Indian Army chief General Naravane begins week-long visit to UAE, Saudi Arabia

This is Naravane’s third foreign tour this year with diplomatic overtones, following his visits to Myanmar along with foreign secretary Harsh Shringla in October, and to Nepal in November

Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane on Tuesday embarked on a week-long visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, the first ever trip by an army chief to both West Asian states that is expected to significantly boost security ties.

This is Naravane’s third foreign tour this year with diplomatic overtones, following his visits to Myanmar along with foreign secretary Harsh Shringla in October, and to Nepal in November.

“The visit is historic in the sense that it will be the first time an Indian Army chief is visiting the UAE and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Indian Army said in a statement.

Naravane will meet his counterparts and the senior military leadership of the two countries during the tour that will end on December 14. The army chief will be in the UAE during December 9-10, and is scheduled to meet senior military officials to discuss ways to enhance India-UAE defence relations, the statement said.

He will travel to Saudi Arabia for the second leg of the tour during December 13-14 to take forward the “excellent defence cooperation” between the two countries through multiple meetings with senior functionaries of the security establishment, the statement said. Naravane will also 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 King Abdulaziz War College. He is also scheduled to visit the National Defence University to address students and faculty.

People familiar with the developments said on condition of anonymity that the trip was initially slated to begin on Sunday but had to be rescheduled. The reason for this couldn’t immediately be ascertained.

The two-day gap between the visits is being attributed to the holidays in West Asian states on Fridays and Saturdays.

The visits are part of the Indian government’s outreach to West Asia, seen by New Delhi as part of its extended neighbourhood, and come close on the heels of external affairs minister Jaishankar’s visit to Bahrain and the UAE during November 24-26. This outreach has dramatically expanded defence and security cooperation, especially in counter-terrorism, in recent years.

During the visit to Myanmar in October, Naravane and Shringla held talks with the senior leadership, including Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing, on security and development cooperation.

Naravane’s visit to Nepal prepared the grounds for Shringla’s subsequent trip, with both engagements helping nudge bilateral ties towards normalcy after a border row over a new political map issued by Kathmandu that included Indian territories.

The latest visit comes against the backdrop of the fast-changing situation in West Asia after the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan normalised relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are home to a majority of the nine million Indian expatriates in West Asia, whose annual remittances amount to about $48 billion.

The visit also comes at a time when Pakistan’s ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE are strained. Angered by Islamabad’s criticism of Riyadh’s position on the Kashmir issue, Saudi Arabia recently sought the early repayment of a $3-billion loan provided to the Imran Khan government in 2018.

Source: Hindustan Times

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