Govt to host four top royals from West Asia

NEW DELHI: Four top royals from West Asia are expected to visit India over the next year beginning December in what could be termed as unprecedented in India’s recent diplomatic history as the Modi government continues to expand partnership with resource rich but politically volatile region.

Beginning with the visit of Qatari PM Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani on December 3, Delhi will host Abu Dabhi Crown Prince as the Chief Guest for 2017 Republic Day celebrations that is likely to be followed by the visits of Jordan King and Saudi Monarch in 2017.

All four are traditional partners of Pakistan but keen to expand security and economic partnership with India amid growing threats from terror groups including Islamic State and growing investment opportunities here.

While PM Narendra Modi paid visits to UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in quick succession, President Pranab Mukherjee was in Jordan last year that was followed by visit by MoS External Affairs MJ Akbar to Amman recently where he held wide-ranging discussions with topleadership as the two sides decided to elevate ties.

A common focus of PM’s visits to Abu Dabhi, Riyadh and Doha was strengthening security and counterterror partnership including statements to prevent justification of use of terror on the basis of religion.

Expanding ties with West Asia and Persian Gulf has been a key element of Indian foreign policy under the BJP-led NDA government, pointed a person well-versed with matter. Delhi will simultaneously host Iranian Foreign Minister along with the Qatari PM.

It may be recalled that engagements with the Islamic World have expanded as Delhi sought to build narrative against Paksponsored terror particularly after the current cycle of Kashmir crisis from July.

A key element of the Qatari PM’s visit would be expansion of investment partnership as the two sides are hoping to conclude Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement and Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement on the occasion, hinted a person familiar with the matter.

Qatar has also expressed interest to invest in infrastructure sector in India and like UAE is likely to contribute to National Infrastructure Investment Fund created by the BJP government.

The Qatari Emir was the first leader from the Gulf that the BJP-led government hosted in March 2015.

Relations with UAE in particular have been on upswing as the Abu Dabhi Crown Prince will make his second visit to India in less than a year’s time.

MJ Akbar had visited this Gulf nation thrice in quick successions to seek investments and prepare for the Crown Prince visit. The two sides are not only trying to concrete shape to the 75 bn USD that UAE has announced to invest here but also exploring to launch joint defence production which will be maiden such venture between India and any Gulf country.

UAE, it is understood, has taken a conscious decision to Look East with India being a key pillar in that policy. Saudi Arabia is the biggest and most resourceful country in the region and amid the glut in oil prices it is also seeking to diversify its economic interests like other Gulf states. Modi’s trip to Riyadh that put the relations on a firm footing.

ET View: Step Up Engagement

India must keep up its enhanced engagement with West Asian countries. And the focus must not be limited to Pakistan. The Indian government would do well to expand the relationship with West Asian countries in areas such as clean energy, aviation, and other sectors of the economy as well.

In the realm of security, New Delhi needs to step up partnerships in the West Asian region for improved information and intelligence sharing. The point is for India to sustain these partnerships that have received a boost over the past few years.