In Engagement With Middle East, Time For Modi to Look Beyond Diplomacy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets ready to visit Iran, after his visits to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, let us hope he will finally move beyond diplomacy. No country can aspire for global leadership without engaging the Muslim countries

DR JAVED JAMIL | Caravan Daily

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or about one year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi thought of only America, Japan, Australia and other Western countries. All these highly publicised visits gave an impression that he wants to be seen as the blue-eyed boy of the West. Then suddenly, his bandwagon turned towards Muslim countries. Pakistan, Afghanistan, UAE and Saudi Arabia proved to be his next stopovers. Muslim horizons however were not captured by the Indian media the way it captured the Western horizons.

In order to balance his rendezvous with the Arab kingdoms perhaps, now, he is about to tour Iran. It appears that diplomacy rather than the desire to develop strong ties is his major aim. He does not realise that strategic relations with Muslim countries are surely going to be of much bigger lasting value than that with the West.

In my just-published book, Muslim Vision of Secular India: Destination and Roadmap, I included a chapter on the need of the ties between India and Muslim countries. I am reproducing below a few excerpts:

“India is a country of 1.2 billion people out of whom 0.18 b are Muslims. Muslims on the other hand have more than 1.7 billion population worldwide. There are 57 Muslim majority countries. Except a few countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sudan, most of Muslim countries have a very high per capita income.

About 30 Muslim countries have higher per capita income, higher life expectancy and higher literacy rate than India. Many Muslim countries have significantly high growth rate with Qatar leading at around 15 per cent. UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Libya and Nigeria are all rich countries.

Muslim countries are also the major oil exporters of the world and their potential of influencing the economic shift of the world is huge. Any country that can supply what Muslims need – military and technical expertise – can emerge as a major power in the world.

The truth is that no country can emerge as a big power without engaging the Islamic world. Except for Pakistan, there have been hardly any hostilities between India and Muslim countries.

Most of the Arab nations, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and African Muslim countries have a long history of cordial relationship with India. Middle East has been a favorite destination for India’s technical as well as skilled work force for several decades. Muslim as well as non-Muslim NRIs living in Muslim countries earn significant amount of foreign currency.

It is important that India recognizes certain emerging realities:

  1. Demographically, Muslims are not only the second biggest majority in the world; they are also religiously most cohesive people.
  2. They hold the edge in terms of world’s energy resources, without which no country can survive.
  3. Traditionally, Muslim countries have been allies of the United States during last few decades. But the relationship has soured beyond a point of no return in the last decade, at least in near future. The overwhelming majority of Muslims all over the world including India have developed immense aversion for the Western powers particularly the United States.
  4. The future is almost sure to bring Islamically inclined parties to power. The distance with West is sure to grow, despite Western interventions and eagerness to ensure that Muslim world does not go beyond their reach.
  5. Slowly and steadily, Muslim countries are emerging as a major political and economic force in the world affairs.
  6. With the distance between the Western and Muslim World growing, other nations will try to fill the gap. The countries that are expected to try hard will be China and Russia.
  7. India must realise that its recent fondness for America could not have developed at a worse time. Now when America is fast losing its Super Power status and European countries are in woeful conditions, it is hard to understand why should India ignore its ties with the Muslim World and China and Russia for the sake of America and its allies.
  8. What India can get by developing strategic ties with the Islamic World, it cannot get from the Western powers. Muslim countries can be a much bigger market for Indian goods and workforce and can make much greater investments in the country than America and its European allies can do.
  9. India cannot hope to be in a leadership role if it allies with the Western powers but can surely emerge as a major force in the world affairs if it develops strategic ties with the Muslim World.
    10. If a corporate boom occurs in India with Muslims playing an aggressive role, the investors from Muslim countries will be more attracted to invest in India. Furthermore, the exports to Muslim countries will multiply fast.
  10. With strategic ties developing with Muslim countries, particularly Arab countries and Iran, it will be easier for India if need be to isolate Pakistan. However, if economic ties with Pakistan can also be improved, it will also have far reaching consequences on the socioeconomic development of both countries. If Pakistan and India learn to respect each other, it will be in the best interests of both the countries and for the world as a whole.

A recent report says:
“Exports from India amounted to US$317.5 billion during 2014, up 44.1% since 2010. India’s top 10 exports accounted for 60.5% of the overall value of its global shipments. Based on statistics from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook Database, India’s total Gross Domestic Product amounted to $7.376 trillion in 2014. Therefore, exports accounted for about 4.3% of total Indian economic output. Given India’s population of 1.252 billion people, its total $317.5 billion in 2014 exports translates to roughly $254 for every resident in that country. India’s unemployment rate was 4.1% in 2014.”

According to the report, the following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Indian global shipments during 2014:

  • Oil: US$62.3 billion (19.6% of total exports)
  • Gems, precious metals, coins: $40.7 billion (12.8%)
  • Vehicles: $14.5 billion (4.6%)
  • Machines, engines, pumps: $13.6 billion (4.3%)
  • Organic chemicals: $12 billion (3.8%)
  • Pharmaceuticals: $11.7 billion (3.7%)
  • Cereals: $10.1 billion (3.2%)
  • Iron and steel: $9.1 billion (2.9%)
  • Clothing (not knit or crochet): $9.1 billion (2.9%)
  • Electronic equipment: $9 billion (2.8%)

According to a Planning Commission Paper, the exports of following other services (besides software) hold high potential for India’s export earnings during the period 2000-2001 to 2025-2026:

  1. Tourism
  2. Information Technology Services in broad spectrum
  3. Management of Consultancy Services
  4. Yoga and Stress Management education/practices
  5. Advising/Managerial Contracting for Turn Around of sick industries
  6. Export of low to medium skilled manpower
  7. Export of high skilled and scientific, technical, medical, educational, cultural and managerial manpower.

Simultaneous pursuit of an efficient export promotion policy as well as an efficient import substitution policy is the ideal that needs to be stressed.

The Paper further says:
“It can be seen from the contents of this chapter that India’s niche markets are mostly located in the Asian region (including Central Asian Republics and the Middle East). An aggressive and refurbished “Look East” trade policy will enable India to actually achieve its realistic positioning in the competitive and dynamic world economy.

“The Government must create most favourable and attractive conditions for market-based development free of bureaucratic hassles and corruption for encouraging both domestic and foreign investment especially Foreign. “ (

The above remarks confirm the importance of economic ties between India and Muslim countries. The Muslim NGOs in India must campaign for these relations by organising conferences of Muslim Finance Ministers/Ambassadors in India. Agreements of cooperation between Indian universities and hospitals with those of Muslim countries will also help both countries in improving educational and health standards of their people. With such a policy, the communal amity will also have a boost in India.

The diplomatic part in Iran will focus on how not to allow it to be seen in Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh as some kind of policy shift. He is fully aware that after Islamic Revolution, the three capitals have turned cold towards Tehran and consider Iran as the biggest obstacle in their policy in the region.

As the visit comes soon after his Saudi visit, Modi will try not to harm the goodwill his visit generated in the Arab World. Europe will not feel much concerned, as in the wake of nuclear treaty, it is trying to take lead in the economic ties with Iran. Tehran has smartly used Europe’s economic crisis to befriend them while maintaining its political hostility with the United States.

Modi may try to take advantage of this situation. Pakistan will be viewing it from the point of view of the possibility of economic cooperation between the three countries. The proposed gas line from Iran through Pakistan to India will surely be on the agenda.

Neither Arab countries nor Iran seem to possess the will and audacity to raise the issue of the condition of Indian Muslims, especially their security concerns and the hate campaign against them by the organizations associated with the ruling party.

Hopefully, the Indian Prime Minister will move beyond diplomacy. Let his tours not just become picnics. Starved of foreign tours after the Gujarat massacre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi looked to set on the world tour.

Hopefully, his hunger for sight-seeing has subsided and he starts doing something concrete. Strategic ties with Muslim countries will surely have a positive impact on the growth rate, and will also be of great political value. And if he is able to develop and strengthen ties with Muslim countries, his acceptability in the Muslim community will also grow.



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