Friday, August 16, 2019

Kashmir, Business, Religion and Diplomacy

Gulf Arab countries have remained mostly silent as India’s government moved to strip Indian-administered Kashmir of its limited autonomy, imposing a sweeping military curfew in the disputed Muslim-majority region and cutting off residents from all communication and the internet. The decision by Modi’s Hindu nationalist government carries religious overtones for Muslim residents of the Indian-administered Kashmir.
This muted response is underpinned by more than $100 billion in annual trade with India that makes it one of the Arabian Peninsula’s most prized economic partners.
Saudi Arabia merely urged restraint and expressed concern over the brewing crisis. The brief Saudi statement on Kashmir made no direct reference to the military curfew or the communication blackout in the disputed territory. It said the kingdom “is following up on the current situation” and called for a “peaceful settlement” in line with international resolutions.  Saudi oil exports to India dominated $27.5 billion in bilateral trade last year.  India announced one of the biggest ever foreign investments in the country — a $15 billion purchase by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Aramco in India’s Reliance oil and chemicals business. Beyond that, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has vowed $100 billion of Saudi investments in India by 2021.

Other Gulf countries — Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman — do not appear to have issued any statements. 

The United Arab Emirates has gone a step further by apparently siding with India, calling the decision to downgrade Kashmir’s status an internal matter. Bilateral trade surpassed $50 billion in 2018, making India the UAE’s second-largest trade partner. Indian investments in the UAE amount to $55 billion and Indians are the largest foreign investors in Dubai’s real estate market.  DP World, Dubai’s global port operator, has plans to develop a logistics hub in Indian-controlled Kashmir. 
UAE’s ambassador to India, Ahmed al-Banna, was quoted as saying the changes in Kashmir “would improve social justice and security...and further stability and peace.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has reached out to leaders in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in recent days to discuss India’s actions in Kashmir, but it’s unclear whether he would find Arab backing if he took his concerns to the United Nations Security Council. 

Gulf Arab countries may also be wary of supporting Kashmiri rights because it centers on “people’s right to their own freedoms,” said Hafsa Kanjwal, a Kashmiri American assistant professor of South Asian history at Lafayette College. “Kashmir is linked to movements for self-determination and people’s rights and democracy, which these Gulf countries, and Israel, are very much against and very much wary of,”
Bahrain, rocked in recent years by Arab Spring protests, reported that a number of people were arrested after South Asian residents held a protest there in support of Kashmir and against India after Sunday’s Muslim prayers for the Eid al-Adha holiday.

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