Explained: India’s New Engagement in Middle East


Recently, the geopolitical realignment in the Middle East marked by the agreement on the normalisation of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel intersects with the equally significant reorientation of the India’s relationship with the region.

Historical Background of India’s relation with Middle East

  • India has historical ties with West Asia going back to the tie of Indus Valley civilization, when trade in turquoise, copper and spices were common.
  • West Asia acted as a land bridge to Asia, Afghanistan, and Europe and was strategically located with links to the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and access to Arabian Sea.
  • India, at the UN, during the deliberations of UN special commission on Palestine (UNSCOP), opposed the idea of partitioning Palestine and supported the minority plan.
  • After India became independent, India followed a two-point policy in West Asia which politically supported the Arabs and enhanced support to their leaders who focused on secularism and socialism.

Importance of Middle East to India

  • Surveillance over the neighbouring countries:  India has successfully entered into the Pakistani space and has taken advantage of the region to promote its national interests.
  • India’s Maritime Interests in the Gulf: The Gulf region of West Asia has also emerged as Indian Navy’s primary area of maritime interests.
  • India’s Look West Policy: The Look West Policy of the Indian Government has outlined the need to enhance India’s economic integration with West Asia.
  • India’s Energy Security Needs: The West Asia is region of crude oil and the region has provided oil to India for its energy security demand.
  • Socio-cultural significance of West Asia: The millions of Indian immigrants in the Arab nations, massive hard currency remittances from them, and the density of commercial engagement with the Arab Gulf indicate a strong cultural relation between India and Arab World.
  • Support from Arab world in countering Terrorism: The UAE and Saudi Arabia have extended invaluable support in countering terrorism and blocked attempts to condemn India in the Muslim world.

Importance of India to West Asia

  • Potential of Asian Market for West Asia: The West Asian states are looking at Asian markets for oil and also as a security guarantee in the region because of the fiscal stress caused to West Asian states by Trans-Atlantic markets.
  • India and China as reliable Defence Partners: The West Asian states prefer India and China as reliable interlocutors than Global West which has led to a new form of defence partnership between India and Gulf.
    • The India-UAE and India and Saudi Arabia defence diplomacy is a mutual policy based on look at each other policy.
  • Look India Policy for West Asia: As terrorism, instability, falling oil prices and sectarianism destabilize the Islamic world; India seems to be the best hedge for West Asia.

India’s New Engagement in West Asia

  • India to support reconciliation efforts of Arabs: India must resist the temptation of telling the Arabs what is good for them and support the efforts to reconcile with non-Arab neighbours, including Israel, Turkey and Iran.
  • India should oppose foreign interventions in the Arab world as most Arabs see the greatest threat to their security from Turkish and Iranian interventions.
  • Economic Support to Arab World: India should extend support to Arab economic integration, intra-Arab political reconciliation and the strengthening of regional institutions.
  • Geopolitical Interests of India aligned with Moderate Arab World: It should be recognised that India’s geopolitical interests are in close alignment with those in the moderate Arab Centre, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.

Way Forward

  • Under the Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia intends to increase non-oil revenues, employ fewer foreigners and more locals and position itself as a global investment powerhouse.
    • India can leverage this investment potential under Make in India to kick start the manufacturing revolution in India.
    • If oil prices remains low, India can divert the surplus resources it is saving in the oil import to spur economic development.
  • The standing up for Arab sovereignty and opposing the forces of regional destabilisation must be at the very heart of India’s new engagement with the Middle East.

Source:  The Indian Express

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