India shares strong commercial, strategic and cultural relations with the tiny island nation of Bahrain based on historical ties, bilateral trade and people-to-people contacts. Though small in size, the kingdom, strategically located in the southwest of the Gulf, holds the key for regional security and stability. Bahrain is also the pioneer of the Arab Gulf model of development. India has always maintained strong diplomatic and commercial relations with Bahrain. In addition to the bilateral trade in petroleum and other commodities, the kingdom is host to nearly 300,000 Indian expatriates who have contributed to the economic development and have enjoyed cordial relations with the local communities.
The bilateral relations have reached new heights under Prime Minister Narendra Modi who in August 2019 became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the island nation. In recognition of his efforts to promote bilateral relations between India and Bahrain, the Prime Minister was conferred the Bahrain Order – First Class by King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa. During the visit, the two sides signed four MoUs including for cooperation between ISRO and Bahraini National Space and Science Agency (NSSA) and for Bahraini collaboration with the International Solar Alliance (ISA). These have further strengthened the bilateral relations.
India and Bahrain have also committed to cooperate in the fight against COVID-19. Prime Minister Modi and King Hamad held telephonic conversation in April 2020 and “agreed that their officials would remain in regular touch and ensure all possible support to each other for dealing with the challenges of COVID-19.” Bahrain was also among the first batch of countries to which India cleared export of hydroxychloroquine to help in the fight against the pandemic.
The External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar chose to undertake a visit to Bahrain this wek. This is among the few bilateral visits, the External Affairs Ministr has taken in recent months as international travels and meetings have been disrupted by COVID-19. Significantly, this is also the first visit of Dr. Jaishankar to Bahrain as External Affairs Minister though he is no stranger to anchoring the ties with the Arab Gulf states during his long career in diplomacy.
The two-day visit is significant for a variety of reasons. It will help strengthen bilateral relations, especially as the world prepares to effectively fight the COVID-19 pandemic, recover from the economic blows it has landed on the nations and to prepare for a post-COVID challenges. During the discussions with his Bahraini counterpart Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, the two sides agreed to “further strengthen the historic India-Bahrain ties including in areas of defence and maritime security, space technology, trade and investment, infrastructure, IT, FinTech, health, hydrocarbon and renewable energy.” Dr. Jaishankar also invited the Foreign Minister of Bahrain to visit New Delhi to participate in the third India-Bahrain High Joint Commission meeting to be held in the coming months.
The visit is expected to help India further its growing partnership with the Gulf region amidst changing regional and international order. The decision of Bahrain and the UAE to normalize relations with Israel, which was welcomed by India, is an important regional development. New Delhi is conscious of the changing regional dynamics and supports the movement towards regional security and stability.
The External Affairs Minister also called on Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Deputy Supreme Commander and Prime Minister of the kingdom and conveyed sincere condolences on the sad demise of former Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa recalling his contribution in “strengthening India-Bahrain relations and for the welfare of the Indian community in Bahrain.” During the visit, the EAM also held a virtual meeting with the leaders of the Indian community in Bahrain and visited the 200 years old Shreenathji (Shree Krishna) temple in Manama that stands testimony to the historical ties and the friendly people-to-people contact between India and Bahrain.
India and Bahrain share friendly ties based on millennia of historical contacts, trade, economic and diplomatic relations, and a growing political, security and defense cooperation. The two countries have a shared vision for regional and global peace and prosperity and the visit of Dr. Jaishankar would enhance the bilateral ties. It also sets the tone for further strengthening cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
Script: Dr. Mohd. Muddassir Quamar, Strategic Analyst on Middle East