Diplomat Times Digital : 05 Dec, 2020
Army chief MM Naravane is travelling to Saudi Arabia and the UAE next week, a visit that is being hailed as a new chapter in the relationship between India and a more pragmatic Arab world.
General Naravane will also address the Saudi National Defence College during the first such visit by an Indian army chief to Saudi Arabia.
The news comes amid winds of change blowing through the Arab world, with key nations reaching out to Israel. The geopolitical realism shown by the likes of the UAE, which was the first country to normalise relations with Israel, can also be witnessed in many Arab countries’ refusal to allow Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir come in the way of expanding ties with India. There is speculation that other Arab countries may follow the UAE’s footsteps and not let the “Palestinian cause” become a hindrance in normalising ties with Israel, America’s closest ally in the region.
While Saudi Arabia – the most important of the Arab states – is being coy about its views on Israel, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the Saudi Crown Prince and the Israeli leadership are secretly coordinating efforts to push back against their common enemy – Iran, which is also America’s biggest foe in the region.
On its part, India has traditionally maintained warm ties with both the Sunni-dominated Arab nations and Shia-majority Iran. But the emerging Pakistan-Iran-Turkey nexus may force India to take a more clear approach. The Indian army chief’s visit to Saudi Arabia and the UAE will not go unnoticed in Islamabad, Ankara and Tehran. Turkey’s president Recep Erdogan has been a vocal critic of India’s decision to annul the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, and ties between India and Turkey have consequently soured in the past year.
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Meanwhile, Pakistan, which is lately getting something of a cold shoulder from its longstanding ally and aid-giver Saudi Arabia, is also increasingly embracing Turkey. China has further complicated matters, especially by moving ahead with a proposed 25-year deal with Iran worth $400 billion.
The growing economic ties between India and the Arab world — Saudi Arabia, or instance, is India’s fourth-largest trading partner and supplies about 18 per cent of India’s crude requirement and around 30 per cent of its LPG needs – and the large presence of the Indian diaspora in the Middle East have been key factors driving the dynamic relationship for decades.
But the new geopolitical realities of the Arab world are making these ties even stronger. General Naravane’s visit is a significant step in that direction.