PM Modi’s Middle-East diplomacy: Reinforcing relationship with the Gulf

Published: August 26, 2019 3:59:22 PM

The leaders from Saudi Arabia, Palestine, UAE, and Bahrain conferred their highest civilian honor on Prime Minister Modi which is unprecedented, to say the least.

PM Modi with his Bahrain counterpart HH Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa (Twitter image)PM Modi with his Bahrain counterpart HH Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa (Twitter image)

By Amb. Anil Trigunayat

Gulf has changed qualitatively in so far as India is concerned. They look at the country as a reliable, steady and strategic partner in its real sense which is helped a great deal by the presence of valuable Indian Diaspora and their selfless contribution to the development of the West Asian countries. India has also emerged as a safe and credible destination for their investments. At the political level, there has been a sea change ever since PM Narendra Modi embarked on his engagement with the leadership in the region, especially in the Gulf countries. He visited UAE several times, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Iran apart from Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. He developed a tremendous personal rapport with the leadership many of who visited India including the UAE Crown Prince who was the Chief Guest at the Republic Day 2018 –one of the highest diplomatic honor India confers on her special friends. The leaders from Saudi Arabia, Palestine, UAE, and Bahrain conferred their highest civilian honor on Prime Minister Modi which is unprecedented, to say the least. A clear testament to the importance they attach to developing ties with India. It is in this context that the recent visit of PM Modi to UAE and Bahrain from August 23-25 needs to be seen.

It was in the run-up to general elections in India that UAE had announced conferring “Sheikh Zayed Medal”- the highest civilian honor on PM Narendra Modi for his contribution to strengthening the bilateral relationship. The award was received by PM last week in Abu Dhabi that was his third visit to the Emirate. Relationship with the UAE has become unique and emerged a gold standard of partnership. Every year since 2015, when the relationship was elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership there has been regular highest level visits and interactions between the two countries. While PM Modi visited UAE in 2015, 2018 and 2019 –The Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Nahyan was in India in 2016 and 2018. Not only UAE announced strategic investments in India’s energy security and infrastructure to the tune of $75 bn but is currently the third-largest trading partner with $ 60 billion. Became the first country in the Middle East where the Ru Pay card was launched that could be handy to the 3.3 million-strong Indian community there. The special dispensation of the relationship has been witnessed time and again whether their understanding of India’s Balakot strikes against Pakistan in the wake of Balakot strikes or for that matter extradition of wanted fugitives and offenders from UAE most expeditiously.

Again a special invite to Indian Foreign Minister to attend the OIC meeting in March was a game-changer. It was again seen in the wake of India’s abrogation of Art 370 in J&K which was referred to as the “internal matter” of India by the UAE which was a definitive tilt in their orientation. Pm Modi urged the Emiratis and NRI community to invest the rebuilding and development of J&K.UAE has also been taking initiatives for Peace, Happiness, and Religious tolerance through global initiatives that fit well in India’s spiritual matrix. Land for Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi was one such gesture. Moreover, the regional geopolitical architecture itself is changing with UAE and Israel beginning to converse more intimately and seeking dialogue with Iran in the ongoing crisis in the Persian Gulf and India is also a close partner for both. Although UAE has bailed out Pakistan economically in recent times they have clearly hyphenated the relationship giving primacy to India. Cancellation of the visit to UAE by the Pakistani Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani in the wake of PM Modi’s visit; Rejecting FM Qureshi’s objection to the OIC invite to late Sushma Swaraj; and their admission that the “Muslim Umma” looks to India’s economic opportunity point to the realization that their bluff has been called and they cannot count on erstwhile blind support from the middle eastern countries.

Likewise during his visit to Bahrain, PM Modi was conferred with the “King Hamad Order of Renaissance ” after being received on arrival in Manama by PM HH Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa. This was the first visit by an Indian PM to Bahrain. In the wake of recent skirmishes and demonstrations against Article 370 abrogation the Bahraini authorities had arrested several Pakistanis not allowing any activities inimical to India. This was also clearly evident in the joint statement where the two called on all states to reject the use the terrorism against all countries and dismantle terrorist infrastructure wherever it exists in a clear reference to Pakistan. Bahrain also supports India’s initiative and concerted action for the UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism(CCIT) While for Bahrain it could also obliquely include Iran. In order to carry on the “Security Dialogue” a mechanism at the level of Deputy National Security Advisers has been established that will further deliberate on ways to counter-terrorism, cybersecurity and other key areas of cooperation in the security issues. Over 3000 Indian companies are working in Bahrain and over 350000 Indians in the country will also benefit from the RuPay card that is becoming a new Indian digital currency medium for Indian travelers and NRIs. The visit would surely enrich and energize the ancient bilateral ties from the days of Dilmun civilization as the collaboration in energy security, space and economic areas expands. PM also supported the Bahraini proposal for International Day of Conscience on April 5 which are so very relevant in this age of disruption.

It is a given that today PM Modi’s West Asia Policy is an unquestionable success story but we would have to be more invested in the regional architecture through bilateral and regional discourse by taking greater responsibility in security and maritime domain order to become a reliable interlocutor and responder to emerging issues and threats for it all will have a direct bearing and impact on India’s economy, Diaspora and security.

(Author is former Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta. Views expressed are personal)

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