getting closer to Iran much to the discomfort of other countries in the region and even though one of the reasons for the Chinese intrusions was the apprehension in China that India was seeming to align with the US, the actions of China only accelerated a push in that direction which resulted in the recent  Exercise Malabar and is now being reflected in this significant visit.

India is no doubt cementing its ties with the Gulf countries whereas Pakistan seems to be aligning itself with Turkey which is trying to reclaim its position as the Ottoman Empire. The foundation for this security cooperation was laid during the visit of King Abdullah in 2006, and the ‘Delhi Declaration’ signed between the two countries stressed that terrorism was where “the governments would closely and actively cooperate”. In 2010, during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the’ Riyadh Declaration’ emphasized cooperation on information exchange of terrorists. In April 2016, during the visit of Prime Minister Modi, agreements on security cooperation were signed and he was conferred the country’s highest civilian award; King Abdul Aziz Sash.

The joint Committee of Defence Cooperation (JCDC) is focusing on the area of defence cooperation including manufacturing and sales. As Saudi is the world’s biggest arms importer having access to its market would be extremely beneficial to our defence industries. There are other significant pointers to the upward trajectory of ties one was the training of Saudi Cadets in India and then was Saudi permission in 2017 to allow Air India flights to Israel to overfly Saudi airspace.

What will be keenly observed is the questions the Chief will be asked by the Saudi National Defence College when he addresses them, is the focus going to be on terrorism and J& K and Indo – Pakistan relations, or will they now expand to include the ongoing Indo – China border issue, the security of the Indo- Pacific, role of Israel and US in the Middle East and India’s ties with Iran.

While energy has been the foundation of our ties, there has been a remarkable shift in our relationship lately and the forthcoming visit of the Chief and focus on counter-terrorism and security is only reflective of maturing of our relationship and elevated role in this region.

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views are personal)

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