India-Gulf Relations – OpEd


Gulf-India ties span a range of areas, including economics, security, and strategic, though their bilateral trade or economic relations have taken center stage to grow. India’s rising energy needs will be a contributory factor in their growing relations. This article also talks about the trends in Pakistan-Gulf ties.  The growing India- Gulf ties are not at the cost of a bit friction between Pakistan- gulf relations. 

If we talk about India Gulf countries relations, there two factors:  Oil and gas, the two main drivers of the relationship. India mainly buys crude oil and natural gas from the Gulf countries and exports to them chemicals, electrical equipment, iron, and steel as well as pearls, precious and semi-precious stones, metals, and imitation jewelry.

42% of India’s total oil imports come from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations; three of India’s top five oil suppliers are Gulf nations, with Saudi Arabia being the largest at 20% of the country’s total oil imports. Additionally, Qatar is India’s main source of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Any halt in energy supplies from the Gulf will have a significant impact on India’s economic development.

The table below shows the total trade volume of India and gulf countries in 2021-2022.

Total trade volume (US Dollar)

UAESaudi Arabia IraqQatar Oman Kuwait 
US$ 72.9 billion  42.9 billion34.3 billion15 billion
12.3 billion

Indian Community in Gulf 

UAE Saudi Arabia IraqQatar Oman Kuwait 
3.42 million 2.6 million membersover 700,0007.80 lakhs 6.2 lakh1.03 million 

Moreover, A recent Programme of Cooperation (POC) in the areas of Science and Technology for the years 2022–2025 was agreed by India and Oman.

In September 2021, India and the UAE formally launched negotiations on the India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). In 2021, India and Saudi Arabia discussed bilateral cooperation in multilateral forums such as the United Nations, G-20 and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In 2021, India and Bahrain agreed to strengthen their historic ties, including in areas of defence and maritime security. In 2020, the legal and legislative committee of Kuwait’s National Assembly approved the draft expat (expatriate) quota bill. According to the bill, Indians should not exceed 15% of the population and if it is enacted into law, over 8 lakh Indians could be forced out of Kuwait. 

According to World Bank data, India received the most remittances from overseas in 2020, amounting to $83.15 billion. According to these statistics, the Indian diaspora in the Gulf is growing.

Trade and economic partnerships are going well. However, if India offends Muslims’ religious sensitivities, these relations are likely to worsen. More than 15 Islamic countries, the majority of which have excellent relations with New Delhi, have most recently issued declarations Indian envoys in response to remarks made about the Prophet. A multi-layered international debate has resulted from recent remarks made by the party spokesperson “Nupur Sharma” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi regarding Prophet Mohammed. These remarks often elicit reactions from various Islamic global regions but initially from Qatar.

This India’ domestic political narrative could be a challenging factor in the bilateral relations with Muslim states. New Delhi should use this experience as a learning curve. Selling a political narrative at home that is different from the one presented abroad has serious limitations in the hyper-connected age, and such dishonesty is likely to draw attention on the global stage.

Another challenge in its relations with the Gulf countries is Iran factor. As Iran is also an important state to India. In addition strong ties with Iran would give India access to Central Asia. The Chahbahar route through Melak, Zaranj, and Delaram would facilitate regional trade and transit, including to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The possibility of this only exists in the presence of positive US-Iran ties which would allow India to get their desired strategic objectives through Chabahar Port.  Otherwise, being strong ally of USA, India may be unable to strengthen its ties with Iran as well.

Long-standing relationships between Pakistan and the Gulf nations were initially founded on religious and strategic ties, but have since expanded to encompass commercial ties as well. The two countries’ military ties involve security cooperation and training, while their economic ties are mostly based on the region’s sizable Pakistani migrant labor population.

Due to historical familial links between Gulf regimes and different Pakistani presidents, Islamabad has traditionally been seen as a reliable ally when it comes to defending Gulf interests. Pakistan has long positioned itself as a security supporter of Gulf nations. However, ties took a bad turn in 2015 when internal political concerns prevented Pakistan from sending soldiers into the Yemen war, especially with regard to the Saudis and Emiratis. However, India’s own geopolitical and economic goals are likely what motivate it to deepen bilateral ties with Gulf nations rather than this Pakistan factor.  

On the other hand, Pakistan to strengthen its ties with the Gulf, Pakistan may review its bilateral connections in the Gulf, such as with Oman and Kuwait, in addition to its conventional alliances. A July 2020 agreement demonstrated progress in this direction by allowing Pakistan to send medical personnel to Kuwait to assist in the Covid-19 pandemic response.

Moreover, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is currently Pakistan’s biggest window of opportunity. Gulf nations have previously stated that they would like to participate in this project since it fits with their aspirations for non-oil sector economic growth. This is also because of growing China’s influence in the Middle East. 

This equation of China-Pakistan-Gulf relations could challenge India’s influence in the West Asia or Gulf region. Simultaneously, Gulf nations can boost the inflow of foreign direct investment in Pakistan which is crucial given the country’s current economic crisis.

Apart from that Pakistan provides a bridge to resolve Gulf’ regional competitor or rival for negotiations which must be respected by the Gulf. 

In a nutshell, Pakistan has become a natural ally of the nearby Gulf States due to its religious affinity, geographic proximity, strategic location, leadership role in promoting the political and strategic interests of Islamic states, and ongoing efforts by the Pakistani expatriate population to develop infrastructure and other institutions. 

Pakistan and all of the Gulf States are militarily very connected. It provides a lot of equipment, training, and support for these Gulf countries’ forces. Pakistan also benefits from Gulf investments in Pakistani economic projects and remittances from its diaspora there. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States officially began the third round of negotiations for a free trade agreement on June 2, 2022. Additionally, in January 2022, Pakistan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) finalized the Joint Action Plan for Strategic Dialogue (2022-2026), which would provide an institutional approach to deepen cooperation in a variety of fields, including political, security, trade and investment, agricultural and food security, transportation, energy, and environment, among others. Pakistan places a high priority on these areas because they are all important to its national interests.

Muhammad Abdullah Abubaker is an IR scholar, University of Management and Technology

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