The chief of the Indian Army General MM Naravane is making a four-day trip to Saudi Arabia and two-day trip the UAE, marking one more major trip from New Delhi to the West Asia highlighting the increasing strategic cooperation between the two sides across the Arabian Sea. Gen. Naravane’s schedule includes stopovers in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and giving a talk at Saudi Arabia’s National Defence University.
It is rare for the Indian Army chief to travel abroad. General MN Naravane is the first army chief to visit the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The Army chief is on a six-day long trip designed to create a military alliance with two Gulf powers.
General Naravane will be starting from scratch since India’s defence cooperation with the Gulf has been limited. The army chief could discuss the possibility of separate, but regular joint military exercises with the two Gulf allies. In recent years, the Indian Navy has held drills with Gulf partners.
In March 2018, India and the UAE conducted their maiden naval exercise “Gulf Star 1”. In 2019, India and Saudi Arabia announced their first joint naval drills. Reports say the Indian Army had scheduled exercises in the Gulf before but they were delayed due to the outbreak of the Wuhan virus.
General Naravane could use the opportunity to reschedule the drills. Joint production of defence equipment could be on agenda too. Some reports have referred to the possibility of arms sales to the Gulf.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia are reportedly interested in India’s Brahmos missile.
The Gulf could be a lucrative market for India to sell its indigenous defence technology by March this year Saudi arms imports increased by 130 per cent with the UAE accounting for almost four per cent of the global arms deals both countries largely depend on the United States for weapons but they have been scouting other suppliers too.
The UAE is interested in equipping the Indian army. It is in talks with New Delhi to set up a Make in India route to supply carbines. UAE-based firm Caracal had won a contract two years back. Reports say the deal is yet to be signed.
The Army chief’s West Asia tour will irk Pakistan and the generals in Rawalpindi. Over the years, a number of Pakistani soldiers have been deputed to Saudi Arabia and the UAE with the Pakistani military roped in the protection of the House of Saud.
Now, the Gulf powers are looking at India as a long term security partner. General Naravane’s visit to the Gulf comes at a significant time. The UAE and Bahrain have established diplomatic ties with Israel.
The new partnerships open up possibilities for closer security cooperation with countries that are allies of India. New Delhi must make most of this realignment.