Less than a month after he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Delhi, PM Narendra Modi was in Palestine—in a first ever visit by an Indian prime minister to the country. New Delhi was able to balance its relation between the two warring neighbours, de-hyphenating one from other.
If Modi's last year visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was noticed for the bonhomie with Netanyahu, he was conferred Palestine’s highest civilian award ‘Grand Collar of the State of Palestine’ by President Mahmoud Abbas. This was no ordinary feat. It also laid to rest any suggestions that India was tilting towards Israelis, overlooking the historic relations with the Palestine.
Modi had visited three nations—Palestine, UAE and Oman—during his four-day foreign tour. Strengthening ties with the West Asian and Arab nations has been the focus of Modi government. It helps India in its strategic interests and meeting the energy needs.
For Palestine, India is collaborating to set up an institute of diplomacy in Ramallah. “We believe that this institute will emerge as a world class training institute for the young diplomats of Palestine. India will also continue to invest in Palestine in the projects of health, educational infrastructure and women empowerment centre and also in a printing press,” the PM said.
It was his visit in UAE on invitation of President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan that has political significance to his supporters back home. Modi witnessed laying of foundation stone for the BAPS Swaminarayan temple in Abu Dhabi—first ever Hindu temple being built in a land gifted by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was earlier the chief guest at Republic Day parade in India.
UAE is also of special interest to India because of its influence in the Muslim world. Recognising that India and UAE exemplify credible models against the tendencies of extremism and radicalism, both countries resolved to deepen cooperation on combating extremism and countering terrorism.
The two leaders agreed that extremism and terrorism cannot be defeated by use of force only, and acknowledged the need for a holistic approach, which includes disrupting the use of web and social media for promotion of extremist and violent ideologies and preventing the use of religious centres to radicalise youth and recruit terrorists.
One of the significant aspect of this visit was agreements in terms building oil reserves and meeting India's energy needs.
UAE is the fifth largest import source and accounts for about 6 per cent of our total crude imports. India is already the third largest consumer of energy in the world. Indian energy demand is forecast by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to grow by more than any other country in the period to 2040 and account for one-third of total incremental growth.
Two highlights of PM’s visit were the signing of the concession agreement between an Indian Consortium and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) for award of 10 per cent stake in Lower Zakum Offshore oil field, and an agreement between Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Ltd (ISPRL) and ADNOC to operationalise the filling up of a strategic petroleum reserve cavern in Mangalore.
The concession agreement awards 10 per cent participating interest in Abu Dhabi’s offshore Lower Zakum oil field to a consortium of Indian Public Sector companies which comprises ONGC Videsh, IOCL and BPRL. This will be the first Indian upstream investment in a producing asset in the Gulf region and in the Middle East. From a current production of 400,000 barrels per day, the production will peak at 450,000 barrels per day by 2025. Indian share of oil will be 10 per cent, about 2.24 MMTPA at peak production. Average share for India will be 1.75 MMTPA for next 40 years. Total cumulative share of the Indian consortium will be 70 MMT over the next 40 years.
The concession agreement will directly boost India’s energy security, petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan said.
The second significant agreement was between the Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Ltd (ISPRL) and ADNOC to invest in the strategic crude oil storage facility in Mangaluru. ADNOC will invest about $ 400 million by way of storing crude in one ISPRL underground rock cavern in Mangaluru, of capacity 5.86 million barrels. Period of storage will be three years, with automatic extension of 2+2 years. This is help save oil in case of natural or manmade calamities.
The oil storage facility will also help boost India’s energy security, as well as enable ADNOC to efficiently and competitively meet market demand in India and across the fast developing south east Asian economies.
India is also keen on strengthening maritime security in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean region. The UAE side renewed its interest in the coastal surveillance systems and patrol vessels developed by India. The two leaders noted with satisfaction the agreement for supply of Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels by India to UAE and the successful testing for Factory Acceptance Trials in Sharjah during March 2017.
In the final leg of his tour, Modi visited Oman on the invitation of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Here too, both the countries agreed to counter sponsors and supporters of terrorism.
Though, Pakistan was not named in the joint statement as sponsor of terrorism, it left no doubt that India had managed to secure Oman help in coordinating “efforts to counter extremism and radicalisation and misuse of religion by groups and countries for inciting hatred and perpetrating acts of terrorism.”
The Indian side thanked Omanis for facilitating operational visits by Indian naval ships and aircraft as well as Indian Air Force aircraft to various Omani ports and airports. The two sides also agreed to enhance cooperation to strengthen maritime security in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean regions, vital for the security and prosperity of both countries.
Like the agreement with the UAE, prime minister extended an invitation to Oman to participate in building the strategic oil reserves in India.