IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

India’s geopolitical interests are in close alignment with moderate Arab centre  

18th August, 2020 International Relations

Context: The geopolitical realignment in the Middle East, marked by last week’s agreement on the normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, intersects with the equally significant reorientation of the Subcontinent’s relationship with the region. As Pakistan rediscovers its tradition of aligning with non-Arab powers, India must renew its defence of Arab sovereignty.



  • If India welcomed the decision by Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, Pakistan was ambivalent and merely “noted” the move and its foreign office pointed to the “far-reaching” (negative) implications.
  • The difference in the Indian and Pakistani statements can be explained by the fact that Delhi has diplomatic ties with Israel and Islamabad does not. However, there is a lot more to this story.
  • Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the engagement with the Arab Gulf has become deeper.
  • The last six years have also coincided with a significant deterioration of Pakistan’s relations with the region, especially with the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
  • Pakistan has been angry with UAE’s invitation to India to address the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in early 2019 and the reluctance of Saudi Arabia to convene a meeting to condemn Indian actions in Kashmir last August.


Changing Relations:

  • Here is the essence of the emerging contradiction between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the one hand and Pakistan on the other.
  • Saudis and Emiratis see sharpening existential threats to their kingdoms from both the Sunni Muslim brotherhood backed by Turkey and Shiite Iran’s regional expansionism.
  • On the other hand, Pakistan appears to be dreaming of a new regional alliance with Turkey and Iran.
  • Pakistan is also betting that a rising China and an assertive Russia will both support this new geopolitical formation as part of their own efforts to oust America from the Middle East.
  • The idea of such an alliance was publicly articulated by Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan earlier this year and found much political resonance in Islamabad.
  • The idea runs counter to Delhi’s conventional wisdom that Pakistan and Gulf Arabs are joined at the hip. However, the idea of a non-Arab alliance, backed by outside powers, has some lineage in Pakistan’s foreign policy.


Non-Arab Alliance:

  • Pakistan enthusiastically embraced the Baghdad Pact that the British stitched together with Iran, Iraq and Turkey in 1955. The Pact had to be renamed CENTO (Central Treaty Organisation) once Iraq, the only Arab member, walked out in 1958.
  • Turkey, Iran and Pakistan formed an economic adjunct to the CENTO called the RCD (Regional Cooperation for Development). Both were wound up in 1979 soon after Iran’s Islamic Revolution.
  • Iran, Turkey and Pakistan gathered again to form the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) in 1985 and after the collapse of the Soviet Union; they brought in the newly independent Central Asian Republics.
  • For Turkey and Iran, the new non-Arab alliance backed by Russia and China is an instrument to advance their role in the Arab world at the expense of the Saudis.


Why Pakistan is up for new alliance:

  • Islamabad is probably betting that America is on its way out of the Middle East, and that its all-weather strategic partnership with a rising China would give Pakistan new leverage in the changing Middle East.
  • In the interim, the threat to align with Turkey and Iran serves as an instrument to put pressure on the Saudis and Emiratis.
  • Whatever might be the finesse that General Bajwa might come up with, Delhi must go back to the deepest source of regional policy — unflinching support for Arab sovereignty. That, in turn, expresses itself in five principles.


Way Forward:

  • First, resist the temptation of telling the Arabs what is good for them. Support their efforts to reconcile with non-Arab neighbours, including Israel, Turkey and Iran.
  • Second, oppose foreign interventions in the Arab world. In the past, those came from the West and Israel. Today, most Arabs see the greatest threat to their security from Turkish and Iranian interventions.
  • Third, extend support to Arab economic integration, intra-Arab political reconciliation and the strengthening of regional institutions.
  • Fourth, recognise that India’s geopolitical interests are in close alignment with those in the moderate Arab Centre — including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.
  • Fifth, India cannot be passive amidst the unfolding geopolitical realignment in West Asia. Some members of the incipient alliance — Turkey, Malaysia and China — have been the most vocal in challenging India’s territorial sovereignty in Kashmir.