Dec 07, 2020-Monday
Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane’s groundbreaking visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) offers significant possibilities for elevating defence ties with two key West Asian powers at a time when that region is witnessing rapid changes in its political and security scenario. West Asia watchers cannot recall another visit to Riyadh by such a senior Indian military official. Gen Naravane is set to hold talks with the military and civilian leadership of both countries. This is the Army chief’s third consecutive foreign visit with diplomatic overtones, following his trips to Myanmar and Nepal, the second of which helped smooth over rancour caused by a border row.
India has good reasons for describing West Asia as part of its extended neighbourhood — the region is home to nine million Indians, or 30% of the total expatriate workforce, whose annual remittances amount to about $48 billion. This alone is a good reason to bolster security ties with a country such as Saudi Arabia, home to three million Indians and one of the top two energy sources for India. It is also significant the visit is taking place in the wake of the UAE normalising ties with Israel and reports of back channel contacts between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, and there are indications India will benefit from its proximity to both the Arab states and Israel.
Security ties between West Asian states and India have hitherto largely focused on intelligence-sharing and counterterrorism and Gen Naravane’s visit could lead to greater military exchanges, including joint exercises and defence cooperation, with a region that occupies a significant space in India’s national security interests.