New Delhi, India – Indian Army Chief Manoj Mukund Naravane has embarked on a “historic” six-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, the first such visit to the two Gulf countries by the chief of the army.
The visit of General Naravane, Chief of Staff of the Army (COAS), aims to “strengthen the country’s strategic and defense cooperation” with the two nations, a statement from the Indian army said on Tuesday, adding that it was a “historic” trip. .
India has always had close economic ties with the Gulf countries, as it imports a significant portion of its petroleum products from the region.
Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trading partner after China, the United States and Japan, and a major source of energy. India imports about 18 percent of its crude oil requirements from the country.
But in recent years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has focused on strengthening security and defense ties, especially with the UAE.
“The visit of the army chief to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is part of New Delhi’s new desire to expand its security partnerships with these two countries in particular and the quarter in general”, Happymon Jacob, associate professor of international studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera.
“The decision to have these visits carried out by the chief of the army, rather than by the CDS (chief of the defense staff) or the NSA (national security adviser),” said Jacob, who is also the author of the book Line on Fire. : Ceasefire Violations and Escalation Dynamics between India and Pakistan.
8.5 million Indian workers in the Gulf
The Gulf region is also home to 8.5 million Indian workers, of whom over 2.7 million live in Saudi Arabia and nearly 30% of the UAE’s total population includes Indians.
In recent years, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which have traditionally maintained close military ties with India’s rival Pakistan, have warmed in New Delhi.
The two countries bestowed their respective highest civilian honors on Modi – symbolizing their eagerness to do business with New Delhi.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia are building a massive $ 42 billion petrochemical plant in the Indian state of Maharashtra because they see India as a big consumer of energy.
Rights activists, however, have criticized Abu Dhabi and Riyadh for honoring Modi, accused of marginalizing Indian Muslims, the country’s largest minority.
UAE and Saudi Arabia do not talk about Kashmir
Last year, New Delhi revoked the special constitutionally guaranteed status of Indian-administered Kashmir – India’s only Muslim-majority region.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have maintained silence on the Kashmir issue, angering Islamabad. Last month, the United Arab Emirates stopped issuing work and tourist visas to people from 13 countries, including Pakistan.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the US-based Wilson Center, said signs of a deepening India-Saudi Arabia partnership had been visible for some time.
“For India, this is part of an effort to increase its partners in the Middle East, especially for energy cooperation at a time when it has reduced imports from Iran due to the US sanctions regime,” he said. Kugelman said.
He added that the Saudi-Iranian rivalry is rapidly escalating, and especially after this new tendency of several Arab Gulf states to recognize Israel.
“It is logical that Riyadh wants to bring New Delhi, which has growing relations with Israel, closer to its side,” he added.