top of page

India must play a more active role in the Arab world; By Jai Kumar Verma

C3S Paper No. 0134/ 2015

The Arab world is experiencing drastic changes and the paramount transformation is in the security scenario. The United States is the most dominant military power in this unipolar world but other emerging regional powers like China and India can not be ignored. The world is becoming multipolar and economically China and India are becoming strong; the Gulf countries have also amassed huge affluence because of exploration of oil and gas.

So far the US was the main guarantor of security in the Arab Gulf region; however the US is now reluctant to provide security, hence there should be some power to fill the void. In view of the peaceful past of India, Gulf countries aspire that India should be ready to play a vigorous role in the region.

The Middle East is a very complex area. There are quite a few issues; the prominent issues are Shia-Sunni conflict, emergence of Islamic State, rising extremism/terrorism in the area, disagreements between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Iran, ideological differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran, continuous hostility between Israel and Palestine. Arab countries are also worried about India’s growing relationship with Israel. Hence India has to be careful, so that excellent relations with one should not become the reason for unpleasantness with others.

The rulers as well as masses of the Arab world feel that Western countries have poor opinion about the Muslim world and they view Muslims with suspicion. On the other hand India, which has the second largest Muslim population in the planet, is viewed as a peaceful country as it was never an aggressor.

India has close relations with the Arab world since ancient times; the contact was at all fields, including cultural, social, historical and trade. The cordial relations were at government as well as at people to people level. India was an ardent supporter of Palestinian cause since the beginning.

More than 6.5 million Indians are working in Arab countries and they remitted US$70 billion in 2012 alone. The Indian trade with the region was more than $205 billion in 2012-13.  Not only this, the region meets the major portion of India’s energy requirements.

Besides this, in view of the close proximity, India is deeply concerned about the developments in the region. In the last leg of 2010, the protests which started from Tunisia soon spread in the region and residents of several countries, especially Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, and Bahrain, staged demonstrations for more democratic rights and economic betterment.

India is also concerned about the rise of Islamic State (IS) in the region. IS is a Salafi terrorist organisation which controls large portions in Iraq and Syria and also controls some areas in Libya and Nigeria. IS has increased extremism and terrorism in the area and terrorists from all over the world are joining this wealthy terrorist outfit.

It is high time that India chalks out a detailed policy towards the Arab world. The dignitaries of both the countries must exchange visits and chalk out a result-oriented, pragmatic policy. India can also appoint a senior Foreign Service Officer as a special envoy for the region who can formulate a mutually beneficial policy.

India has outstanding relations with several countries of the region, including Palestine. Nonetheless after establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, the close defence ties between India and Israel bothered several countries of the Arab world. Israel has emerged as a major supplier of defence and agricultural equipment to India. Therefore India should reinforce bilateral ties in such a way that the Arab countries feel that India-Israel relationship is not against them and India is more close and friendly to them.

Bilateral relationship is important but India should also develop multilateral relationship through various pacts, including Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which is a political and economic alliance of 6 Middle Eastern countries, The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has a membership of 57 Muslim countries which protects the interest of Muslim world and Arab League which has membership of 22 Arab countries.

The Gulf countries have abundance of cash and India being a developing economy needs investments, hence India should launch an aggressive campaign to procure investments from the Gulf. India should identify the areas and if need be rules should also be made investor friendly. Besides this, India should include more items as well as more countries for export.

At present India purchases bulk of its energy from the region. However now India should start joint ventures in the energy field with the local companies of Middle Eastern countries. India has technical manpower and it can start joint ventures in natural gas, desalination plants, fertilizer, establishment of refineries, etc. India can also discuss about exchange programme like food for oil etc. as it will enhance interdependence to each other.

India should open cultural centers in the area; our foreign missions should spread the foreign policy of the country more aggressively. India should establish more educational institutions in the Arab world and there should be more exchange of scholars, foreign policy planners between India and countries of the region.

More than 6 million Indians reside in this volatile area hence India needs to devise a comprehensive plan to evacuate citizens of the country in the hour of need. Recently Indians from Egypt and Libya had to be withdrawn.

Unfortunately fundamentalism/extremism has increased in the region. Extremists from several countries including UK, USA, Pakistan, Afghanistan joined IS and are threatening to spread terrorism not only in the area but in the whole world. Large number of misguided Muslim youths from Pakistan, which is the epicenter of terrorism, have gone and joined the IS. When these jihadists return to Pakistan several of them will be sent to India, Afghanistan and other countries to spread terror.

Now the whole world including USA wants to have cordial relations with the Muslim world. The Muslim world should not be perceived as a source of problem or terrorism, but the world at large should identify the trouble spots in Muslim countries and try to resolve the problems. Terrorism is a major issue but very few countries like Pakistan and countries under the influence of Islamic State export terror worldwide.

Arab countries have to be dealt with independently as there are fundamental differences, diverse priorities and objectives between them. These countries will also not like to be treated under the “Islamic agenda”.  Hence India has to deal with every country as an independent entity.

In fact, Arab and Gulf countries must formulate a security alliance which should include Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The rise of Islamic State is bothering the whole world but the regional countries are the worst sufferers.

The conflict in the area has generated an arms race and as Iran is allegedly building nuclear capability a worried Saudi Arabia wanted to take help from nuclear Pakistan in procuring nuclear warheads. Increase in the number of countries having nuclear warheads is a very dangerous phenomena and it would jeopardize peace of the planet.

All the countries of the area as well as the Western world want the region must remain peaceful, stable and secure. However, for this first of all India must play an active role and there should be multilateral system which guarantees stability, peace and prosperity in the region which is full of contradictions and problems. The planners in India must remember that there cannot be a vacuum and if India will not act some other power, including China, may initiate action.

(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst. He can be contacted at

1 view0 comments


bottom of page