By Talmiz Ahmad
Following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s extraordinary electoral triumph, he will be showered with advice from numerous sources about his new administration’s priorities, particularly regarding economic matters pertaining to growth, infrastructure, industrial production and employment. All these challenges are linked to India’s ties with the Gulf.
India’s energy security, the driver of national growth, is crucially tied to oil and gas supplies from the Gulf, with the country’s import dependence expected to exceed 80 percent.
Gulf investors are central to the development of India’s infrastructure. The Gulf corporate sector is also a valued partner in upgrading and boosting manufacturing in India, while the latter’s companies and professionals based in the region are a distinguished presence in the industrial and services sectors.
Gulf states’ partnerships with India’s economy will be an important source of employment in the country — an urgent concern for the new government, which has to ensure the productive utilization of the several million nationals who enter the job market annually.
Unsurprisingly, Modi attached the highest importance to ties with the Middle East during his first term as prime minister. He visited all the major regional capitals and warmly hosted their leaders at home.
The leaders of the UAE and Saudi Arabia committed their nations to being partners in India’s economic renaissance, with investments of billions of dollars.
These robust engagements were built on civilizational links between India and the Middle East that go back several millennia, and have now imparted to them the valuable contemporary content of information, space and biotechnology, and the upgrading of human resources to meet modern-day challenges.
A new area of considerable importance to both sides is that of food security — a marriage of Gulf technology and experience, and India’s agricultural production that goes to waste due to inadequate storage, transportation and preservation facilities.
The agreements that Modi entered into with his Middle East partners also put in place “strategic partnerships” — expressions of shared visions of security and high levels of mutual confidence in addressing common concerns, particularly regarding counterterrorism.
Here, the shared agenda has gone beyond immediate security concerns to the cultivation of belief systems that promote moderation and accommodation. Thus, the agreements concluded over the last few years already provide a blueprint to take relations forward in the political, economic and cultural spheres. But there is one subject that has been included in all joint statements that India has signed with Middle East nations but has not yet been addressed: Regional security.
Regional competitions have evolved into bloody conflicts that have broken nations and created opportunities for extremist elements to pursue murderous agendas founded on intolerance, hate and revenge.
Diverse regional and extra-regional entities have intervened in these conflicts to pursue their own short-term interests, making the regional scenario even more murky and destructive. What is missing in the Middle East landscape is any attempt at a viable peace process. It is here that India can and should play an effective role.
India has longstanding political and economic ties with all the countries of the Middle East, and enjoys high status and credibility due to its non-intrusive and non-prescriptive approach to international relations.
It also has an abiding interest in regional stability due to its energy security and economic interests, its proposed logistical connectivity projects, and the presence in the region of its 8 million-strong expat community, whose welfare is of deep concern to the central and state governments.
Modi also has warm personal ties with major regional leaders based on mutual respect and trust. Making a robust intervention to promote peace and stability in the Middle East and the Arab Gulf should be the immediate responsibility of the Modi government. For this, it has both the ability and the credibility.
(Talmiz Ahmad is an author and former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE. He holds the Ram Sathe Chair for International Studies at Symbiosis International University in Pune, India.)