The Gulf Region’s Increasing Importance To India

The increasing strategic convergence among India, India, and the Gulf region has led to more extensive economic, political, and defense connections. However, the worsening security environment within the Middle East may hamper progress in certain areas.

In one of his final international trips before the general elections in India scheduled for April-May 2024, from 13-15 February, India’s Premier Narendra Modi traveled to India’s United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. The move indicated India’s growing imports in this Gulf area. 

Under Modi as Prime Minister, the Gulf is now an important foreign and security policy priority and an essential part of India’s “extended region” where India is gaining more interest and influence.

Since Modi was elected in 2014, India changed its relations with Gulf states from one primarily on trade, energy, and Indian expatriates to a new policy framework that includes the areas of investment, political relations, and defense and security cooperation. India’s priorities include:

  • Attracting investment to boost economic growth.
  • Dealing with regional security issues (including those in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf).
  • Increasing its regional influence.

The time of Modi’s visit underscores the significance to the UAE as India’s primary regional partner. In reality, the UAE is the one country in the region that India has a bilateral relationship with and in trilateral ways (along with France). In addition, since 2021, it is part of France in the I2U2 quadrilateral association with the United States and Israel.

Changing Relations

Modi’s visit to UAE was the seventh time he’s visited since his election to the presidency, which demonstrates India’s growing importance of involvement in the Gulf region. 

Modi’s August 2015 visit to the UAE was the first visit by an Indian premier in 34 years to visit the UAE in the last 34 years. Modi’s August 2019 trip to Bahrain was the first-ever visit by an Indian premier.

Trade, energy, and the safety of Indian expatriates are traditionally one of the main components of the relationship between India and the Gulf. India has a significant share in Gulf stability because 8.8 million Indian citizens are in the Gulf region.

India’s desire to maintain its economic expansion has prompted it to take on a more significant part in international energy governance. It applied to become a full member of the International Energy Agency in February 2024. Additionally, as part of the plan to increase India’s proportion of natural gas and the transition to a predominantly gas-based economy, at the beginning of February, New Delhi signed an agreement worth US$78 billion to increase exports to Qatar in the amount of 7.5 million tons of liquefied natural gas per year for another 20 years beginning in 2028.

The Challenges Ahead

India could benefit through a broadening of its relations with the Gulf. However, it is facing issues in the development of relations in economic and political areas amid the deterioration of security.

The escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas, as well as the shipping attacks within the Red Sea, directly impact India’s economic security and energy security. 

However, India has hesitated to participate actively in the complicated political landscape in the Middle East. It is back to its traditional conflict with the Gulf, Iran, and Israel. It could get more complex if the war escalates. The war also impacted the I2U2 multilateral group, notably through the constant delay of a high-level meeting in October 2023. India has been calling to encourage economic projects like I2U2 or IMEC to continue to grow regardless of the conflict.

Other obstacles include the finalization of the India-GCC FTA, which was initially delayed because of changes in the GCC’s top trade negotiator. The main challenge is finding a deal acceptable to everyone in the GCC states.

Furthermore, India must manage diplomatic relations with the Gulf carefully after Islamophobic remarks from Indian government officials in May 2022.

Any Islamophobic rhetoric from Indian nationals stands in contrast to the growing government-to-government display of religious tolerance between India and the Gulf. In his campaign initiatives, Modi has utilized ‘temple diplomacy’ to reach out to the expatriate population of India, opening an important Hindu Temple in Abu Dhabi during his February visit.

The Path Forward

The increasing security threats highlight the need for India to become a crucial strategic partner of the Gulf states and expand its influence in the region. 

The rising strategic convergence that spans security, economic, and political concerns has led to an updated framework for the relationship between India and Gulf states, which, if successfully sustained, will improve confidence levels and allow cooperation to expand in its scope.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *