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Modi’s Middle East Mantra

Since taking office in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has embarked on a proactive foreign policy, with a significant focus on enhancing India's relations with the Middle East. This region, historically important for India due to its energy resources, trade routes, and large Indian diaspora, has seen a transformation in diplomatic, economic, and strategic ties under Modi’s leadership. Through a series of high-level visits, strategic partnerships, and cooperative agreements, Prime Minister Modi has successfully strengthened India's relationships with key Middle Eastern nations, fostering a new era of collaboration and mutual benefit.

India's engagement with the Middle East dates back centuries, rooted in trade, cultural exchange, and shared historical experiences. However, in the modern era, the relationship has been largely driven by energy security, trade, and the welfare of the Indian expatriate community. Prime Minister Modi’s outreach has built upon these foundations, taking the engagement to new heights through a multifaceted approach that addresses contemporary geopolitical and economic realities.

Strategic Engagement and High-Level Visits

One of the hallmarks of Prime Minister Modi’s Middle East outreach has been the frequency and strategic nature of high-level visits. These visits have served to reaffirm India's commitment to its Middle Eastern partners and to explore new avenues of cooperation.

Saudi Arabia: Prime Minister Modi visited Saudi Arabia in 2016 and 2019, strengthening ties through the signing of multiple agreements in areas such as energy, security, and trade. The Strategic Partnership Council established during these visits has institutionalised bilateral cooperation at the highest levels.

United Arab Emirates: Modi’s visits to the UAE in 2015 and 2018 have significantly bolstered bilateral relations. The UAE has become one of the largest investors in India, with substantial investments in infrastructure, real estate, and energy. The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership established between the two nations underscores the depth of their cooperation.

Qatar: The bilateral relationship with Qatar has been marked by high-level visits and agreements focused on energy security, trade, and investment. Modi’s visit in 2016 paved the way for increased Qatari investments in India and enhanced cooperation in various sectors.

Iran: Despite geopolitical challenges, India has maintained a balanced relationship with Iran. Modi’s visit to Tehran in 2016 was pivotal in advancing the Chabahar Port project, a strategic initiative aimed at enhancing connectivity and trade links between India, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Israel: Modi’s historic visit to Israel in 2017 marked the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister, symbolising a new phase in bilateral relations. The focus has been on defense, agriculture, water management, and technology, with numerous agreements and joint initiatives launched during and after the visit.

Economic Cooperation and Trade

Economic cooperation has been a cornerstone of Modi’s Middle East outreach. The Middle East is a critical source of energy for India, and the region’s countries are among India’s top trading partners. Securing energy supplies has been a primary objective. Long-term agreements with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar ensure a stable supply of oil and gas, crucial for India’s growing energy needs. Additionally, Indian companies have invested in the hydrocarbon sector of these countries, creating a mutually beneficial energy partnership. Bilateral trade with Middle Eastern nations has expanded significantly. India has sought to diversify its trade basket, exporting goods such as textiles, pharmaceuticals, machinery, and electronics. Investments from the Middle East, particularly from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have surged, targeting sectors like infrastructure, real estate, and startups. Collaborative projects such as the development of the Chabahar Port in Iran and participation in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative highlight the strategic economic cooperation. These projects not only boost bilateral trade but also enhance regional connectivity and economic integration.

Defense and Security Cooperation

Defense and security cooperation have emerged as vital components of Modi’s Middle East strategy. The region’s strategic location and the presence of extremist threats necessitate robust security partnerships. India has conducted joint military exercises with several Middle Eastern countries, enhancing interoperability and strategic coordination. Exercises like the ‘Zayed Talwar’ naval exercise with the UAE and the ‘Al-Mohed Al-Hindi’ naval exercise with Saudi Arabia are examples of growing defense ties. India and its Middle Eastern partners have intensified collaboration in counter-terrorism efforts. Information sharing, joint training programs, and capacity-building initiatives are part of this comprehensive security cooperation. Agreements for defense procurement and technology transfer have been signed with countries like Israel and the UAE. These agreements bolster India’s defense capabilities and promote joint research and development in cutting-edge technologies.

Cultural and People-to-People Ties

The Indian diaspora in the Middle East, numbering over 8 million, plays a crucial role in fostering strong cultural and people-to-people ties. Prime Minister Modi has actively engaged with the Indian community during his visits, reinforcing their contributions to both India and their host countries. Initiatives promoting cultural exchange and cooperation have been launched, showcasing Indian art, music, and heritage. These programs enhance mutual understanding and strengthen cultural bonds. Collaborative efforts in education and skill development have been emphasised. Scholarships, joint research initiatives, and vocational training programs facilitate knowledge exchange and capacity building.

Future Prospects

The future of India’s relations with the Middle East under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership looks promising, with several areas poised for further collaboration:

Renewable Energy: As both India and Middle Eastern countries focus on sustainable development, there is potential for cooperation in renewable energy projects, including solar and wind energy.

Technology and Innovation: The technology sector offers immense opportunities for collaboration. Joint ventures in areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and fintech can drive innovation and economic growth.

Healthcare: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of healthcare cooperation. Collaborative efforts in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and healthcare infrastructure can address shared challenges and improve public health outcomes.

Tourism and Hospitality: Strengthening tourism ties through joint promotion of tourism destinations, easing of travel restrictions, and development of tourism infrastructure can boost economic and cultural exchanges.

Agriculture and Food Security: Collaborative projects in agriculture, including technology transfer and joint research, can enhance food security and agricultural productivity in both regions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Middle East outreach has marked a significant transformation in India’s foreign policy, characterised by proactive engagement, strategic partnerships, and diversified cooperation. The deepening ties with key Middle Eastern nations reflect India’s recognition of the region’s strategic importance and the mutual benefits of a robust partnership. Through a blend of economic, strategic, and cultural diplomacy, Modi has successfully positioned India as a vital player in the Middle East, paving the way for a future of shared prosperity and stability. As both regions continue to evolve, the foundation laid during Modi’s tenure will serve as a cornerstone for enduring and mutually beneficial relations.


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