The recent decision by India and Egypt to institutionalise a strategic dialogue at the Foreign Ministers’ level arising from the first bilateral summit meeting in 11 years is a welcome development. Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, invoking the historic ties between India and Egypt, two leaders of the non-aligned movement, left none in doubt of his acknowledgment of India’s increasing global significance. This reaffirmation of India’s ties with an i mportant Arab nation is a necessary step. But optimism in this regard must be tempered with caution because the several attempts New Delhi had made in the past to raise its political equations with the countries of the Arab world to a higher level have not succeeded. This is surprising given the strength of economic linkages and the depth of people-to-people relationships. After all, the six member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, who are the major sources of energy supplies, also provide employment for nearly 5 million Indians who contribute a large chunk of the $27 billion in remittances that flow into the country annually. The affinities between the Indian and Arab cultures proved mutually beneficial as each strove to withstand the onslaught of western influences. Yet oddly enough, despite all these linkages, the efforts for a closer political understanding have not gathered momentum.
One stumbling block was clearly India’s insistence on linking its ties with the Arab nations to its strategic approach to Pakistan. During the 1990’s, India’s effort to build a closer relationship with the countries of the Arab world faltered mainly because it was almost obsessively centred on the unachievable aim of isolating Pakistan. While many countries of the region were grappling with the menace of terrorism, few were really prepared to openly subscribe to the argument that the successive regimes in Islamabad were the main sponsors of this phenomenon. But once India and Pakistan have begun talking seriously, there is a definite clearing of the air. This has enabled New Delhi to adopt a more forward-looking approach to ties with the Arab world. In trying to recalibrate its ties with the Arab world, New Delhi should perhaps stop looking for a single overarching paradigm for its policy. As was demonstrated during Mr. Mubarak’s visit to India and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Oman and Qatar, there are a number of issues on which common ground can be found with the Arab countries. It is time to infuse a new dynamism and a sense of purpose in building ties with these nations that will in turn increase India’s global influence.
6 months ago