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India-Kuwait Bilateral Relationship

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Mahatma Gandhi, India’s anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist once remarked, “Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundations of love between individuals.” In the present era when modern diplomacy seems to blur the component of ‘love’ and pays special homage to ‘power’ as a tool to determine a country’s potential; the friendship of India and Kuwait traditionally standsas an exception. The paper showcases that the primordial foundations of mutual trust and beneficial cooperation continue to weave the two Asian nations together; set aside prodigious enmity in the global arena.

India, once a part of the British colonies has been one of the earliest countries to recognize Kuwaiti independence. Prior to the discovery of oil, Indo-Kuwait trade revolved around dates and pedigreed horses, taken over by pearls and teak-wooda bit later.Kuwait’s exports and choice of Indian Rupee as its legal tender until 1961re-iterates that India has been the natural trading partner of Kuwait ever since.

The diplomatic relations on the other hand, began in June 1962 with the appointment of Yacoub Abdulaziz al-Rasheed, the first Kuwaiti Ambassador to India. Kuwait has been one of the first countries to extend support to India during 1962 Indo-China war, got furious with India’s pro-Iraq stance and the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992-conflicts, that they managed to normalise in the following years. From ideological enemies to close allies, the two withstood the test of time to a great extent. Perhaps, Kuwait’s democratic political structure, non-aligned foreign policy and the grant of freedom of speech at the present dayis a replica of Indian model that reflects much about the commonality between the political and social approaches of both the countries and their way forward.

Strengths

The book West Asia and the Region: Defining India’s Role says, “There is hardly any region in the world with which India has better, warmer and more cordial relations than the Arab World.”

The statement holds utmost significance given the geographical proximity that has always influenced the trade dimension between India and Kuwait. India has consistently been one of the top ten trading partners of Kuwait, with a bilateral trade of approximately $5 billion, reported a senior official from Kuwait investment Authority. Kuwait is the source of 10-11% of India’s annual crude oil requirements. With a 2.7% year over year growth, bilateral trade between India and Kuwait in 2018-19 stood at US $8.76 billion, having Indian exports worth US $1.33 billion and imports totaling US $7.43 billion.

The rise and expansion of trade has enabled international migration over the years. Migration further facilitated the relocation of Indians to Kuwait as the largest expatriate community, Kuwaiti Interior Ministry points out. The large rates of migration continue to render dual benefits. Kuwait has started opening up to economic development that demands manpower from abroad. India, with surplus labour force has become one of the main suppliers toKuwait and other West Asian regions. In this sense, migration of Indian families to Kuwait provides them employment while Kuwait’steam of skilled engineers, doctors, scientists, technicians, architects, management consultants and unskilled labour completes.

At the same time, migration has fostered good cultural relations. When people move from one place to another they carry their customs, traditions, rituals, philosophy and religion. Islam and Hinduism, as a result became more compatible. Today, the socio-cultural influences have led to the introduction of Indian cuisine, musical instruments, costumes and jewellery into the Gulf culture.

Weaknesses

Indo-Kuwait relationship, like every other alliance has some stumbling blocks. U.S. military and defence support to Kuwait is one. U.S. assists Kuwaiti military with education and training, also provides assistance to the country’s English language and developmental exchange programs. Thus, Kuwait’s relative dependence on U.S. restricts a faster engagement with third world socialist countries like India.

The line of bilateral trade curtail further includes the lack of publicity of Indian goods in Kuwaiti market, the book ‘Persian Gulf 2013: India’s Relations with the Region’ states.Indian goods, especially machinery and appliances are high-quality. While India remains ready to export goods involving modern technology, Kuwaiti buyers are ignorant of India’s technological progress. Apart from thestiff competition from European and Asian countries, inability of the Indian exporters to advertise policies and organize sales promotion is the root cause which briefly calls out for action if the two aim to broader their trade chains in the future.

The conflicting national interest is perhaps another factor. In 2004, agreements were made to initiate a three-fold increase in India’s exports to Kuwait in return of double the value of Kuwait’s crude oil to India. For a country with adverse balance of payments, impositions in relation to the crude oil led to massive domestic production in India. The dilemma however, began for Kuwait whose entire economy is based on petroleum products, cannot afford to increase the imports at the cost of oil.

Finally, Corruption in Kuwait impedes much of Indo-Kuwaiti trade. Transparency International, an international anti-corruption watchdog 2017 Corruption Perception Index ranks the country 85th out of 180. Such rampant corruption dominated by the public officials and civil servants implicates the practices of hoodwinking, retards much of Kuwait’s good-will in the mind of Indian investors in many cases.

Opportunities

The countries have enormous potential to shape the geo-political world order, are working relentlessly towards it. Most importantly, there are better prospects of Indian products in Kuwait’s retail and Mall culture. As Indian products are more cost-effective in comparison to the Western counterparts, Kuwaiti merchandisers from super markets prefer them. Outlets such as Lulu hyper-market or Max India that have multiple outlets across Middle East, should be kept into close vigilance for that matter.

India’s experience in the fields of economic development can provide sound basis for expansion and advancement to both the countries. It is a hard reality that Kuwait will be a major oil exporting country even in the coming years, so economic developments in some fields might open new array of opportunities. Several efforts have been initiated on the part of Kuwait’s government to execute such development schemes, if executed will open up a range of new job vacancies.

Developments in the sector of Information and Communication Technology would also be commendable. While Kuwait has well-trained and specialized manpower for the sector, India has come across a long way in the advancement of ICT’s. Adding up to the joint ventures, establishing an India-Kuwait Information Technology Park would be a great move.

Education sector, specifically Student Exchange Programs offer limited choices to both Indian students and Kuwaiti’s as of now. Student exchange programs helps budding workforce to famaliarize themselves with another country’s culture, lifestyle, language etc. Although both the countries expressed consent to practice the same, there is limited evidence that the same is being applicable at the university level. The suggestion comes in line to the recent invalidation of IIT degree by Kuwaiti authorities. It’s high time to consider the matter and explore opportunities in a way that benefits the youth of both the nations.

Threats

Hitherto, most of them aroused from terrorism. Kuwait, perhaps not the direct victim faces severe repercussions as a result of Sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shi’ite. The conflict constantly threatens to transform the mapping of Middle East, widen fissures and poses threat of transnational jihadi networks, which hampers much of Kuwait’s day to day balance. The storm, accompanied with the onset of global pandemic COVID-19becomes a matter of urgent concern for India.

Subsequently, the biggest challenge for India is to bring back its migrants given the inadequate protection from COVID-19 in Kuwait. Indian migrants are kept in labour camps with poor sanitary conditions. While most of the sectors have implemented remote working policies, a large number of workers stand exempted from these benefits.

World-wide lockdowns has also led to a decline in the demand of oil and its prices. Reduction in oil prices means that Kuwait will have to manage its public expenditure by reducing foreign labourers and reserving job positions for the locals. Because Kuwait has the largest Indian diaspora, cases of unemployment for Indians is likely to shoot up.

A third implication would be stiff competition for oil between Gulf nations. Since all the Gulf nations will be hit hard, cut-throat competition is to spring up by the end of this pandemic where every GCC will aim to increase its exports further hampering the functioning of existing trade chains.

Given the current constraints, India will have to assure full cooperation with Kuwait to halt the spread of corona virus. This is a tedious process and requires the use of diplomatic channels and safety nets, India and Kuwait put forth their will to travel the extra miles.

To sum up, Indo-Kuwait bilateral relationship has been decent since time immemorial. Though there continues to be a room for economic expansion, the two never fail to back each other in time of crisis. Their understanding and rationale in dealing with the global pandemic is worth appreciating. The possibility of increasing competition amongst GCC besides approaching unemployment raises an uncertainty regarding how the relationship will unfold in the nearing future; India and Kuwait should be able to work out a future roadmap well in time.

Ms. Shubhangi is pursuing B.A. (Hons) Global Affairs from O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India. She can be reached at 18jsia-shubhangi.k[at]jgu.edu.in

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Middle East

UAE-Israel relations risk being built on questionable assumptions

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A year of diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel has proven to be mutually beneficial. The question is whether the assumptions underlying the UAE’s initiative that led three other Arab countries to also formalise their relations with the Jewish state will prove to be correct in the medium and long term.

UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed laid out the strategic assumptions underlying his establishment of diplomatic relations, as well as its timing, in a conversation with Joel C. Rosenberg, an American-Israeli evangelical author and activist, 18 months before the announcement.

Mr. Rosenberg’s recounting of that conversation in a just-published book, Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East, constitutes a rare first-hand public account of the Emirati leader’s thinking.

Mr. Rosenberg’s reporting on his conversation with Prince Mohammed is largely paraphrased by the author rather than backed up with quotes. The UAE’s interest in building good relations with American Evangelicals as part of its effort to garner soft power in the United States and project itself as an icon of religious tolerance, and Mr. Rosenberg’s willingness to serve that purpose, add credibility to the author’s disclosures.

Mr. Rosenberg’s reporting, wittingly or unwittingly, has laid bare the potential longer-term fragility of the relationship that is evident in Prince Mohammed’s timing for the UAE’s recognition of Israel as well as the assumptions on which the Emirates has argued that relations would contribute to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

What emerges is that the UAE and Israel have a geopolitical interest in cooperating to contain Iran and militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen that are associated with the Islamic republic. They also reap economic benefit from the formalisation of a relationship that has long existed de facto.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, the implication is that public support for the relationship could prove to be fickle even though comment on social media in a country that tightly polices freedom of expression was dominated by supporters of the Emirati government.

Prominent Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdulla described the public backing as “a show of support for the government rather than a show of support for ‘normalization’ (with Israel) as such.” Mr. Abdulla was speaking in May as Israeli warplanes bombarded the Gaza Strip in a conflict, sparked by protests in East Jerusalem, with Hamas, the Islamist group that governs the territory.

He noted that “no matter what your national priorities are at the moment or regional priorities are at the moment, when stuff like this happens, the Palestinian issue comes back and hits you.”

It was this sensitivity that persuaded Prince Mohammed that the door would close on establishing diplomatic relations with Israel without a solution to the Palestinian problem if then Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu were to go ahead with his plans to annex parts of the West Bank occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war.

“The only way to stop Netanyahu from grabbing what the Emiratis saw as Palestinian land was to go full Godfather and make Bibi an offer he couldn’t refuse,” Mr. Rosenberg wrote referring to Mr. Netanyahu by his nickname.

A proposal by the Trump administration that the UAE and other Arab states sign a non-aggression and non-belligerency pact with Israel without establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state gave Prince Mohammed the opening to push his plan.

“MbZ was open to the idea, but he now realized it would not be enough to pull Netanyahu away from his desire to annex large swaths of the West Bank. The only way to get what he wanted, MBZ recognized, was to give Netanyahu what he wanted most – full peace, full recognition, full normalization. But MbZ would have to move fast” to pre-empt the Israeli prime minister Mr. Rosenberg summarised, referring to Prince Mohammed by his initials.

Quoting then Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, rather than Prince Mohammed, Mr. Rosenberg regurgitates hopes publicly expressed by Emirati officials that the establishment of diplomatic relations would reinvigorate moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The establishment of diplomatic relations promised to be “a 360-degree success, one that goes beyond trade and investment,” Mr. Rosenberg quoted Mr. Gargash as saying.

Emirati economy minister Abdulla Bin Touq said the UAE hoped to boost trade with Israel to US$1 trillion over the next decade. Emirati officials were further banking on the fact that strong cultural and people-to-people ties – absent in Israel’s initial peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan in the 1980s and 1990s – would put flesh on a skeleton of Arab-Israeli relations and ensure that Israel refrains from acts like annexation that would upset the apple cart.

Mr. Netanyahu’s successor, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, has put those hopes to bed. He has unequivocally rejected the notion of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, refused to negotiate peace with the Palestinians during his term, and suggested that the improvement of social and economic conditions would satisfy Palestinian aspirations.

That could prove to be a risky bet given a shift to the right in Israeli public opinion, the growing influence of conservative religious segments of society, and the fact that some 600,000 Israelis who populate settlements built on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem make a two-state solution de facto impossible. That would leave a one-state solution as the only solution.

For that to work, Palestinians would have to buy into Mr. Bennett’s approach that is informed by the concept of “shrinking the conflict” that seeks to marginalise the Palestinian problem, put forward by Micah Goodman, an Israeli academic who chose to build a home in a West Bank settlement.

“Twenty per cent of Israelis are on the extremes, for either withdrawing from the territories or annexing them,” Mr. Goodman says. “The remaining 80 percent who don’t want to rule over the territories or relinquish them don’t have a way to talk about the conflict, so they just don’t think about it. Which is the tragedy of the Israeli center.”

Shrinking the conflict, rather than solving it, is what Mr. Goodman calls “replacing indifference with pragmatism.” He suggests that initiatives such as the creation of corridors between Palestinian enclaves on the West Bank and a border crossing to Jordan “up to the level that the Palestinians feel they are ruling themselves, without the capacity to threaten Israel” would tempt Palestinians to buy into his concept. Mr. Goodman’s plan would ensure, in his words, that Palestinians “don’t get anything like the right of return, a state or Jerusalem.”

Prince Mohammed appears, based on Mr. Rosenberg’s account of his conversations with the UAE leader and other Emirati officials, to have adopted the approach.  

“MbZ believed that by breaking the mould and making peace with Israel without giving the Palestinian leadership veto over his freedom of movement, he could open the door for other Arab countries to see the benefits and follow suit,” Mr. Rosenberg wrote.

Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco were quick to follow the UAE’s example. Some 300 Iraqi tribal and religious leaders, activists and former military officers called last week for diplomatic relations with Israel in a gathering in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil.

“Just as we demand that Iraq achieve federalism domestically, we demand that Iraq join the Abraham Accords internationally. We call for full diplomatic relations with Israel and a new policy of mutual development and prosperity,” said Wisam Al-Hardan, a spokesman for the group and onetime tribal militia leader that aligned with the United States to fight al-Qaeda in 2005.

Mr. Rosenberg noted that “as more Arab states normalized relations with Israel, MbZ and his team believed it could create the conditions under which the Palestinians could finally say yes to a comprehensive peace plan of their own with Israel.”

That may prove to be over-optimistic. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly this week, President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the Palestine Authority would withdraw its recognition of Israel and press charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court if Israel did not withdraw in the next year from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and lift the 14-year-long blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The assumption underlying Prince Mohammed’s hopes that Palestinians as well as Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon for that matter, would ultimately fall into line, creates a false equation between most Arab states and those bordering on Israel or under Israeli occupation.

Most Arab states like the UAE have existential issues with Israel that need to be resolved, which makes public opinion the potentially largest constraint on recognition of the Jewish state. There is no doubt that for Palestinians the issue is nothing but existential. The same is true for Jordan that has historic connections to the West Bank and whose population is more than half of Palestinian descent.

Similarly, Lebanon and Syria host large numbers of Palestinian refugees. Syria, moreover, has its own issues with Israel given the latter’s occupation of the Golan Heights since 1967.

Improving the social and economic conditions of the Palestinians are unlikely to satisfy their minimal needs or those of Israel’s immediate neighbours. Not to mention what the accelerated prospect of a de facto one-state solution to the Palestinian problem would mean for an Israel confronted with the choice of being a democratic state in which Palestinians could emerge as a majority or a Jewish state that sheds its democratic character and claim to be inclusive towards its citizens.

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Syria: 10 years of war has left at least 350,000 dead

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A decade of war in Syria has left more 350,200 people dead, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council on Friday, noting that this total was an “under-count of the actual number of killings”.

These are a result of a war that spiralled out of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

Based on the “rigorous work” of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), she said that the tally, which includes civilians and combatants, is based on “strict methodology” requiring the deceased’s full name, the date of death, and location of the body.

People behind the numbers

In the first official update on the death toll since 2014, Ms. Bachelet informed the Council that more than one in 13 of those who died due to conflict, was a woman – 26,727 in all – and almost one in 13 was a child – a grim total of 27,126 young lives lost.

The Governorate of Aleppo saw the greatest number of documented killings, with 51,731 named individuals.

Other heavy death tolls were recorded in Rural Damascus, 47,483; Homs, 40,986; Idlib, 33,271; Hama, 31,993; and Tartus, 31,369.

Behind each recorded death was a human being, born free and equal, in dignity and rights”, reminded the High Commissioner.

“We must always make victims’ stories visible, both individually and collectively, because the injustice and horror of each of these deaths should compel us to action.”

More accountability needed

Her office, OHCHR, is processing information on alleged perpetrators, recording victims civilian or combatant status and the type of weapons used, Ms. Bachelet said.

To provide a more complete picture of the scale and impact of the conflict, the UN agency has also established statistical estimation techniques to account for missing data.  

The High Commissioner explained that documenting deaths complements efforts to account for missing people and that her office has been helping the families of the missing, to engage with international human rights mechanisms.

Given the vast number of those missing in Syria, Ms. Bachelet echoed her call for an independent mechanism, with a strong international mandate, to “clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people; identify human remains; and provide support to relatives”.

No end to the violence

Today, the daily lives of the Syrian people remain “scarred by unimaginable suffering”, the UN human rights chief said, adding that they have endured a decade of conflict, face deepening economic crisis and struggle with the impacts of COVID-19.

Extensive destruction of infrastructure has significantly affected the realization of essential economic and social rights, and there is still no end to the violence.

It is incumbent upon us all to listen to the voices of Syria’s survivors and victims, and to the stories of those who have now fallen silent for ever”, the High Commissioner concluded.

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Lessons Learned: US Seek to Salvage their Relations with the Syrian Kurds

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The hasty retreat of the US troops from Afghanistan has left a sizeable dent in the reputation of the White House among the American public, in the Middle East and the world in general. Washington was criticised heavily for the betrayal of the Afghan government, which paved the way for Taliban to storm to power.

It’s only natural that such events created a breeding ground for uncertainty among US allies in the region. Some of them started to reevaluate their relationship with the White House after the Afghan fiasco; others were having doubts about the US’ commitment beforehand. Current situation forces Washington to take firm actions to validate their status as a powerhouse in the region. There are indicators that US leadership has found a way to regain trust from its allies starting with Kurdish armed units in Syria.

The Kurds became a key ally to the US in their quest to defeat ISIS in Syria. Washington helped to create the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who consequently established control over oil-rich regions in the north-eastern Syria. However the rapid rise of Kurdish influence triggered discontent from other parties of the Syrian conflict: the Assad government and Turkey, who considers SDF an offshoot of the PKK, designated as a terror group by the Turkish authorities. Under this pretext Ankara conducted three full-scale military operations against the Kurds in spite of its membership in the US led coalition.

Turkey remains a major headache for the US in northern Syria as it obstructs the development of a Kurdish autonomy. US failure to act during the Turkish offensive on Al-Bab and then Afrin is still considered one of the most agonizing experiences in the recent history of American-Kurdish partnership. On the flip side, this relationship had its bright moments. US forces were persistent in their cooperation with the Kurds despite Donald Trump’s efforts to withdraw US military presence from Syria. Furthermore, former Pentagon’s chief James Mattis increased funding of SDF in 2019 to a record high of $300 million.

Although the US cut back its support for the Kurds after proclaiming victory over ISIS, it’s still sufficient for SDF to stay among the most combat-capable forces in Syria. US provide machinery, equipment and ammunition, but most importantly teach the Kurds the skills to profit from their resources. Besides training SDF rank soldiers, the American troops prepare their special forces HAT (Hêzên Antî Teror, Anti-Terror Forces) primarily tasked with establishing security on oil facilities as well as detection and elimination of terrorists. In terms of their equipment they practically hold their own even against US troops. During their operations HAT fighters use standardized weaponry, night goggles and other modern resources.

Regardless of all the US aid military capabilities of SDF have one critical vulnerability, namely the lack of air defense. This weakness is successfully exploited by Turkey who uses their drones to bomb Kurdish positions. For the last couple of months the number of air strikes has significantly increased, which brought SDF to find new methods of deflecting air attacks.

There are good grounds to believe that Washington accommodated their partner’s troubles. Thus a source from an US air-base in Middle-East who asked to keep his name and position anonymous told us that on the 18th of September three combat-capable trainer aircraft T-6 Texan have been deployed to Tell Beydar air-base in Hasakah province, Syria. According to the source American instructors have begun a crash course in air pilotage with the candidates picked form the SDF ranks long before the airplanes arrived to their destination. This is implicitly confirmed by the large shipment of US weaponry, machinery and ammunition to Tell Beydar delivered on the 17th of September that included missiles compatible with Texan aircraft.

The sole presence of airplanes, even trainer aircraft, prompts a change in the already existing power balance. T-6 Texan can be used not only for air cover but also as a counter tool to Turkish “Bayraktar” UAVs especially if US grant Kurds access to intel from the radars situated on US air bases. Ultimately, from Turkey’s standpoint it must look like an attempt from the US military to create PKK’s own air force.

This being said the US are better off using political means rather than military if the goal is to handicap Turkish interests in Syria. The groundwork for this has been laid thanks to a reshuffle in the White House under Biden administration. First came the resignation of former US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James F. Jeffrey infamous for his soft spot for Turkey, who has been openly promoting pro-Turkish views in the White House during his tenure. In addition to the loss of their man in Washington, Turkey has gained a powerful adversary represented by the new National Security Council coordinator for the Middle-East and North Africa Brett McGurk. McGurk is a polar opposite to Jeffrey and has sided with the Kurds on numerous occasions. He is well respected among the leaders of SDF because of his work as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to counter ISIS.

The only yet the most important question that is yet to be answered is the position of US president Joe Biden. So far Biden’s administration has been avoiding radical shifts regarding its Syria policy. Development of cooperation with the Kurds considering they have proven their reliability might come as a logical solution that will also allow the White House to show their teeth. Washington cannot endure another Afghanistan-like fiasco that will destroy their reputation figuratively and their allies literally. Even with all possible negative outcomes taken into account the enhancement of cooperation with the Kurds outweighs the drawbacks and remains the optimal route for the US.

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