Fortnightly Review and Analysis: Iran, West Asia, Eurasia, Central Asian Republics (CAR) & Africa (Vol 2 Issue X)

May 16-31, 2017

West Asia

UAE Blames India for Violating its Sovereignty and Declining Remittances with the e-Migrate Scheme

The e-Migrate scheme is a flagship programme for Indian workers abroad by President Modi and his government. However, recently, the UAE Ambassador to India, Ahmed al- Banna, said in an interview given to The Hindu that the scheme is “intrusive” and violates the sovereignty of UAE. He claimed that India wants to build a data base to exact information about UAE based companies. He also demanded that India should stop inspecting the premises of UAE companies to gather information about them since only the UAE government or concerned ministry is allowed to collect. The report also highlighted the declining remittance from Indian workers in the Gulf. It further stated that the decline was due to the India’s decision to put in more protective measures for its labor force through e-Migrate scheme launched in 2015 and a system of Minimum Referral Wages (MRW) in 2014, which has made Indian labour much more difficult to employ. India has mostly lost to Bangladesh that has increased its share of the labour output to the Gulf.

A Delegation Level Meeting Held between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Palestinian President Abbas on 16 May 2017

During President Abbas’s visit to India, Prime Minister Modi extended his unwavering support to the Palestinian cause - realisation of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, co-existing with Israel - and had an extensive exchange on the situation in West Asia and the Middle East peace progress. He spoke of the challenges in West Asia and said that these must be addressed through sustained political dialogue and that India hopes for early resumption of talk between Palestine and Israel to find a comprehensive solution. He further said that India is committed to being a partner and extend practical cooperation to building the Palestinian economy and the lives of the people, developing the capacity building efforts of Palestinians, reaffirmation of our intent to strengthen cooperation in the area of youth and skill development. He also introduced a flagship techno-power projects in Ramalla (IT hub for all IT related training and services) and cultural exchanges (like Yoga) to further strengthen our bilateral ties.

President Abbas, on the other hand, called India and a friendly state, acknowledged its support for Palestine at international forums, and hoped that the two states can work together in building a peaceful state of Palestine, develop a peace agreement with Israel, and sort India’s help in building Palestinian institution based on rule of law, and strengthen its economy.
During the visit, five documents were exchanged. These documents are as follows:

1. MoU on visa exemption on diplomatic passport,
2. MoU agricultural cooperation,
3. Agreement on IT and Electronics,
4. Cooperation in the health sector,
5. Cooperation in the field of youth affairs and sports.

This visit is a timely affair, given that Prime Minister Modi is currently preparing for his visit to Israel.

President Donald Trump’s Visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

President Trump visited Saudi Arabia on 20 May 2017. During the visit, he addressed a gathering of the head of the Muslim states at the Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh. It announced the creation of a joint “Terrorist Financing Targeting Centre” to counter threats emanating from terror financing.

In the Joint statement that came out between US and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it was stated that the two sides agreed on a new strategic partnership by announcing a Joint Strategic Vision for both the countries. It also announced a plan to form a Strategic Joint Consultation Group hosted by both the sides in order to address the threats to their shared security interests and desire to expand cooperation. The joint statement also stressed the importance of investment in energy by companies in both the countries, ensure stability of the markets and abundance of supplies, their combined effort to eliminate terrorism and extremism -- Daesh, Al- Qaeda and other terrorist organisations.

President Trump also spoke about the need to contain Iran, a ‘malign force’ interfering in the internal affairs of other states, instigating external strife, supporting terrorism and armed proxies and destabilising the region. On the other hand, the Kingdom stressed support for President Trump’s decision to launch missiles at Shayrat Airbase from which the Syrian regime launched its chemical attacks on Khan Shaykhun.

The United States also sealed an arms deal worth 110 billion dollars. A newspaper quoted a White House official that a preliminary deal worth $ 6 billion to assemble 150 Lockheed Martin Blackhawk helicopters in Saudi Arabia was separately announced at the Saudi-US CEO Forum held in Riyadh during Trump’s visit. That newspaper report also quoted that the programme to “support the final assembly and completion of an estimated 150 S-70 Black Hawk utility helicopters” will support around 450 jobs in the kingdom.

President Trump’s Visit to Israel and Bethlehem

After Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, he paid a visit to Israel and was greeted by Prime Minister Netanyahu. In the joint statement that came out, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that he appreciates US change in policy towards Iran, acting against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, renewed US leadership in the region. He also mentioned his meeting with Arab members in Riyadh. The rise of ISIS, Iran’s regional ambition, peace and security in the region and a peaceful Israel, which included peace between Israel and Palestine, were in the top of the agenda. They also agreed on strong economic and strategic ties and President Trump acknowledged Israel as a great ally, more than a mere friend.

President Trump then went to Bethlehem to meet President Mahmoud Abbas. President Abbas during the meeting said that Palestine is ready to cooperate with the US President to forge a peace deal with Israel. He said that the Palestinian position involves accepting the two-state solution with borders of 1967 - the state of Palestine with its capital at East Jerusalem, living alongside the state of Israel in peace and security and good neighbourlyhood. He also spoke of resolving the entire final status issues based on international law and long-term resolutions, respecting the side agreements to set the tone for the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative, in accordance with what has been reaffirmed in the most recent Arab Summit in Jordan.

President Trump, on the other hand, focused on the issues of terrorism and extremism, his commitment and intent to the establishment of peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. He also touched upon the issue of Palestinian economy and its potential and said that US is looking forward to working towards rebuilding Palestinian economy and counterterrorism efforts.

Presidential Elections in Iran

On 19 May 2017, Iranians voted in their country’s first Presidential election since 2015, after the nuclear deal agreement. The total voter turn-out was 73 percent of which Hassan Rouhani, a reformer, won 57 percent while his competitor, Ebrahim Raisi, an Islamic hard liner, secured 39 percent of the total votes. He was also touted as a frontrunner to succeed Khamenei.

CAR

Central Asian Leaders Participate in the Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh

The Arab-Islamic-American Summit was held in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh on May 21. The summit was attended by several heads of states from the Islamic world, and the US President Donald Trump. Major focus of the Riyadh Summit was on cooperation between the US and the Muslim-majority countries in combating terrorism and extremism.

All five Central Asian Republics (CARs) sent delegations to participate in the event. Three heads of states from Central Asia, namely President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan attended the summit. Apart from participating in the proceedings of the event, the three also held bilateral talks with each other, and with other important leaders from world over, including US President Donald Trump, Saudi King Salman, Egyptian president el-Sisi, Afghani President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

CARs have been affected by extremism and radicalization ever since their independence in 1991. Their close proximity with the Af-Pak region has made these countries more vulnerable. During the summit, Central Asian leaders reiterated the need for consorted effort in tackling the menace of terrorism. They also called for international cooperation in building peace in Afghanistan, as security and stability in Central Asia is intrinsically linked with the situation in Afghanistan.

Mirziyoyev visits Turkmenistan

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan paid a working visit to Turkmenistan on May 19-20. This was Mirziyoyev’s second visit to the neighboring country in less than three months. His first visit was on March 6-7, when the two countries signed an agreement on strategic cooperation. Such frequent visits by the Uzbek president testify the mutual interest of both countries in building up effective cooperation.

President Mirziyoyev and the President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov held one-on-one meeting in the Caspian city of Awaza. The two leaders discussed the pace of development of bilateral cooperation in the trade-economic, energy, transport-communication, environment, science and humanitarian spheres. Couple of agreements were signed after the meeting, including Agreement on Cooperation on environmental protection and sustainable development, and a Memorandum on Cooperation in air communication. The two also signed the Protocol on Cooperation in sports and participation of Uzbek sportsmen in the V Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, which are going to be held in September in Ashgabat.

Highlight of the visit was the MoU on transit and transmission of electricity, which will enable Turkmenistan to transfer electricity to Kyrgyzstan through Uzbekistan. This is an important step forward in the direction of regional cooperation. Since coming to power, President Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan has been trying to enhance relationship with other CARs. His two visits to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan each, resuming of flights between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan after the lapse of 25 years, and agreements of improving trade and connectivity with the neighboring states are seen as testimony to such efforts.

CIS Prime Ministers Meet in Kazan

Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Council of Heads of Governments meeting was held in the Russian city of Kazan on May 25-26. Prime ministers of five CARs took part in the meeting, along with their counterparts from 6 other post-Soviet countries. CIS is considered to be a key body in the Eurasian region, with prime emphasis on issues of regional security, tackling cross-border crime, and enhancing trade and cooperation.

During the meeting, prime ministers of the CIS countries exchanged views on topical issues of strengthening regional security and stability, and deepening trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation. They signed a number of documents including, the action plan for the interstate program of CIS countries’ innovation cooperation up till the year 2020 and a comprehensive action plan for implementation of the CIS program of priority measures under the transport safety strategy in 2017-2019. Agreements were also signed to regulate cooperation in radio navigation, the fight against the manufacturing and distribution of counterfeit goods, intellectual property protection, and so on.

India’s Engagements in Central Asia

India considers Central Asia as its extended neighborhood and a geo-politically significant region. Under the current regime, India’s interactions with the CARs have risen considerably. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to all five CARs in July 2015, and India’s planned accession to Shanghai Cooperation Organization are important milestones in this direction. Couple of events in the last fortnight highlight significance of CARs for India.

Indian Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman paid a visit to Uzbekistan on May 28-29. She led a business delegation for the meeting of Indo-Uzbek Intergovernmental Commission on trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation. Both sides also hold a joint business forum in Tashkent. This visit signified that Uzbekistan is an important market for India, especially in pharmaceuticals, textiles and IT, and an attractive destination for investments.

Indian deputy National Security Adviser Arvind Gupta went to Ashgabat on May 30, to hold a meeting with the officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan. The two sides discussed issues like bilateral relations, extremism and terrorism, migration, drug trafficking, and regional security and stability. Major focus was on partnership in the energy and fuel sector, where development of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline was also discussed. Turkmenistan is extremely important for India, pertaining to energy exports and connectivity.

Lastly, Uzbekistan Senate has approved appointment of a new head for country’s diplomatic mission in India. Farhod Arziyev, who has previously worked as an adviser in the Uzbek Embassy in Germany, has been appointed the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Uzbekistan in India. Uzbek diplomatic mission in New Delhi is currently headed by charge d’affaires Mr. Aslam Akbarov.

Africa

AFDB Annual Meeting – Vision Document for the Proposed “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) Unveiled in Gujarat.

The 52nd Annual Meetings of the Board of Governors of the African Development Bank Group (AFDB) ended on a high note in Ahemdabad, on 26th May 2017. The meetings were preceded by high-level meetings, symposiums and seminars on the bank’s top five priorities, which include – ‘light up and power Africa’, ‘Feed Africa’, ‘industrialize Africa’’, ‘integrate Africa’ and ‘improve the quality of life for the people of Africa’. Further, the Bank signed series of project funding agreements and memorandums of understanding many countries particularly in the areas of Agriculture and energy. The meeting also applauded the bank’s role in the New Deal for Energy in Africa, which aims at providing millions of households with electricity by 2025.

The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) supported by Japan and India was also unveiled on this meet. The vision document has been prepared jointly by three agencies, namely: (i) The Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) New Delhi; (ii) The Economic Research Institute for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and East Asia (ERIA) Jakarta; and (iii) Institute of Developing Economies Japan External Trade Organisation (IDE-JETRO), Tokya.

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, attended the inaugural of the annual meetings and he pushed for AAGC, a pitch coming days after China's ambitious One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative taking off. The AAGC is a roadmap of opportunities and aspirations in Asia and Africa, launched with a perceptive that it will give priorities to developmental projects in health and pharmaceuticals, agriculture and agro processing, disaster management and skill enhancement.

China to Build Congo's New Parliament worth €50 Million for Free

China has decided to build a new Parliament for Republic of Congo. The estimated cost would be €50 million, which the Chinese government is giving as a gift to Congo. According to the authorities of both countries, the building will be fully-funded as a donation from the Chinese government to the Congolese government. The construction has been entrusted to the Chinese Jiangsu Provincial Construction Ltd. The construction is scheduled for a period of forty months. The project will help in opening the capital city to modernisation. This will be one of the biggest cooperation projects carried out by China in sub-Saharan Africa in the form of a gift. The investments on the continent are widely believed to be in exchange for other resources that the respective countries have, in the case of Congo oil and timber.

Ethiopia Overtakes Kenya as Economic Giant of East Africa

Ethiopia has officially surpassed Kenya as East Africa’s economic giant. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) figures shows that Ethiopia’s annual economic output for the present year was expected to hit $78 billion from $72 billion recorded last year. In monetary terms, Ethiopia has opened a gap of about $29 million over Kenya. Recently, Ethiopia has also become a destination of choice for particularly Chinese investors. The latest IMF report released in 2017, shows that the non-resource-intensive countries like the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya and Senegal continued to grow robustly, benefiting from strong domestic demand and high levels of public spending, though in some cases, growth eased from 2015. Another factor, believed to be driving the economy is the country’s large population that is almost double that of Kenya.

Ethiopia’s economy since 2015 has been on an upward trajectory since the government moved to modernise its roads, railway and power plants. The country has also decided to have Africa’s biggest hydroelectric dam upon the completion of work on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia is now connected with Red Sea port nation of Djibouti via an electric railway that was launched last October. Recently, the country has also announced huge profits in the area of power supply to neighbouring countries including Sudan and Djibouti. They have also signed agreements to supply Tanzania and Kenya with power as generation capacity increases. Even though landlocked, the country continues to make giant strides in trying to industrialize.

Equatorial Guinea Becomes the Latest OPEC Member

Equatorial Guinea has become the 14th member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The country is Africa’s third biggest oil producer which has become the sixth country from the continent to join OPEC. The OPEC President, Khalid al-Falih, officially welcomed Equatorial Guinea’s Mines and Hydrocarbons minister, Gabriel Obiang to the group at the 172nd OPEC meeting in Vienna. The OPEC members, Russia and other oil producers last year in December agreed to cut production by 1.8 million barrels per day for 6 months beginning January 1st, 2017. According to Saudi Arabia the proposal to extend the cuts would help in reaching the five-year balance needed by the first quarter of 2018. Equatorial Guinea which first expressed interest in joining OPEC in 2009, was among 10 non-cartel members who last December pledged to reduce oil production by nearly 600,000 barrels per day. It has since maintained oil output levels at roughly 200,000 barrels per day since making the pledge.