Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Vying for influence over Kabul

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Importance of middle powers in Arab Gulf

Context

On December 19, Pakistan hosted a special session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to address the crisis in Afghanistan.

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and how regional countries are responding to it

  • The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is peaking with no basic amenities available for its population and a harsh winter ahead.
  • While Pakistan hosted the OIC, India played host to foreign ministers of Central Asian states where Afghanistan topped the agenda as well.
  • All the attending countries — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan — also OIC members, chose to prioritise deliberations with New Delhi.

Qatar’s growing influence in Afghanistan and implications for the region

  • Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Pakistan were the only three countries that had officially recognised the previous Taliban government in 1996, until its fall in 2001.
  • Fast forward to the 2010s, and it was the small but rich state of Qatar that became the mediating force on Afghanistan.
  • Doha hosted the official Taliban political office from 2013 to allow negotiations with the U.S.
  • Qatar’s new role on Afghanistan gave it significant diplomatic and political visibility the world over.
  • In West Asia, Qatar’s growing influence was causing unease in the traditional power centres in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, specifically on issues such as the Qatari leadership’s support for political Islam and organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fundamental changes

  • Economic blockade: In 2017 the UAE and Saudi Arabia initiated an economic blockade against Doha in the hope of reigning the Kingdom in and disallowing it from pursuing its geopolitical designs that were challenging the long-held power status quos.
  • This four-year long impasse ended in 2021.
  • These four years created fundamental changes within the larger Arab Gulf construct.
  • Qatar mitigated risk and moved closer towards Turkey and Iran.
  • Today, both Qatar and Turkey are bidding to operate a landlocked Afghanistan’s airports under the Taliban regime.
  • For the Gulf specifically, Qatar’s punching-above-its-weight approach in geopolitics was also making it more powerful and influential with Washington D.C.
  • To mitigate this, the Saudis played a central role during the recent OIC special session.
  •  They repaired their broken relationship with Pakistan.

Way forward for India

  • Over the past decade, India has recognised the importance of middle powers in the Arab Gulf to a fast-evolving global order, from fighting against terrorism to newer diplomacy challenges such as Afghanistan.

Conclusion

The Arab Gulf is poised to become an important player once again in Afghanistan under the shadow of the Taliban.

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