New Delhi: Regular joint military exercises and training besides joint production of defence equipment are some of the goals that India, UAE and Saudi Arabia look to achieve on Army chief General M.M. Naravane’s week-long trip to the two key Middle East countries.
This is the first visit by an Indian Army chief to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and is seen as a sign of how India’s ties with the Middle East has improved over the past few years, sources in the defence and security establishment said.
During the visit from 9 to 14 December, Gen. Naravane will be meeting his counterparts and the senior military leadership of these countries.
Sources said that the visit was scheduled for earlier but was postponed due to the Covid pandemic. The delay also affected the first bilateral Army exercise with both countries.
According to the plan, 45-member delegations from each of the UAE and Indian armies were set to travel to the other country for similar military exercises.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the Army said Naravane’s trip was “historic in the sense that it will be the first time an Indian Army Chief is visiting the UAE and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Gen. Naravane will be in the UAE on 9 and 10 December, during which time he is scheduled to call on senior military officials. He is expected to discuss avenues for enhancing India-UAE defence relations.
Sources said that one area of focus will be the coming together in the field of defence production.
“Both countries top the list when it comes to defence imports. Both countries are focusing on developing their indigenous capability and this is an area that they can collaborate on,” a source said.
Both countries are already in talks with each other for a possible Make in India route for the supply of carbines to the Indian Army, a contract of which was won by the state-owned UAE firm Caracal.
From the UAE, Gen. Naravane will travel to Saudi Arabia for the second leg of his tour spanning 13-14 December.
The Army said that its chief will take forward the “excellent defence cooperation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and India through multiple meetings with senior functionaries of security establishment and exchange views on various defence related issues”.
The Army chief will visit the headquarters of Royal Saudi Land Force, the Joint Force Command headquarters and the King Abdulaziz Military Academy.
Gen. Naravane is also scheduled to visit the National Defence University and address the students and faculty at the institution.
Explaining the significance of this visit, sources highlighted that this could eventually pave the way for deeper military ties.
“There are a number of proposals on the table. The military authorities will talk and come back with concrete proposals that would then be taken up by the government of both countries,” a second source said.
Pakistan, Turkey vs Saudi Arabia, UAE
Gen. Naravane’s visit comes at a time when there is a lot of churning within the Islamic world, from attempts by the UAE and Saudi to ease ties with Israel to Pakistan trying to create an alternative bloc.
It is also at a time Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, once its strongest ally, has hit turbulence.
Decades of close military, political and economic relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan plummeted in August this year when the South Asian country’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, criticised Riyadh for failing to call a special meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on the Kashmir issue.
Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s visit to Saudi Arabia in August, to ease the diplomatic strain between the countries, ended with him being denied a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
As it stands, Pakistan’s former army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, heads a Saudi Arabia-led Islamic military coalition.
At the moment, the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan are also working to normalise relations with Israel.