Some 25 years ago, South Block, the seat of the Ministry of External Affairs, was in ferment on the day Qatar’s foreign minister arrived in New Delhi on a bilateral visit. The reason for the agitation among Indian diplomats and the political leadership of the Ministry of External Affairs was that the foreign minister, who landed in New Delhi from Islamabad, had said at a joint press conference with his Pakistani counterpart the previous day that the Kashmir issue should be resolved through United Nations resolutions.
As the two sides sat down in Hyderabad House for the delegation-level meeting, a director in MEA’s Gulf Division, the only officer there who spoke Arabic and knew the Qataris well, approached the foreign minister and whispered in his ears that Indians were very upset that he had flogged the UN route on Kashmir in Islamabad.
Instead of replying to the MEA official, the visiting minister turned to the entire Indian delegation, led by a minister of state for external affairs and disarmingly told them in English: “Why? UN resolutions are good, aren’t they? You don’t want UN resolutions? OK. Qatar is no longer for UN resolutions on Kashmir. I can go out after this meeting and tell your journalists that Qatar is not for UN resolutions.” The Indian side was pleased, but also dumbfounded.
An episode of this nature will not happen in dealings with the Gulf (West Asia) any more. Diplomacy in Gulf countries has become sophisticated, which is one reason why Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach to the region since 2015 has met with enthusiastic responses in every Gulf country, even Saudi Arabia, where foreign policy positions are slow to change. A new generation of princes, many of them Western-educated and English-speaking, are in charge of diplomacy almost everywhere in the region. These leaders look at the world, especially their neighbourhood, in a new light.
For at least four years now, since Modi first visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the hyphen has disappeared in dealings by virtually every Gulf state with India-Pakistan. There was a time when any senior minister from the Gulf who visited India also went to Pakistan. No more. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was probably the last from the region to stick to the old practice. Even in his case, it can be said with certainty that such hyphenation will not be repeated after his recent interactions with India, both bilaterally and at multilateral fora.
The Gulf countries no longer see their dealings with India or Pakistan as a zero sum game. Besides, there is a degree of Kashmir-fatigue, which has been evident for some time in West Asian capitals: they do not want their ties to India to be hostage or to their relations with Pakistan and certainly not to Kashmir. The young leaders of these kingdoms and emirates want to move on, look ahead and have no patience for 70-year-old disputes such as Kashmir, which have defied solutions because of the intransigence and a lack of vision among leaders who have been parties to such disputes. They are pragmatic enough to recognise that for all of them emerging India is a far more attractive partner than moribund Pakistan.
Proof of this lies in the fact that of the $75 billion which Abu Dhabi is committed to invest in India, about $6 billion has already come into the country. In addition, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, are making progress in setting up a refinery in Maharashtra at a cost of $44 billion. Half of this investment will come from these two national oil companies. There is no match in Pakistan for these and other recent West Asian investments in India.
It is not very well-known that last February, a Dubai government-owned global company, DP World, signed an agreement with the Jammu and Kashmir government to establish a multi-modal logistics park and an inland container terminal in Jammu comprising warehouses and specialised storage solutions. The agreement was signed during Modi’s visit to the UAE, well before the recent changes in Kashmir.
This is one of the few foreign investments in the state and is proof that Pakistan can no longer act as a deterrent to India’s deepening relations with the Gulf.
KP Nayar has been covering West Asia for more than four decades. Views are personal.Subscribe to Moneycontrol Pro and gain access to curated market data, trading recommendations, stock analysis, investment ideas and insights from market gurus. Now, get Moneycontrol PRO for 1 year at Rs 289. Use code FREEDOM.
Policy | Modi’s West Asian diplomacy has removed the hyphen in India-Pakistan – Moneycontrol.com