Modi’s Success Story in West Asia 

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Modi’s Success Story in West Asia 

If there was one region that stood out in Indian foreign policy during Modi’s second term, it was West Asia.

Modi’s Success Story in West Asia 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is received by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE, and accorded a ceremonial welcome at the airport upon arrival in Abu Dhabi, the UAE, Feb. 13, 2024.

Credit: Indian Ministry of External Affairs

The election bugle has been sounded, and with that curtains have officially come down on the second term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India. Modi 2.0, which was marked by remarkable successes, also faced many unprecedented challenges in all spheres, especially on the foreign policy front. 

Modi 2.0 was fast paced and eventful, to say the least. While COVID-19 presented a global challenge, it was the Chinese misadventure in eastern Ladakh in May 2020 that has been the overarching point of foreign policy debate in India over the past four years. In between all this, small pinpricks in relations with neighbors like Nepal and the Maldives kept the pot boiling. 

The Russia-Ukraine war presented a different kind of challenge, where India had to withstand Western pressure in extending support to Russia and even doing brisk trade amid Western sanctions. It was in fact during this period that India’s hard diplomacy skills came to the fore and the world slowly came to realize the global leadership position of India. India’s remarkably successful G-20 presidency in 2023, coupled with its chairmanship of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), virtually sealed India’s status on the world stage. 

Hamas’ sudden and brutal terror attack on southern Israel on October 7 came as a shock, but India once again skillfully managed a fine balancing in this too. The recent meeting between India’s national security advisor and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 11, hinting at a possible Indian role in playing a peacemaker role where others have failed, is once again a testament to the unique leadership position that India enjoys.

Indeed, if there was one region that stood out in Indian foreign policy under Modi 2.0, it was West Asia. Modi’s outreach toward the region had started early in his first term, with visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in August 2015, the first visit by an Indian prime minister in 34 years. Very early in his second term, Modi once again visited the UAE in August 2019, where he was awarded with the prestigious Zayed Medal for playing a “pivotal role” in giving a “big boost” to the bilateral strategic ties. 

The UAE continued to remain India’s closest partner in the region. As a testament to that, Modi has visited the UAE seven times now, most recently in February this year, which was his last foreign visit before the elections were announced. Both Modi and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MbZ), the president of the UAE, call each other “brother” and share a unique personal chemistry. They have been key instruments in India’s growing strategic convergence with the region.

Strategic Convergence

There is perhaps no other region in the world with which India enjoys such close strategic convergence as West Asia. While India had signed a strategic partnership with Oman way back in 2008 and with the UAE in August 2015 during Modi’s first visit, the scope and depth of strategic convergence was greatly enhanced during Modi 2.0. Saudi Arabia in October 2019 and Egypt in June 2023 signed strategic partnership agreements with India. 

Modi’s visit to Bahrain in August 2019, (the first-ever visit to the nation by any Indian prime minister) and to Qatar in February 2024 also added weight to India’s closer partnership and strategic convergence with the region. Modi’s visit to Qatar happened a few days after eight Indian sailors on death row were released by Qatar, a remarkable achievement given that just a few months back, even an appeal in Qatari courts looked unlikely. In addition, Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tarik state visit to India in December 2023, the first visit of the Omani sultan to India in decades, was a clear signal of close strategic convergence.

Even in multilateral forums, convergence between India and the region is clearly visible. At the 15th BRICS Summit in South Africa in August 2023, six countries were included into the grouping: Argentina, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Interestingly, four of these are from the West Asia/North Africa region and India had a large part in the decision. During India’s G-20 presidency, Oman, Egypt, and the UAE were among the nations invited as special guests. During the SCO summit chaired by India, Iran was admitted as a full member while Kuwait and the UAE were ratified as dialogue partners.

Energy Security

India has been traditionally dependent on the West Asia region for its energy imports, and that aspect of ties got a major fillip during Modi 2.0. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE were the top three exporters of crude oil to India over the period – despite Russia emerging as a major market of imports for India due to its discounted prices amid the ongoing war in Ukraine. 

In January 2017, during Modi’s first term, the UAE became the first country to sign an agreement with India to store strategic oil reserves in India. That agreement has been operationalized over the past six years by storing strategic petroleum reserves in underground caverns in India, made with an initial investment of $400 million. 

The $78 billion LNG deal signed with Qatar in February 2024, weeks before announcement of elections, assured import of 7.5 million tonnes of LNG a year for through 2048 at “significantly” lower rates than the previous deal. 

In addition, in July 2023, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and Indian Oil signed a long-term LNG contract for 1.2 million metric tons over a period of 14 years.

Trade and Investments

India also sought to expand economic ties with West Asia beyond the energy sector. The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) signed with the UAE on February 18, 2022, was the biggest highlight. The agreement – developed and agreed upon in a record time of 88 days – aims to significantly improve trade and business opportunities and increase bilateral trade to $115 billion in five years. Adding to it, during Modi’s latest visit to the UAE in February 2024, India also approved the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the UAE, which would significantly boost bilateral economic engagement, especially manufacturing and foreign direct investment (FDI). 

Investments from West Asia into India steadily increased over the past years resulting in inflow of more than $2.5 billion in FDI in various sectors, besides oil and gas. The UAE outscored other countries in the region by a wide margin. Bilateral trade stood at $85 billion in the year 2022-23, making the UAE India’s third-largest trading partner. The UAE is also the fourth-largest overall investor in India. 

While the UAE committed to invest $75 billion in India, Saudi Arabia pledged an investment of over $100 billion. Qatar too invested significantly; In July 2019 the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) announced an investment of $150 million in education app Byju and soon thereafter in December 2019 committed $450 million to take a 25 percent stake in Adani Electricity Mumbai Ltd. 

With Modi pushing for faster development of digital public infrastructure (DPI) in India and in the region, fintech emerged as yet another area of mutual convergence. The RuPay card was launched in the UAE in August 2019 and from July 2023 onwards, the Indian rupee is being accepted as legal at Dubai airports. Also, India and the UAE operationalized a rupee-dirham settlement system when the Indian Oil Corporation made the first rupee payment for crude oil imports in August 2023. 

When Oman signed an agreement on fintech cooperation with India in October 2022, it became the fourth country in the region after Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE where India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is accepted for financial transactions.

Modi 2.0 was also very pronounced in terms of its engagement with Indian diaspora in West Asia. Every visit by Modi to the region drew large crowds, with the last and most prominent being the Ahlan Modi event in Abu Dhabi on February 13, 2024. The opening of the first offshore campus of India’s prestigious engineering college, the Indian Institute of Technology, in Abu Dhabi and the recently inaugurated BAPS Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi too were clear signals of India’s investment in people-to-people ties with the UAE. 

Defense and Security

Security cooperation with West Asia was one of the key success areas during Modi 2.0. Despite numerous defense cooperation agreements signed in the past, there was not much of traction in this sphere of cooperation previously. 

Oman – which signed a defense cooperation agreement with India in November 2008 – has been a frontrunner in security cooperation. Oman is the first West Asian country to hold joint exercises with all three branches of India’s defense forces. Cooperation based on the MoU on military cooperation facilitating provision of logistical facilities to the Indian Navy in the port of Duqm took shape in this period and offers critical advantage to the Indian Navy in its operations in the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, and even Red Sea. It also allows India to keep a discreet watch on the growing naval activity of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) in the region.

Security cooperation with the UAE also took concrete shape during Modi’s second term. In March 2021, an Indian Air Force (IAF) contingent participated for the first time in Exercise Desert Flag–VI, an annual exercise hosted by the UAE. The first edition of joint military exercise Desert Cyclone was held in January 2024 in the deserts of Rajasthan. There have also been some reports in the media on the UAE expressing interest in the purchase of Helina, Nag, and BrahMos missiles from India. 

With Saudi Arabia, defense cooperation was kick-started after signing a strategic partnership agreement in 2019.  In August 2021 the first-ever bilateral naval exercise between India and Saudi Arabia – Al Mohed Al Hindi 2021 – was conducted in Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia. In February 2022, Saudi Arabia was one of the 46 countries invited to the Indian Navy’s Milan Exercise, and the first edition of India-Saudi Arabia joint military exercise Sada Tanseeq was held in the deserts of Rajasthan in January-February 2024. There have also been some reports that Saudi Arabia has shown interest in purchase of the BrahMos missile system too. 

With Egypt, an MoU on defense cooperation was signed during Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Egypt in September 2022 and cooperation has picked up pace since then. Egypt is one of the six countries interested in India’s Tejas aircraft. Egypt has also reportedly shown interest in buying BrahMos missiles.

With Qatar, the focus has been on naval cooperation and customized courses for Qatari officers. There has been significant progress on defense and security cooperation with other nations in the region too. There was significant progress on intelligence sharing, especially on counterterrorism. Space cooperation too is emerging as a key area of strategic cooperation. 


If Modi 1.0 could be summarized as “Think West,” Modi 2.0 was definitely “Act West.” India and West Asia have come a long way in revitalizing a rather stagnant relationship in the past few years. Modi’s personal rapport with the leadership in the region has been a major contributing factor. 

As India grows into a major economic, political and military power, West Asia forms a critical part of India’s global matrix. From a strategic point of view therefore, India has vital interest in region’s peace, stability, and security, to ensure closer integration. 

The 8.5 million Indian expatriate community, through their discipline and hard work, have also contributed immensely to India’s growing ties with the region. Acknowledging this, Modi had described the region as “home away from home” while addressing the Indian diaspora in the UAE in 2018. The two regions may be separated by the Arabian Sea but are joined by history, destiny, trust, and growing brotherhood. 

As the curtains come down on Modi 2.0, most analysts expect that the next government will indeed be Modi 3.0. Confirmation will have to wait until India’s election results are announced on June 4, 2024. But if Modi is indeed re-elected, we can expect that his government will do more to integrate India with the region. 

There is also hope that the few outliers like Kuwait would attract closer engagement and nations north of the Persian Gulf – i.e., Iran and Iraq – too would witness renewed focus and closer strategic engagement.