Home/ News / World/  'Arab capitals’ ties with Delhi will overshadow China’s West Asian ties'

India’s outreach to West Asia particularly to the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia is allowing India to become a “kingmaker" in Eurasia, according to strategic thinker Mohammed Soliman. In an age of increasing global disorder, India’s West Asia outreach in recent months is an effort to bridge the divide between the Middle East and South Asia to guarantee stability, argues Soliman.

India and West Asia have been drawing together in reticent years. We saw the launch of I2U2, the India-UAE FTA, and the visit of the Egyptian President for Republic Day. What is bringing about this convergence?

Because I was born in Cairo, I have a mental map that centers Asia, rather than Europe, in my geopolitical thinking. This map is the result of extensive shared history between the littoral states of West Asia—from Egypt and Oman to Tanzania, India, and Indonesia. This is why I believe that the traditional definition of the Middle East fails to capture the pre-British history of West Asia, which included expansive political, economic, cultural, and religious networks that were the pillars of a West Asian system expanding from Delhi to Cairo. In my Indo-Abrahamic framework, West Asia is bound for more economic and geopolitical integration due to its geography, demography, and trade and energy ties, as well as the intensive regional and global rivalries. Thus, West Asia is a geopolitical system that will continue cohering through these intensive cycles of cooperation and conflict. In order to secure this envisioned and integrated West Asian system, West Asian countries and people must be free to make their own choices without solely relying on the U.S. to provide security or worry about violent intrusion from other countries or regional powers. The Indo-Abrahamic framework changes the status of the U.S. from a security guarantor to a security and defense partner, allowing Washington to do more with less in the region.

Beyond economic cooperation, what is the strategic rationale of the I2U2?

The Middle East has been an unstable region as a consequence of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Syrian Civil War, which made Eurasian powers— Turkey and Iran— capable of projecting power beyond their traditional spheres of influence. To restore the balance of power in the Middle East, we should redraw the borders of the region by bringing South Asia and the traditional Middle East together into West Asia. In West Asia, Iran and Turkey are not on the periphery of the region, unlike India and, to some extent, France. In short, a West Asian geopolitical map is the way forward for a stable balance of power.

How do the traditional Middle East powers see India’s role in West Asia and globally?

India is moving to the center of global geopolitics by virtue of its geography, demography, economy, and civilization; eventually, this will enable Delhi as the kingmaker of the Eurasian chessboard. In this era of great power competition on the Eurasian landmass, the status quo and major revisionist powers are vying for India’s backing in either upholding the current world order or altering it per their own vision. Delhi is likely to take a more assertive role in setting the rules and agenda for this new global disorder. Consequently, from the Arab capitals‘ standpoint, a partnership with Delhi is the best-case scenario in an era of great power competition and the possibility of two major wars in Europe and the Indo-Pacific.

India, UAE, and France have recently unveiled a new trilateral partnership. What is the strategic significance of the same?

In my opinion, the France-UAE-India trilateral format reflects the rise of overlapping trilateral and quadrilateral formats emerging between the littoral states of Eurasia. The France-UAE-India trilateral format, I2U2, QUAD, AUKUS, and others aim to deal with the global disorder and the return of great power competition through the bolstering of collective security in the maritime space from the Mediterranean to the Indo-Pacific.

France, the UAE, and India recognize the economic and connectivity centrality of the Indian Ocean, as well as it being at the front and center in the balance of power in Asia as a gateway to the Indo-Pacific in terms of energy and trade ties. This makes the Indian Ocean a decisive theater in this era of great power competition. Furthermore, by looking at the Indian Ocean as a gateway to the Indo-Pacific, Paris, Abu Dhabi, and Delhi are linking West Asia with the Indo-Pacific, which builds an overarching Asian geopolitical order in the long term.

How should Saudi Arabia fit into India’s West Asia strategy? There has been a perception that the relationship is largely limited to energy.

Saudi Arabia regards India as a viable economic and geopolitical partner as Riyadh seeks strategic autonomy and aspires to establish itself as a G20 middle power in this new era of great power competition. The formation of a West Asian order that ensures long-term peace and security depends on Saudi Arabia and India aligning themselves with the Indo-Abrahamic framework.

In areas such as trade and investment, immigration and culture, technology and finance, and defence and maritime security, Saudi Arabia and India have a lot of untapped potential. Riyadh and Delhi also have room to work more closely together on defining regional and global agendas. As global disorder looks set to persist in the years to come, Middle and regional powers like Saudi Arabia and India appear ready to play a greater role in defining their own destinies as well as the destinies of their regions.

How does China fit into India’s policy on West Asia?

China has always tried to make inroads in West Asia; however, its West Asia strategy is complicated by its “friends with everyone" foreign policy, which is interpreted in Riyadh, Cairo, and Tehran as a “friends with no one" approach. Furthermore, given China’s intensified competition with India, a West Asian power, and the US, a resident power in West Asia, Beijing will favor a foreign policy doctrine that seeks influence without a traditional military footprint but centers emerging technologies to its West Asia strategy. For their part, India and Arab nations–mainly Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE– are gradually elevating their diplomatic, economic, defense, and security ties to the strategic partnership level. In my view, for the long term, Arab capitals’ ties with Delhi will become an indispensable strategic asset for both sides and will overshadow China’s West Asian ties.


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Updated: 14 Feb 2023, 12:51 PM IST
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