THE MIDDLE EAST QUAD – WHAT’S IN FOR INDIA

Amid all the geopolitical churning going over in the middle east after the withdrawal of the United States of America from Afghanistan, a new little-noticed geo-strategic global alliance was taking shape. This was the foreign ministers virtual meet between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the U.S., joined by the Indian Foreign Minister Mr. S. Jaishankar. This emerging multilateral group may not only fill the vacuum created by the U.S. in the middle east but also is a strong manifestation of the changes in the West Asian geopolitics. Though the commentators are still shy of calling the new emerging bloc a Middle East ‘Quad’, it certainly points towards India’s strategic desire to adopt a regional foreign policy towards West Asia. The bloc, for now, is just a working group of foreign ministers and it may take a while to reach the intensity and purposefulness of its eastern counterpart (Indo Pacific Quad) before it can be called the Mid-East Quad.

The Foundation Stones

The grouping didn’t emerge out of anywhere, instead, there lie multiple factors that facilitated its origin. The primary factor behind the group’s formation was the common fear of both Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv from Ankara’s expansionist policy and its assertive claims for the leadership of the Islamic world. It created an incentive to normalize the relations between the Gulf Countries and Israel. This agreement was the Abraham Accords. Sponsored by the Trump administration, it was signed between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE in 2020 to normalize and establish diplomatic relations. It also paved the way for India to better its relations in the gulf. US forces withdrawal from Afghanistan and imminent withdrawal from Iraq means that regional players will have to corner larger responsibility in maintaining order in the region. The US is also seeming to be seeking to lower its role in the Middle East as part of its pivot to tackle the rise of China in East Asia.

Thirdly, the increasing Chinese influence also played a great role in shaping Middle East geopolitics. China has emerged as one of the largest customers of crude oil and other petrochemical resources of the Middle East especially after the shale revolution in the US which has made US energy self-sufficient. China has huge investments in the region and with a special focus on strengthening China-Iran relations. Thus, countering am assertive China seems to be the common goal of the new block. Fourthly, while China strives to better its relations with Iran, Both Israel and the Arab world see a resurgent Iran as a major challenge in the region. They want to together address the challenge of Iran’s growing strategic control in the Middle East Region.

The idea of THE Indo-Abrahamic Accord

The fifth and final reason may be said to be the idea to form an Indo-Abrahamic Accord. Amidst the reshaping of geopolitical order in West Asia going on due to the above-stated factors, India’s relations with the UAE and Israel gained momentum. Without wasting any further time Washington soon drew India into the new order. It was now on India to take full advantage of these normalized relations. All these factors lead to the initiation of what some started calling ‘New Quad in the Middle East’ involving the US, Israel, UAE, and India. It is now being seen as a new Security Architecture for the Middle East.

India’s Policy towards West Asia

West Asia has always held an important place in India’s foreign relations. Being an extended neighbour of India continued peace and stability in the region is of vital strategic interest to India. Apart from this, the Gulf States supply the bulk of India’s oil and natural gas, host large diasporas, promote trade and investment, and engage in security and intelligence cooperation. This led India to adopt the “Look West Policy.

Being a region in continuous turmoil, ensuring peace, stability and security of the Persian Gulf Region is of top priority for India. For this, India adopted the traditional diplomatic policy of “non-interference” in internal affairs. In line with this idea India has been pursuing the idea of ‘strategic autonomy‘ in the region with a strong emphasis on ‘Bilateralism’. Thus, one of the gains of India’s foreign policy has been non-ideological engagement with middle-east. India till now has walked a tight rope in West Asia while carefully weighing its interests. But the new grouping now seems to cement India’s position in West Asia. India already has good bilateral relations with Israel, the UAE and the US on several fronts. It serves as the perfect opportunity for India to finally step on the ground.

Implications for India’s Interest

The size, power and influence of Indo- Abrahamic nations provide a firm ground to transform the region’s geopolitics. The initial focus of the group seems more on the economic issues rather than the strategic ones. Being at a nascent stage of just a working group, its goals, objectives and strategies are still not well defined. However, in a broader sense, its primary objectives can be defined as expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security. The positive implications can be categorized under four heads.

Creating a Middle East Minilateral-

It has already been seen that the new Indian Foreign Policy has tilted more towards multilateral agreements than bilateral ones. India is expected to follow the same policy in the Middle East. These events can surely mark a turning point in New Delhi’s engagement with West Asia. The new bloc shows that India is ready to depart from its traditional notion of bilateral relations conducted in separated silos and move towards an integrated regional policy. The platform is bound to help India to shape its position in the ever-changing geopolitics of this region.

India’s Westward Shift-

India has already built its soft power in the Middle East. It has a strong bilateral relationship with all the countries of the new grouping. How India successfully tackled the Arab-Israeli rift over Palestine while balancing the interests of each State has shown the feasibility of India’s idea of non-ideological engagement with the Middle East. This shows that India is well prepared to handle the vacuum that currently exists in the region. And thus, the idea of East Quad can provide a huge fillip to India’s relation with the extended neighbourhood.

India’s extended cooperation with the US-

It is no secret that for a long both India and the US has maintained a political distance with each other on the Middle East problem. But nothing is permanent in geopolitics. It is clear that the China challenge goes beyond the Indo-Pacific and both nations now recognize that they need each other to counter the rising Chinese ambitions. It can be said that both the Quads are nothing but a reflection of the understanding that the China challenge goes beyond the military factor to include broader matters of political and economic aspects.

Cooperative Development-

With India’s vast scale, UAE’s capital, Israel’ innovations and US strategic support can produce immense benefits for everyone. The group can further deepen its engagement on issues that concern India like trade, energy ties, space technology, fighting climate change and enhancing maritime security. The new East Quad may also open for India the doors for extended collaborations with other regional States.

Is it a new Quad in making?

The role of other regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan is yet to be ascertained in this partnership. Furthermore, except India, the other three partners are staunch adversaries of Iran. This is clearly a concern for India-Iran relations which are already collaborating on strategic projects. Above that, the group is yet to define its strategic objectives. Therefore, it is certainly not the right moment to define the bloc as a new “Middle East Quad”. The group has still a lot to achieve before it can be called a true multilateral group. And as such it will be too early to comment on its strategic significance too.

CONCLUDING REMARKS: What lies Ahead?

The alliance can be said to be a pinnacle of India’s greater foreign-policy pragmatism. It also showcases how India has changed its way of engagement with the region by successfully shedding past ideological obsessions that earlier constrained its relations. It has come at a time when Israel-Arab relations are improving, China’s presence in the Middle East is increasing and the US is withdrawing from the region. In such a scenario India’s membership in the new group can be crucial to India’s interest in the peace and stability of the region. At same India has to be careful not to get in between the various conflicts of West Asia that might escalate amid growing regional rivalries. While the Indo-Abrahamic Accord provided a common ground to India, Israelis and the UAE, the contradiction between this emerging bloc and Iran remains as intense as ever. Thus, India has to carefully work its way around by pursuing its interest in the region without taking sides on the existing fault lines emanating from a post-American Afghanistan.

Despite the Abraham Accords, the Middle East remains a volatile region and what lies on the other side is largely unknown. However, whatever the outcome we might see, it will always be largely driven by the Middle East powers themselves.

Author(s) Name: Gagan Chaudhary (Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh)

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