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India’s prospective engagement with the Arab world, especially the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), was the theme of a recently held conference in Doha. The expectations were to examine the imperatives of evolving nature of the engagement and delineate its prospective scope and direction. The assumption was that India is a rising power as demonstrated by its fast-growing economy and therefore its engagement with the region has to be scaled up and be more comprehensive.

It was reiterated that India enjoys a high acceptability quotient in the region and rich historical and cultural linkages place it at an advantageous position. Significantly, the narrative on historical linkages was more crafted on bilateral trajectory than regional, possibly underlining the search by the countries of their individual identity by relooking the details of the past when the region was controlled by the British. This reflects well in the contemporary fault lines in the regional ecosystem where the local rulers are asserting for their strategic autonomy from hegemonic regional construct epitomize by the Qatar crisis.

Interestingly, in the context of the wider Middle Eastern region, the Indian position is evaluated with reference to the Palestinian issue. Though the Indian support, both moral and material, is well appreciated the growing Indian proximity towards Israel is viewed within the zero-sum matrix. It is apprehended that following the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Israel in July 2017, the structural necessity defined regarding Indian needs of defines equipment, agriculture technology, etc. are likely to graduate to ideological affinity.

Significantly the regional threat perception of the GCC and the other Arab countries is at variance. In the Gulf region, Iran is seen as a more serious threat than Israel. A tentative assessment could be that countries from the region have accepted Israel as reality and are looking for ways and means to harness it in their security architecture differentially.

Interestingly other than from Oman the conference had no scholar or participant from other GCC countries, and for obvious reasons. Qatari crisis loomed large in the discussion. The role of the US was commented upon with a sense of reservation. Apparently, Qatar needs Washington, yet the discussion expressed a sense of dissatisfaction over the US approach. It could be sensed from the deliberations that the anxiety triggered by the Qatari crisis is producing a feeling of drift and helplessness, if not a sense of resignation.

There was a consensus that India needs to look at the region beyond its energy needs. It was very loud and clear that destabilization in the region could pose a serious challenge to safety and security of the Indian nationals in the region besides the flow of fossils fuel. The subtext of the proceedings did suggest that besides strengthening the hardware security, India could play a role in sobering down regional security ecosystem. In this context, a reference was made of the innovative role that India played after independence by not joining the blocs and finding a third path of nonalignment. India has friendly relations with the regional countries which possibly could be leveraged, more so when the American security perception of the region is less determined by strategic necessity than the business deals. Unlike the past, with high economic quotient, India is better placed today to contribute to a regional security construct in a wider Asian perspective. It cannot be denied that the security of the region impinges on security of Asian countries more critically than the western world.

A much wider place for India was spelled out in the unfolding processes of diversification of the economy. The reforms are promoted to contain the possibilities of ‘Arab spring’ in the region. The success of transition from rentier system critically depends on the right and bold strategic choices and their execution. The Indian articulation of Link West and the Gulf formulation of Look East suggest a mutual recognition of high stakes in the promoting relationship. The multiple high-level visits from both sides indicate that the new millennial ecosystem is unfolding potentials raging from digitalization of the economy to social engineering and resilience.

A message that ran through the proceedings was the low level of institutional engagement among the academia having a bearing on knowledge sharing which was the hall mark of the civilizational strength of historical times. Need for filling the gap by translating Indian writings into Arabic was mooted. However, it was also emphasized that the conference of the kind exclusively focusing on India shows the growing visibility of the country among the academia in the region. It was further reiterated the need for promoting such platform to bring the thinking minds together, especially when understanding of the nuances becomes critical to promoting dialogue.


As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy