In the past one decade, there has been remarkable increase in the development of Saudi-India bilateral relationship. Until now, this bilateralism was restricted to buyer-seller relationship, mainly focusing on oil imports from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Indian goods exports to the Kingdom. The Indian strategists and foreign policy makers have suggested remodeling this tactical relationship to give it strategic dimension. According to this new vision, India has to look beyond the oil trade with Saudi Arabia in particular and GCC states in general. The Saudi Kingdom is being considered by India as the gateway to the Gulf region.
The strategic dimension include; “India’s stakes in the security of the Gulf region”. The dominant Indian role in the Indian Ocean and its new naval strategy envisions the entire Gulf region within the ambit of Indian security parameters. India hasexpressed its intent to become a major contributor in the security and stability of the entire Gulf. The broad contours of Indian ascendancy in the Gulf region are laid down in, ‘Indian Maritime Doctrine-2004’ revised in 2010. This strategy has clearly defined the strategic outreach of the India to Gulf and Horn of Africa through is blue water.
India has been working on the development of this strategic linkage with Gulf region for quite some time. However, it took a jump start in 2006, once late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited New Delhi as a guest of honour in the Republican Day Parade. The visited ended with the signing of Delhi Declaration-2006, giving new impetus and diversification the bilateral relationship of Saudi Kingdom and India. It also provided a roadmap for the future cooperation in all areas of mutual interests between both countries. The Riyadh Declaration-2010 further enhanced this relationship to the strategic partnership, focusing on; political, strategic, economic and security and defense areas. In the subsequent years, there has been strict pursuance of all these aspects with visible achievements in all fields through regular exchanges and bilateral visits.
While promoting this relationship, India made use of its seasoned diplomacy and soft power in the garb of its so-called secularism. It also has made a strategic usage of its over 15% Muslim population, who otherwise have a status of third rate citizen and spend a humiliating life in the uneven Indian state system and society. Over the years, Indian Diaspora has increased to three millions in the Saudi Kingdom. This huge Indian population has slowly and gradually influenced the Saudi regime too, who provided additional space for the Indian inflow in that country.
The bilateral trade between both countries has risen to $49 billion. Then, India meets 20% requirements of its energy from Saudi oil. Through closer collaboration and strategic partnership, India intends ensuring long term energy supplies to support its rising economy and industrialisation. Saudi and GCC oil is most needed for the India in order to have adequate ‘Strategic Petroleum Reserve’. Then, India has a competition with China to find a market for its industrial products.
The Saudi Kingdom has a dominating position in the entire GCC. Alongside Saudi Arabia, a huge Indian Diaspora has entered into other GCC countries and all over the Middle East. Today, the Indian Diaspora is highest in GCC and Middle East. Indeed, apart from oil and goods, the record poverty level and unemployment has great opportunity for the Indian population to find jobs in Saudi Kingdom and elsewhere in GCC.
While India is going all out to secure its political, military, economic and strategic interest in Saudi Arabia and wider Middle East, the Pakistani status and position is being rapidly undermined in the region. There has been gradual shrinking of space for the Pakistani Diaspora and workers, in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries. So much so, the State of Kuwait has imposed ban on visa for the Pakistani nationals a decade ago and still maintain that.
In other GCC countries, Pakistani work force faces discrimination in all fields. Whereas the fact of the matter is that, Pakistan has played a dominant role in the development and construction of GCC states and particularly the Saudi Arabia and UAE. The other states of GCC and Middle East were supported by Pakistan all level; political, security and diplomatic. This is unfair at the part of GCC countries that, they prefer India, which has played a negative role towards Muslims by siding with State of Israel. India has strategic relationship with Israel, the aggressor state in the heart of Arab world.
Since India needs the Arab oil and market for its goods and consumption of its over-populated manpower, therefore, it is getting into all sorts of alignments and strategic relationships with GCC countries, Saudi Arabia being at the centre stage. Practically, these are Indian interest driven agendas, may serve little the GCC interests. Then, then, there is a major element of Indian antagonism with Pakistan. By having a strong grip over GCC countries, India wants to constrain space for Pakistan, which need a serious consideration.
It is a time for the joint thinking of GCC countries and Pakistan, whether, India would really serve the Saudi interests or that of GCC countries, the way Pakistan has been doing in the past. The reality is that there is no equation in the interests and objectives of Saudi Arabia and India or India and GCC. India just wants a security of its strategic objectives and expansion of designs.
The need of the hour is that, Pakistani leadership both civil and military and intellectuals at large must take initiative to re-asses and revamp the Pak-Saudi and Pak-GCC relationship in order to find the loopholes in the existing set of relationship. The process should aims at improving the relationship in all fields between Pakistan and GCC, especially the Saudi Kingdom, while maintaining the national respect and integrity. The sooner we embark on this process; there would be a possible damage control. Otherwise, delay may cause irreparable loss in all aspects.
— The writer is International Relations analyst based in Islamabad.