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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

China-US and the Iran nuclear deal

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian that Beijing would firmly support a resumption of negotiations on a nuclear pact [China Media Group-CCTV via Reuters]

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with  Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.  Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.

A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for  strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.

During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.

The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said

‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’

The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.

During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.

The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC,  Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.

In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.

Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.

The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.

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Middle East

Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?

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Image source: atalayar.com

“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!

The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force! 

Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.

The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.

Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.   

The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.

The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.

The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.

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Middle East

Kurdish Education in Turkey: A Joint Responsibility

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Turkish elites often see Kurds as posing a mortal threat to their homeland’s territorial integrity. Kurdish elites often harbor pan-Kurdish dreams of their own.

Modern Turkish nationalism based its identity on statist secularism practiced by Muslims who are Turks. The secularist paradigm of a “Turkish Nation” struggled hard with accommodating Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) and Kurdish-speaking Muslims. Kurdish coreligionists were expected to become Turks, i.e., to abandon their cultural heritage for the “greater good” of a homogenous Turkish nation.

This cultural-identity conundrum led to a century-long violent conflict, but also to genuine efforts by many Kurds and Turks to reach a common vision that would accommodate both Turkey’s territorial integrity and Kurdish cultural rights.

The rise to power of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 appeared to imply a watershed, bringing about a measure of cultural liberalization toward the Kurds. More Islam seemed at first to signal less nationalistic chauvinism.

IMPACT-se, a think tank focusing on peace and tolerance in school education, pointed out in “Two Languages One Country,” a 2019 report that showed liberal elements being introduced in the Turkish curriculum by the AKP government. These “included the introduction of a Kurdish language elective program, the teaching of evolution, expressions of cultural openness, and displays of tolerance toward minorities.”

And while no open debate was permitted, IMPACT-se noted “a slight improvement over past textbooks in recognizing the Kurds, although they are still generally ignored.” Yet, the name “Kurd” is no longer obliterated from the curriculum. Kurdish-language textbooks were authored as part of a wider Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.

In June 2012, the Turkish government announced for the first time, that a Kurdish elective language course entitled: “Living Languages and Dialects” (Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler), would be offered as an elective language for Grades 5–7 for two hours per week.

IMPACT-se studied these textbooks (published in 2014 and 2015 in Kurmanji and Zazaki) in its report  and found that the elective Kurdish-language program strengthens Kurdish culture and identity, while assuming a pan-Kurdish worldview devoid of hate against Turks. Included are Kurdish-historic places in Turkey, Iran and Iraq (but not Syria). The textbooks cover issues such as the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Kurdish national holiday of Newroz, with the underlying revolutionary message of uprising against tyranny. Children’s names are exclusively Kurdish. Turks and Turkey are not represented in the elective Kurdish books (but are obviously present across the rest of the curriculum).

The latter is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding. Textbooks published by Turkey’s Ministry of Education focus solely on the Kurdish side, with pan-Kurdish messaging, and no Turkish context. There could be several explanations for this, but the fact remains that Turkish-Kurdish relations are still not present in Turkey’s Kurdish language program.

The overall conclusion of IMPACT-se has been that this program is pioneering and generally excellent. There are some problems, however. One problem is that the elective program is minimalistic and does not meet Kurdish cultural needs. However, the program ignores the Turkish-Kurdish dilemma, hence projecting an inverted mirror image of the Turkish curriculum at large, which ignores the Kurdish question. There is no peace education in either curriculum. Therefore, IMPACT-se recommended enhancing the Kurdish-language program, while adding a healthy dose of pertinent peace education to the curriculum’s Turkish and Kurdish textbooks.

Sadly, the last few years have also seen broader moves by the Turkish government to quash Kurdish cultural and educational freedoms. The armed conflict between separatist groups and the Turkish military resumed in 2015, followed by the 2016 detention of high-ranking officials of the peaceful pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By 2020, 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors on the HDP ticket in previous years had been forced out or arrested by security forces.

Simultaneously, elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious “elective” courses, which are often mandatory. Specifically, elective Kurdish courses are being clamped down or de facto erased in certain schools (despite being originally offered in 28 cities and with an expected enrollment as high as 160,000).

And then there is the question of full education in Kurdish. Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution bans the “teaching of any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education.” And yet, Turkish authorities looked the other way between 2013 and 2016, as five fully Kurdish elementary private schools were opened in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari. The last of these schools, Ferzad Kemanger in Diyarbakır, was closed on October 9, 2016. Apparently these schools conveyed pan-Kurdish messaging (Ferzad Kemanger was an Iranian-Kurdish elementary school teacher. He was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and executed by Tehran in 2010).

There can be no Kurdish heritage without Kurdish languages, making the current situation untenable. Kurdish education should become a priority again.

But this is not enough. A common Turkish-Kurdish vision should be developed. Educationally, a serious effort should be directed toward educating both Turks and Kurds about the other’s identity, culture, shared history, commonalties, conflicts and interactions. 

Two ethnicities sharing one homeland in a volatile region pose a great challenge for both. A careful educational plan can lay the groundwork for peace and prosperity. Kurdish education in Turkey should be considered a joint responsibility leading to a common vision.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect an official position of IMPACT-se.

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