Multipolarity and Connectivity
Silk Road vs Spice Route: India in the Middle East

The Middle Eastern leaders do not consider India either as a potential counterweight to Washington or as a replacement for it; China is better suited for this role. Middle Eastern leaders are ready to develop their economic ties with India, but in spite of its size, India will not take the place of the United States, Russia, China or the EU, Ruslan Mamedov writes.

One of the key crises in the Middle East and world politics, the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, has seriously affected India’s plans. India’s growing activity in the region over the past decade is increasingly colliding with reality: one of conflicts and opposing interests, pragmatic and stringent policymaking.

Indian foreign policy in the Middle East (the region is called West Asia in India), has conventionally been grounded in a policy of non-alignment, the desire to prevent rapprochement between Pakistan and Middle Eastern states, and the promotion of stable oil supplies from the region. In West Asia, for a decade, India has maintained a balanced approach towards the Iran-Saudi competition, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Syria and other crises. The 21st century has made its own adjustments to India’s strategy regarding West Asia. The basic tenets of Indian policy still remain, but several factors have significantly influenced India’s activity in the region.

First, India’s greater role in the Middle Eastern affairs was welcomed by the United States. Since the Obama presidency, the United States’ key focus has been both a “pivot to Asia” and stopping the threat posed by China, therefore Washington has sought to “rely” on regional and extra-regional partners. Since Washington and Islamabad were at odds, India was perfectly suited in this regard to compete with China and support the preservation of American interests in the region.

Second, India has its own vision of China’s growing role in Asia and can see the damage that China can cause to Indian interests. For India, the Middle East in this regard is an important element in countering Beijing’s plans for the Belt and Road project. China’s role in promoting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, as well as its role in the diplomatic rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia in 2023, not to mention the territorial problems of India and China, have only increased New Delhi’s wariness.

Third, India aims to develop economic ties with the region, other than its regular import of oil and gas from the Persian Gulf countries. Among the new initiatives is the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), which formally aims to increase connectivity, trade and sustainability among participating countries. In this regard, India’s aim is to become a global hub for world trade (from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Europe).

Wider Eurasia
Achievements and Potential of Economic Cooperation Between India and Russia
Prerna Gandhi
India today is the fastest-growing economy in the world, with a strong outlook of 7-8 per cent growth rates for the coming decade. Russia, despite having become the most sanctioned economy in the world, has shown uncommon resilience and returned to positive GDP growth.

Between multilateralism and minilateralism

A multipolar world is giving rise to competition in Asia, although Asian leaders are seeking to pursue a more sophisticated strategy than direct confrontation. For example, India in a best-case scenario expects to benefit from the US-China crisis. Building on its Indo-Pacific strategy, India entered into the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), which is considered an anti-Chinese bloc and includes the United States, Australia, India, and Japan. In the Middle East, India has become part of the I2U2 bloc (India, Israel, UAE, USA). The economic continuation of the I2U2 political group can be the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). This is New Delhi’s indirect response to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. Despite the fact that India is included in minilateral formats (where a small number of states interact on certain issues) promoted by the United States, New Delhi is also committed to maintaining and developing the multilateral formats.

India is developing a global mindset regarding global problems, maintaining its role as one of the leading powers in the multilateral BRICS and SCO organisations. In January 2024, three Arab states — Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt — also became members of BRICS, which India, as a major economic partner of these states (especially the Gulf states) welcomed. It is worth noting that New Delhi did not support the West in its anti-Russian policy or sanctions against Moscow.

The fact that India maintains productive relations with many states that are at odds or in conflict with the US speaks to New Delhi’s strategic decision-making autonomy.

However, regarding the Middle East, the Palestinian-Israeli escalation has frozen both the possibility of establishing Saudi-Israeli relations as well as hopes for the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). As for the Indian position on the Palestinian-Israeli track, it was received half-heartedly by both Israel and the Arab world. Following the October 2023 escalation, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made unprecedented pro-Israel comments condemning Hamas. However, India subsequently returned to a more balanced position, reiterating its support for a two-state solution and promising humanitarian assistance to Gaza. In any event, India’s Middle Eastern “adventures” did not end there.

It later became publicly known that eight retired Indian military who worked under a contract for the defence structures of Qatar were sentenced to death in this country for spying for Israel. The sentences were commuted, but detailed information is still not available in the media.

In late December 2023, a Japanese tanker linked to Israel was hit off the coast of India. The US blamed Iran, but Tehran dismissed such accusations.

Finding opportunities

At the official level, India bases its diplomacy on the motto “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (“One Earth, One Family, One Future”). This approach can be described as “multi-directional” — the search for positive connections, as well as opportunities for mutually beneficial development in the absence of any contradictions in this vision. West Asia in this regard is another important element of “one family.”

Whether India is able to make a major entry into the Middle East via the American route remains an open question. It is obvious that the Middle Eastern leaders do not consider India either as a potential counterweight to Washington or as a replacement for it; China is better suited for this role. Middle Eastern leaders are ready to develop their economic ties with India, but in spite of its size, India will not take the place of the United States, Russia, China or the EU. But is it worth it? Obviously, New Delhi has entered a multidirectional path in its relations with West Asia and is included in multilateral and minilateral formats. But the “path of spices” without “risk and spices” leads to a small “footpath”, while in parallel, the branched Belt and Road develops.

Modern Diplomacy
Russia and India: A Defining Relationship in Uncertain Times
Pawan Anand
Russia and India share a strategic relationship built on trust over a period of time. The current uncertain times call for strong efforts to retain this trust and build pathways to take forward the mutually beneficial relationship to a new level, writes Pawan Anand, a Distinguished Fellow with the USI of India, and a Mentor at the National Defence College.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.