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The first thing that comes to mind with Middle East is Oil. Hence, geopolitically and geostrategically, it’s not only a crucial region for India, but for a lot of other countries like U.S. and China. India manages two-thirds of its oil demands from imports from Middle East. India’s goal in the Middle East should be energy security. This region poses a challenge because it also has a sectarian division between the Sunni and Shia, the two sects of Muslims. Supporting Sunnis (like Saudi Arabia) could upset Shias (like Iran). Hence, India must play it smart by not taking any sides, and concentrate on the economic benefits by playing the non-alignment card. India needs to find a balance between ‘look east’ and ‘look west’ policies. Let’s discuss about three major Gulf nations in detail:
Saudi Arabia has been a strong ally of US since the 1950s, but now, it seems to be moving on and improving ties with even Russia and China. Fortunately for India, Saudis want better relations with India too, because it is a great market for their oil. Saudi Arabia’s support to Pakistan, and India’s support to Russia has caused some tensions in the past but both the countries have always had strong economic ties, and India must make sure that these ties only improve. Manmohan Singh’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2010 was the first by any Indian Prime Minister in 28 years. When the king of Saudi Arabia came to India in February 2014, a number of issues were discussed including defence, trade and infrastructure. It is great for India that such an interest has been shown, and now India must take advantage of this by enhancing political and economic ties.
India relies heavily on Iran for energy. India imported oil from Iran even when the West banned on Iran on 16 January 2016 Iran from doing any international trade. For the time being, sanctions have been temporarily lifted and India must make use of this opportunity by encouraging Indian firms to invest there. The Chabahar port in Iran is strategically and economically very crucial to India, because with that India will form a direct sea-link to Iran by bypassing Dubai. This would also allow India to gain a direct access to Central Asian markets and thereby, increasing mineral trade with Afghanistan. Iraq It is also a big source of energy for India. But, Iraq is a nation trying to recover from years of wars, so there is an opportunity for Indian firms to invest there. Iraq’s president was even called for investments from India to help in the rebuilding process of Iraq. In the past, Iraq supported India on the Kashmir issue.