To deepen ties with West Asia, India looks beyond energy

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on January 20, 2018

West Asia is clearly taking centre-stage in the country’s foreign policy as India looks to expand its engagement with the region beyond energy security.

With the conclusion of his two-day visit to Qatar, Narendra Modi became first Prime Minister to visit four countries in the Gulf – UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar – within a year thereby promoting the government’s recent ‘Think West’ initiative.

The relationship with West Asia is increasingly moving beyond energy ties to wider strategic issues of security, connectivity, counterterrorism and defence arrangements.

During his visit to Qatar on June 5, India and UAE signed pacts in some of the newer areas of infrastructure projects, customs administration, intelligence exchange and tourism among others. This sort of cooperation with Qatar was unheard of before. Earlier, it was mostly about energy pertaining to LNG supplies.

But now India is looking at tapping into Qatari institutional investors for funding infrastructure projects by routing them through the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF).

Besides, both sides are now going to exchange intelligence related to money laundering, terrorism-financing and other related crimes. West Asia is also increasingly gaining crucial importance for India as far as connectivity is concerned.

Last month, India signed an agreement with Iran to develop cargo terminals in their Chabahar Port. India is also keen to invest heavily in a free trade zone there. This will allow India obtain direct access to the booming Central Asian market.

“India’s policy towards West Asia has become more robust and active. The strategy started changing rapidly post the Arab spring and end of Western sanctions on Iran. This is also because the dynamics of oil market is changing and India is also playing a major role in the stability of the region. We are thinking of them beyond oil and hydrocarbons and talking of security arrangements,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, Vice-President and Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

Apart from the Chabahar Port, India and Iran for the first time decided to form a Joint Working Group on Defence under the respective defence secretaries to enhance their interaction in defence cooperation.

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar had earlier stated that it is time for India to ‘Think West’ and tap into the growth opportunities of the Gulf region even as it pushes forward its policy of ‘Look East.’

In an effort to deepen ties with West Asia, India and Saudi Arabia will soon be conducting joint military exercises and jointly develop arms and ammunitions. Last year during the visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to India, both sides strengthened their strategic partnership by signing a MoU on defence cooperation, which was an important milestone in the bilateral ties.

Role of Diaspora

Seven million Indian labourers work across various fields in the region contributing towards the growth of the country’s GDP by way of remitting over $40 billion annually.

Published on June 06, 2016

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