Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India needs to change the framework of non-involvement


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Peace in the Middle East

Realignment of relations is taking place in the Middle East with wider implications for the future of the region. India needs to reconsider its framework based on the non-involvement.

Recent geopolitical developments

  • India-China tensions have soared over the border issue.
  • The Afghan peace process is underway with the first direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban insurgents at Doha, in Qatar.
  • The normalisation of the relations between Israel and Arab countries began with the UAE and Bahrain normalising the relations.

Issues with the development

  • The chances of failure in Afghanistan are real.
  • The momentum behind the normalisation of ties between Israel and the Gulf kingdoms, may not necessarily lead to broader peace in the Middle East.
  • The US initiatives in Afghanistan and Arabia are driven by President Donald Trump’s quest for diplomatic victories.

Why it matters to India

1) The vulnerability of the peace process

  • Because of competing interests, the peace process in Afghanistan and the Middle East remain vulnerable.
  • The unfolding dynamic will alter the geopolitical landscape in both places.
  • Whether peace breaks out in Afghanistan or not, the Taliban is here to stay.
  • As UAE and Bahrain join Egypt and Jordan in having formal relationships with Israel, the contradiction between Arabs and Israelis is no longer the dominant one in the region.

2) India should recognise the importance of Arabia

  •  India’s strategic community tends to take too narrow a view of the Arabian salience.
  • The focus is mostly on ensuring oil supplies, promoting manpower exports, and managing the Pakistan problem.
  • We should consider that the Afghan peace talks are taking place in Qatar, a tiny Gulf Kingdom.
  • The UAE and Saudi Arabia were the only countries to recognise the Taliban government in the late 1990s.
  • This time around, they appear to have taken a backseat.
  • Delhi will need to pay more attention to the unfolding realignments between the Arabs and non-Arab states like Iran, Turkey and Israel.

3) Paradox of American power

  • The U.S. is being seen as a declining power in the matters of the Middle East and Afghanistan.
  •  But the reality remains that the US is the one forcing a change in both the places.

4) Implications of strategic vacuum created by the U.S. exit

  • As the US steps back from the region, the resulting strategic vacuum is likely to be filled by Russia and China.
  • Russia and China are quite active in both the Middle East and Afghanistan.
  •  China’s future role in Afghanistan, in partnership with Pakistan, could be quite significant and will be of some concern for India.
  • Regional powers have already acquired much say in the new geopolitics of the Middle East.
  • Qatar and UAE punch way above their weight, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are locked in a major contest for regional influence.

5) Domestic politics in the country

  • Religious radicalism, sectarian and ethnic divisions, and the clamour for more representative governments are sharpening conflicts within and between countries.
  • The collapse of the oil market is undermining the region’s economic fortunes.
  • Collapsing oil market is also making it harder for political elites to address the emerging political challenges.

Consider the question “Middle East is going through the major realignment of relations. What are its implications for India?.


As the old order begins to crumble in the greater Middle East, the question is no longer whether India should join the geopolitical jousting there; but when, how and in partnership with whom.

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