The Nascent GCC-India Alliance ?

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by ejazr, Dec 4, 2011.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    An interesting lecture by Dr. Joseph A. Kéchichian at the University of Singapore on the case for the formation of a nascent alliance. However, I feel that a nascent GCC-India alignment is a more accurate description as alliance brings about a military connotation which he doesn't mean here. I have only used the title from the presentation that Dr. Joseph used here.

    The first half brings about the historical ties and trade ties between India and GCC with some very interesting examples going back 100s of years and then focusing on the Oman-India relations and based on his information and experience how the GCC countries are using the Oman-India relations as a template for the rest of the GCC-India relations in the 21st century.

    A Q&A session follows as well.




    _________________________________________________________________________________________
    A brief summary of the event and an interview with the speaker below. Although it of course is not a comprehensive summary and not a replacement of the video itself.


    The Nascent GCC-India Alliance – JAK Summary
    15 November 2010
    By Mary E. Stonaker

    Dr. Joseph A. Kéchichian, Honorary Consul of the Sultanate of Oman, articulated the historical and contemporary convergences between the Middle East and India as the foundation for future integration on economic and social levels. Focusing on Omani-Indian ties, Dr. Kéchichian maintained that links between India and the Gulf states extend well beyond energy trade. He expressed his intention to deepen the Indian-Omani line of reasoning into a fully developed regional thesis.

    The topic of this seminar, however, was limited to the Indian-Omani links. Indians have been present in the Arabian Gulf since the Sumerian period, around 600 AD. The geographical proximity of India to Oman ensured that ties to remained strong, despite outside influences (read: British Empire during the 19th and 20th centuries; the Soviet presence in Afghanistan which lead to an increased American presence in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf). While there is a significant Omani population present in India today, more noteworthy is the Indian presence in Oman, mainly middle and upper class citizens, in the Gulf. Dr. Kéchichian credited the tolerant nature of the Ibadi culture (an offshoot of Shi’a Islam, though it appears closely related to the original Sunni Islam) with the enduring nature of the Indian-Omani relationship. Indians are welcomed in Oman and responsible for healthcare, infrastructure, education and business cultivation in Oman, deploying as many as 4000 doctors to serve in the Omani army in addition to teachers, construction workers, engineers, architects and middle managers. Friendship agreements have enabled this population exchange which numbers approximately 5 – 7 million Indian expatriates on the Arabian Gulf.

    While the ties between Oman and India were clearly explicated, there remains some work to be done before similar relationships can be successfully extrapolated to all Gulf nations. There exist many intricate differences between the various tribe-states and India, such as migrant labor laws and remittance laws, though the precedence is there for enhanced ties. These may be illustrated in a forthcoming monograph from Dr. Kéchichian.

    Mary E Stonaker writes for the Middle East Institute. She may be contacted at [email protected]

    Interview with Joseph A. Kéchichian
    November 16th, 2010
    BY Mary E. Stonaker


    1. This is your first visit to Singapore – what has surprised you most about coming to Singapore?
    Coming to Singapore for the first time, I am surprised and impressed by the law and order of the city-state. It is both very organized and very clean, especially compared to the Middle East and India.

    2. Being Armenian by ethnicity, if I am not incorrect, how did you find your professional interests in the GCC and linguistics? I believe you speak Arabic, Armenian, English, French, Italian, Turkish and you are learning Persian.
    There are stories behind each of the languages. I was born and raised in Lebanon, hence the Arabic. My grandparents were from Anatolia, so I learned Turkish conversing with them. Behind each story, the moral is: If you want something enough like fluency in a language, you will achieve it.

    My interest in the GCC developed during my PhD studies at the University of Virginia. The course was designed in such a manner that Political Theory was one of four required exams. My advisor, Professor Ramazani, an Iranian, suggested that I work on Gulf security, the GCC being a nascent organization at the time. Knowing the language was extremely advantageous and I began traveling extensively throughout the Gulf. During these travels, I met an Assistant Secretary General of the GCC and have had the pleasure of knowing him over the past twenty-odd years. Saif al-Maskery opened the doors to the upper echelons of Gulf leadership for me, which allowed me to develop working relationships with these leaders. At the same time, my English writing skills developed and improved greatly as I opted to work exclusively in the language.

    Seven years at the RAND Corporation in California led me to work on several important projects and, through these I gained top US security clearances. The genesis of my first books also began at RAND. (My comment - RAND is also called the Pentagon's think tank because of its close links)

    In 1999, I served as an advisor to Sultan Bin Zayed who was then the Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE. In my capacity as advisor, I met and spoke extensively with individuals such as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Hosni Mubarak, Yaser Arafat, Jimmy Carter and James Baker, among others. In my writings, I prefer to detail the names, dates and places of these interviews in order to establish the greatest sense of transparency and legitimacy.

    My current project is a biography on Queen Effat Al Thunayan of Saudi Arabia, a privilege bestowed upon me after completing a biography of her husband, the late King Faysal bin Abdul Aziz. Relationship building has proven crucial in whatever success I managed to secure, which further allows continual access to leaders in the Middle East.

    3. Could you enlighten our readers by explaining a bit about your activities as Honorary Consul to The Sultanate of Oman in Los Angeles, CA?
    Yes, of course. This is a very important question and one that I am asked often. The Sultanate of Oman has three representative bodies in the United States, one at the United Nations in New York; one embassy in Washington, D.C.; and myself in Los Angeles at the Honorary Consul.

    I will begin first by describing how I came to be honored by this appointment, as I am not Omani. I wrote an article while at RAND entitled, “Oman & the World.” After that was published, I received a phone call from the Minister of Information of the Sultanate, who invited me to transform the essay into a book on the same subject. I told him I had two conditions: First, I could not be paid for my work. At RAND, transparency was, and still is, of the utmost importance and I could not allow my writing to appear biased by payment; Second, if I were to write a book on the foreign policy of Oman, I would need to speak with Sultan Qaboos, the architect of the country’s foreign policy. My conditions were met and I spent the next six months traveling extensively throughout Oman and interviewing key players in Oman‟s foreign policy community, spending countless hours at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    The book was received quite well by the majority of the foreign policy community in Oman and I was offered the position of Honorary Consul in 2006 when a vacancy arose in Los Angeles. The tolerance of the Omani people is evident in my appointment too: A Muslim country appointed not only a foreigner but an Armenian Catholic to represent its interests abroad. I feel very honored to do so.

    4. Yesterday, you spoke at the Middle East Institute, primarily on Oman’s historical relations with India and the way that legacy will shape future bilateral relations. You spoke of the unique nature of Oman (the tolerance of the Ibadi culture, for example) in the GCC. Can you explain how you plan to extrapolate these ties with India to the rest of the GCC countries? What similarities can you highlight between the GCC nations’ foreign policies that indicate Oman’s neighbors will follow suit?

    My case study of Omani relations with India is near completion. I am anticipating only one „trouble spot‟ in my thesis – the leadership of Qatar is not a native tribe of the land. Instead, they are close relatives of the leaders of Bahrain. I will most likely combine the case study of Qatar and Bahrain to effectively prove my thesis that relations between GCC countries and India will embark on a new chapter, based on a very long historical legacy. In fact, these ties go back centuries and are likely to forge even tighter relationships.

    During the question and answer portion of the seminar, Dr. Michael Hudson posed an important question: Won‟t the GCC countries be fearful of India‟s potential to overrun the region? My answer is this: it is not in the nature, the culture of India to do so. Aside from the long-standing Indian populations in the GCC countries, India has several internal and regional disputes/tensions to address and it will not seek out a war in the GCC region. I am just beginning my research into India and I am excited to make great use of my ten year re-entry visa to visit as often as I can to interview as many folks as possible. In the process, one hopes that it may be possible to buttress one’s assumptions, prove a thesis, and offer several hypotheses.

    As for integrating with India, you would be surprised at the number of Arabs who can understand if not speak Hindi. The GCC countries view India as a potential ally not as a threat.

    5. Contemporarily, relations have developed in a ‘hub-and-spoke’ nature with those in the global community striking several deals with individual nations rather than approaching the GCC as a unit. Is it part of your thesis that these ties will continue to develop bilaterally or will the GCC unite to form relations with India as a region?

    From my perspective, the GCC has, maybe, another 20 years or so before it will mature to become aware of its multi-lateral assets. Until then, one should not be surprised by the lack of integration. I do not believe that it is due to an absence of will to offer unified positions. Rather, the overwhelming presence of foreign nations, such as the US and UK, prevent such multilateralism to reap benefits that are generated by dealing with the Middle East, and the Gulf in particular, bilaterally.

    One example is the failure of joint military integration which has not materialized for a variety of reasons. One can cite the recent massive American sale of arms to Saudi Arabia as a preventative measure to integration. If integrated, there would be only one military force buying weapons from nations such as the US, UK and Russia, which would translate into significantly lower profits for the respective nations.

    6. When discussing Oman as a potential element of India’s energy security – you mentioned an LNG station built to export natural gas to India. Iran, India and China have begun ‘competing through infrastructure’ basically building infrastructure to ensure favorable treatment and steady supply in the future. Does Oman export LNG to China and, if so, do you envision China competing with India over Oman’s natural resources?

    In fact, Oman is investing heavily in India, as are other GCC states such as Qatar. GCC states are, by an overwhelming majority, wealthy monarchies, which mean that their sovereign wealth funds are invested overseas, including in India and China. This is likely to continue. Kuwait, for example, currently earns more from returns on its investments than it does from oil. It also doles out large development aid, mainly to Muslim countries, as do the other GCC States. While there will be investments by both India and China investments in GCC countries with respect to energy, China will be more assertive than India, as has been the case in several Arab countries.

    7. To wrap up, could you give our readers, mostly residing in Singapore, a snapshot of current GCC relations with Singapore?

    There are many exciting things, including Free Trade Agreements, signed between Singapore and the GCC countries. From an Arab point of view, you have to remember that Singapore is the number one container port in the world, competing with Dubai for geostrategic location. The significant Muslim population in Singapore, echoed by the crescent on the flag, makes Arabs feel at home in Singapore. There are also emerging military and security cooperation/exercises between Singapore and several GCC countries. I see a long road of cooperation between both. Furthermore, Singapore could potentially benefit from a stable, close relationship between India and the GCC countries as there are already many close ties between India and Singapore as well.

    Thank you for your time both today during this interview and yesterday during your seminar at MEI, ‘The Nascent GCC-India Alliance’. It is no doubt an important relationship to watch and I look forward to reading your book on this subject.
     
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  3. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    An October 2011 video by the MEA posted by Indian Diplomacy on youtube

    The film presents the economic cooperation between GCC and India set up through a mutual understanding of each other's recourses and technical expertise. The Indian government has been involved in trade with the gulf way before oil came into the picture. Different companies from India have been really successful in the Gulf, which provides them with the proper infrastructure and resources to expand. Using interviews of different corporate people, the film also talks about the growing Indian Community in the Gulf region and its importance in the development of both. Indian skilled labor has been one of the most important reason behind building the Gulf after the war and the film explores this aspect of the relationship too
     
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