Despite the Hindutva leaning government of India, Prime Minister Modi seems to be keen to enhance friendly and deep relations with Arab countries. The recent defence ties between India and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is significant not only for both countries, but also for the whole conflict ridden Arab region. The Indian Air Force (IAF) made a visit to Saudi Arabia from August 1 to 4 which will bring a new high in the Indo-Saudi defence relations. Indian Embassy Charge D’Affaires Hemant Kotalwar said in a press conference, “The visit underscored the close defence ties between India and Saudi Arabia, which received a fillip following Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s visit to New Delhi, when he was Crown Prince in February 2014, to sign a Bilateral Defense Cooperation Agreement.”
This visit of IAF is not new in the field of military and defence relations between New Delhi and Riyadh. The first major bilateral partnership between India and Saudi Arabia was the Delhi Declaration of 2006 which was signed during King Abdullah’s visit to India. The relationship was further extended by 2010 Riyadh Declaration, which was signed both by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and King Abdullah. This delecration is considered as a cornerstone for the strategic relationship between India and Saudi Arabia and boost a roadmap for a closer New Delhi-Riyadh partnership. The first serious attempt about cooperation on defence and military issues was the ‘first meeting of the India-Saudi Arabia joint committee’ in 2012 which was spearheaded by Saudi Chief of Armed Forces Operations, Major General Suleiman Sale al-Khalifa. The major outcomes of the meeting were to promote defence exchanges and increasing military-to-military contacts. The recent boost in the defence cooperation came in early 2014 when Salman bin Abdulaziz al Abdulaziz al Saud, the contemporary crown prince, the deputy prime minister, and the defence minister of Saudi Arabia visited India. A memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Defence Engagement was signed between India and Saudi Arabia. The MoU allowed military training, education and exchange of Defence-related information and many more related fields.
The joint naval exercise of the Indian Navy and the Royal Saudi Navy (RSN) that was conducted last year and the recent joint Air Force exercise of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) will build trust and confidence between both countries for further cooperation in the field of defence.
Why Indo-Saudi Defence Ties Matter for West Asia:
The West Asian region is one of the most instable and conflicted region in the contemporary world. Multifaceted factors, including regional and international powers’ interest produced vast turmoil in the post Arab Spring era in the region. A range of Islamic terrorist groups, Civil wars and external intervention made West Asia one of most horrible regions of the world. The whole West Asia is now in big socio-political, economical turmoil and boundaries are regularly fragmenting and integrating. The Islamic State and other terror groups are rapidly getting more ground in Iraq, Syria and Yemen and beyond. The Islamic State is becoming the biggest challenge for this region. The recent suicide bomb attack on a mosque inside a police compound in the Saudi Arabia’s southwest city Abha by ISIS demonstrates a challenge to the Kingdom’s national security, which killed at least 15 people mostly belonging to the Saudi Arabia’s Special Forces. India too is not far from these challenges, an ISIS document revealed in US found that the Islamic State is planning to attack India with the help of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.
The West Asian region is also in the process of re-settlement and re-alignment of regional politics due to the recent entry of Iran in the international arena through the historic nuclear deal. India’s growing relations with Iran may be a bridge in Saudi Arabia and Israel for Teheran. A trustful relation between regional powers only can bring peace and stability in the region. In the midst of these challenges, India and Saudi Arabia should enhance their their ties in days to come.
Bharat Singh, PhD Candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Contact at (Email and Linkedln: firstname.lastname@example.org)