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Indian PM to visit KSA 28, February 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia, The Sub Continent.
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For the first time in nearly 30 years, an Indian Prime Minister will visit Saudi Arabia. Manmohan Singh will meet King Abdullah and address Riyadh’s consultative assembly.

Al Arabiyya reports that India imports 70% of its energy needs and that Saudi is in fact India’s biggest trade partner in terms of heavyweight oil. This makes it all the more surprising that no Indian PM has been to Saudi more recently, especially given that Singh was in Qatar and Oman in 2008.

India and Oman in joint military exercises 17, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Oman, Qatar, The Emirates, The Sub Continent.
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The Indian Air Force and the Royal Air Force of Oman engaged in joint exercises towards the end of October. Omani Jaguars and F-16s along with Indian Darin-I Jaguars and IL-78 MKI air-to-air tankers took part in the joint manoeuvres to “enhance understanding of operational, maintenance and administrative procedures between RAFO and the IAF.” The reasons for this joint exercise, however, are far more complex that simply answering questions to do with military logistics.

It comes as no surprise to see India’s military conducting such exercises with a county on the Arabian Peninsula. In recent years India has signed numerous military agreements with Oman, the UAE and Qatar. Most of these refer to arms sales, military cooperation and various innocuous notions of ‘exchanges of information’. However, Qatar and Oman have ‘harder’ agreements whereby India has pledged to militarily come to Qatar’s assistance ‘if and when requested’ and Defence News reports that last year India and Oman discusses stationing Indian troops in Oman.

India is, therefore, going to considerable lengths to involve itself in security related affairs of the Arabian Peninsula. Aside from a deep historical intertwining of India and the proto-states of the Arabian Peninsula, today there are two primary reasons for India’s involvement.

Firstly, the Gulf is home to over 5 million Indian expatriates. They represent almost 50% of India’s total expatriate ‘workforce’ spread across the world that sent back to India, according to the World Bank, an estimated $52bn in remittances in 2008. This amounts to approximately 4.3% of India’s 2008 GDP and is, therefore, crucial. Even though India’s expatriates in the Gulf are mostly employed in low skilled and low paid jobs they are nevertheless thought to be responsible for roughly one fifth of India’s total remittances i.e. roughly $10.4bn or 0.8% of India’s GDP.

Secondly, the Gulf is – of course – the world’s energy hub. India, with ever greater energy demands, must seek more and more of its energy requirements from the Gulf in the decades to come.

India’s consumption of Gas mirrors this oil consumption graph. Statistics taken from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

For India, having close relations with Gulf States to the degree that in some cases they even seek a stake in the state’s security, can only increase their energy security. This is done by not only fostering better, closer relations with frequent delegation visits, arms sales and other such activities, but if India shows that they are willing to ‘stick their neck out’ and actually guarantee military aid and support if requested, this clearly deepens their relations. It would, therefore, be only reasonable to expect the Gulf States in question to respond in kind with guarantees of oil and/or gas supplies.



The UAE’s enormous defense spending 27, April 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, The Emirates.
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F-16E fighter jet

It has been announced that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the third largest weapons importer in the world after China and India, according to the Swedish think tank SIPRI. Furthermore, as the Al Jazeera article reveals, that means that that UAE is importing over a third of the entire Middle East’s arms. Considering that this includes Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran, this is massively surprising. The UAE apparently bought 80 F-16E combat aircraft from America in addition to 50 Mirage fighter jets from France in the last four years alone. In an astounding bit of analysis, Al Jazeera’s correspondent suggested that this was of the UAE’s proximity to Iran.

This means that – if you’ll excuse some serious rounding up and generally inaccurate figures – that, per capita the UAE spend around $1750 per year on arms, where as China spend $8.72 and India $9.58. I think you’ll agree that the numbers are so vastly different that a few thousand (even million) either which way in terms of populations or arms estimates will not make any difference: either which way, the UAE are spending a huge amount for such a small country.

One last point: who is going to fly the planes and drive the tanks? I realise that there will, no doubt, be many UAE pilots in the US, for example, training away, but what happens when they get back? I spoke to a UK army advanced tactics tank commander in Kuwait where he was teaching the Kuwaitis which end of the tank is which. He was astounded at just how uncommitted and poor the elite of the Kuwaiti army were. The didn’t turn up to class, left half way through etc etc. Needless to say, if you did that in the British Army you’d be off to the glasshouse. Does the same thing apply to the UAE army and air-force? I fear it might. Such issues, apparently afflict the Saudi army too: all the toys that the American arsenal can give, but no dedicated or capable troops to use them.

Picture: F16-E Fighter jet

Qatari sign defence agreement with India 15, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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In November 2008 the Indian Prime Minister visited Doha and signed a defence and security pact with the small Gulf state.  This will be a mutual security pact. Doha will get physical security guarantees from India and their massively growing navy and Delhi will get significant energy guarantees in terms of Qatari gas exports.


So far Qatar is the only country in the Gulf with which India have a defence agreement of this type. An official of the Indian government went so far as to say that India would “go to the rescue of Qatar if Qatar requires it, whatever form it takes.”


Qatar would have been seen as a good choice by the Indians for such a wide-ranging and important agreement for two primary reasons. First, Qatar have huge gas reserves which India will want to secure and tie up with long term contracts. Second, there are a large number of Indians in Qatar. In fact, they outnumber the Qataris almost two to one.

Mumbai attack as diversion 5, December 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Sub Continent.
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Ahmed Rashid, the noted expert on Central Asian jihad generally and the Pakistani ‘Taliban’ issues specifically, made a simple but perceptive point in a recent BBC article. He suggested that the recent attacks on Mumbai carried out allegedly by the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba was primarily a diversionary tactic, designed to force India and more importantly Pakistan to deploy troops to their borders. They calculated correctly that tensions between the countries would rise necessitating the redeployment of Pakistani troops from hunting down Lashkar-e-Toiba in the Tribal lands of Northern Pakistan to the Indian border instead. They are, essentially, buying themselves some breathing space. Indeed, this is not that first time that they have pursued such a tactic. Rashid suggests that this was the underlying motive behind the Lashkar-e-Toiba attack on the Indian Parliament back in 2002, after which nearly 1,000,000 men were mobilised. The governments of India and Pakistan simply must not – as Rashid cautions – fall for this ploy.


If Lashkar-e-Toiba is indeed responsible for the attacks – as Indian authorities claim and Pakistan denies – it will be the second time that the group has single-handedly put the two countries on a war footing. In 2002 each mobilised one million men for nearly a year after Lashkar attacked the Indian parliament.

The attacks have led to rising public anger in India against Pakistan and right wing Pakistani jingoism against India, in which some have even called on the moderate President Asif Ali Zardari to go to war.

When the Pakistan army finally stopped allowing Pakistan-based militant groups from infiltrating into Indian-administered Kashmir in 2004, groups like Lashkar, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul Mujheddin splintered and fragmented.


Some militants went home, others got jobs or stayed in camps in the mountains.

However the youngest and most radicalised fighters joined up with al-Qaeda and the Pakistani and Afghan Taleban in the mountains of Pakistan’s tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.


They embraced the global jihad to fight US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and later attacked the Pakistan government and army as the Pakistani Taleban developed their own political agenda to seize power.

The group that attacked Mumbai may well include some Pakistanis, but it is more likely to be an international terrorist force put together by al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taleban, who are besieged by the Pakistan army on one side and a rain of missiles being launched by US forces in Afghanistan against their hideouts on the other.

Al-Qaeda is looking for some relief and a diversion.

What better way to do so than by provoking the two old enemies – India and Pakistan – with a terrorist attack that diverts attention away from the tribal areas?

Such a move would force Pakistani troops back to the Indian border while simultaneously pre-occupying US and Nato countries in hectic diplomacy to prevent the region exploding.

A diversion such as this would preserve extremist sanctuaries along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and would provide militants with a much needed respite – especially considering that in the next few months President-elect Barak Obama is due to send an additional 20,000 US troops to Afghanistan, backed by more Nato troops.


This strategic diversion ploy for the sake of al-Qaeda and its surrogates is the principle motive behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

It worked well in 2002 when the Pakistan army moved away from the Afghan border to meet the Indian mobilisation, thereby allowing al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taleban to escape from Afghanistan and consolidate their positions in the tribal areas.


If the two countries now mobilise their forces against one another they will be walking straight into the trap laid for them by al-Qaeda.

Charges that the Pakistan government, army or its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were behind the attack appear unfounded.

Pakistan can hardly contemplate a rise in tensions with India when it is beset by a monumental economic crisis, insurgencies in Balochistan and in North West Frontier Province, rising violence in Karachi and one-third of the country out of control of any constitutional authority.

Certainly Pakistan is not blameless. The army and its former military ruler President Pervez Musharraf must be faulted for refusing after 2004 to properly demobilise Kashmiri militant groups and being so reluctant to deal with the insurgency in the tribal areas. It was not until August when the army finally began a sustained offensive there.

And despite Musharraf’s own peace overtures to India after 2004, the army itself has been slow to make the strategic shift from seeing India as the primary threat. It has taken time to understand that local extremists now pose a far greater danger.


As the militants working under the umbrella of al-Qaeda have targeted the army in the mountains and in its cantonments, the army has retaliated but it has been slow and late in doing so.

If India and Pakistan can understand that they are both victims of a strategic diversion by al-Qaeda and if international mediation can help deepen that understanding, then there is perhaps a greater opportunity for the two countries to address the conflicts that have bedevilled their relationship for 60 years – Kashmir and other lesser issues.

It will certainly be difficult for the two countries to walk away from the brink. India has a weak government whose counter-terrorism policies have been a failure and which faces an election in the next six months. The Indian public and media are demanding revenge – not co-operation with Islamabad.

Pakistan also has a weak government that is still trying to set parameters of co-operation with an army which dominates foreign and strategic policy and controls the ISI, the most powerful political entity in the country.

Pakistan’s other problems could well overwhelm the government – a troops mobilisation is the last thing it needs.

To turn the possibility of war into the possibility of peace, the leadership of both countries need to show statesmanship, determination and authority even if they have to defy the public mood in their respective countries to do so.

Indian Soft Power 17, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Soft Power.
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An excellent article on Indian soft power.