Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] India needs to remove growing negative perceptions of its domestic policies in the Muslim world


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India - Middle East - Islamic World


The Islamic summit last week raised many familiar questions about the role of religion in promoting solidarity between nations. It also reminded the answer that national interest often tends to trump shared faith. 

At the event

  • Malaysia, Turkey, and Qatar led the summit.
  • Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were absentees.
  • Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic nation, kept a low profile at the summit.
  • Pakistan’s prime minister dropped out at the last minute.
  • Mahathir Mohamad wanted to use the summit to increase his domestic room for manoeuvering and win a leadership role in the Muslim world.

The leadership of the Islamic world

  • Middle East – The real contestation for leading the Islamic world remains within the Middle East. Turkey and Iran have a long tradition of challenging the Saudi leadership of the Islamic world. Qatar has now joined their ranks.
  • Outside OIC – Saudi Arabia is not pleased with convening the Islamic nations outside the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. 
  • On OIC – Mahathir suggested that the OIC has not been an effective instrument in addressing the contemporary challenges facing the Islamic world.

Religion – people

  • Binding force – The idea that religion can bind people together has an enduring appeal. In practice, religion has not been enough to sustain unity within and among nations that profess a common faith. 
  • Islamic nations – Many countries in the Islamic world struggle to respect the rights of minorities, Muslim or non-Muslim, and cope with the problems of religious sectarianism and ethnic separatism.
  • Supranational identity – keeping the faithful together within a nation is hard. It is a lot harder to promote supra-national solidarity in the name of Islam.
  • Pan Islamism – The origins of pan Islamism date back to the late 19th century, but its record in binding nations has not been impressive.

Other means of solidarity

  • Ethnic solidarity – the same applies to ethnicity-based solidarity in the world. The pan-Arab and pan-Asian movements that stirred the world in the 20th century, are pale shadows of themselves. The decline of pan-Arabism has been evident. The idea of Asian solidarity endures. 
  • Asian solidarity – if we look beneath the rhetoric on “Asian solidarity”, we can find deep contradictions between China and India, and China and Japan.
  • Class or political values based solidarity has been difficult to sustain for long periods. The communist solidarity that seemed so powerful in the middle of the 20th century crashed quickly against the rocks of nationalism in Central Europe, Russia and China.
  • Political and economic liberalism was successful in holding together the so-called political and economic “West”. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became ever harder to sustain harmony within the western world.
  • Donald Trump appears determined to restructure the political-economic institutions built after World War II. Intra-Western contradictions shaped the world before the middle of the 20th century, and are becoming an important factor in the 21st century.
  • National interests – In all these cases, the tension between transcendental ideologies and narrow national interests have often been resolved in favor of the latter.

Splits in the Islamic world 

  • Political Islam – The main differences are about political Islam and its role in shaping the domestic structures in Muslim nations.
  • Different versionsTurkey and Qatar have championed the Muslim Brotherhood that seeks to overthrow the current political order in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, as well as in Egypt. Iran has its own variant of political Islam for export.
  • Domestic protection – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are protecting their own societies and state structures and are pushing back.
  • Strategic competition – Beyond the nature and role of Islam, there is also the growing competition among the major Middle Eastern states for strategic influence in the region and beyond.

South Asia – Islam

  • Monolith – In South Asia, the Muslim world is seen as a monolith. That has become difficult to maintain amidst the current conflicts in the Middle East.
  • Pakistan – Imran Khan was supposed to play a leading role at the Kuala Lumpur summit. But, under pressure from the Saudis and the Emiratis, he chose to stay away.
  • India – Malaysia, and Turkey have become critical of the NDA government’s policies. The UAE and the Saudis have given India the benefit of doubt. The Qatar-owned Al Jazeera channel has run a damaging campaign against Delhi.

Way ahead for India

  • Domestic policies – There is an urgent need to remove the growing negative perceptions of its domestic policies in the Middle East and in the Muslim world.
  • Otherwise, Delhi might be giving an opportunity to a divided world to disapprove of India’s domestic politics.
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments