India is increasingly less “non-aligned”

Indian President Narendra Modi during the plenary session of the ASEAN-India Summit in Jakarta, 7 September 2023.


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By upsetting the geopolitical balance in the Middle East, the Gaza war will also shed light on the strategies of countries outside the region. India in particular attracted attention when Narendra Modi strongly condemned Hamas attacks and supported Israel. This is indeed an extraordinary diplomatic change, in many ways.

Since its independence in 1947, India has immediately stood out for its genuine diplomacy in a bipolar world order. At the initiative of the “non-aligned” movement, a term coined by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954, India also committed from the start and unconditionally to side with Palestine, assessing its struggle as a struggle against colonialism that could have fatal consequences. in harmony with its own history. In 1975, India was the first non-Arab country to grant full diplomatic status to the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose then leader, Yasser Arafat, regularly visited New Delhi.

However, in 1992, India established diplomatic relations with Israel, allowing its traditional pro-Arab policies to allow for openness towards the Jewish state and thus ensuring strategic flexibility. Thirty years later, the balance appears to be tipping toward an openly displayed preference for Tel Aviv for a variety of reasons, and the restoration of security relations with the United States is no less important.

India does have its own geostrategic challenges, which primarily focus on containing China’s power and the war against Pakistan. Since the 1970s, Israel has attempted to encourage a potential restoration of diplomatic relations with New Delhi by providing military assistance during the third Indo-Pakistani conflict in 1971 – which led to the creation of Bangladesh – as well as in 1999. This era saw India balance relations between the three rival poles, but important to its interests: the Arab world – for economic reasons, as nearly 7 million Indian workers live there – Israel – based on their military and technological partnerships – and Iran – because of its openness to the central states. Asia.

When he came to power, Narendra Modi deliberately maintained this balance. In 2017, he became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel, while also cultivating his friendships in the Arab world – visiting Ramallah in 2018, receiving Mohammed Ben Salman in New Delhi despite the Khashoggi case, or by increasing the number of visits to America. United Arab Emirates. This activism also aims to involve major bodies in the Arab-Muslim world, such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to weaken Pakistan and gain support on the Kashmir issue. In 2019, India’s Foreign Minister was the first person to speak at an OIC platform in half a century, while Islamabad was conspicuous by his absence from his speech.

But now, India must face an increasingly multipolar world while pursuing its goal of becoming the third largest economy in the world within seven years. The development of its diplomatic influence must go hand in hand – however, in the Middle East, this cannot be excluded from the security dimension. More than balance, India’s strategy in the Middle East is now based on pragmatism. As a result, India is investing more and being more open in its security collaboration with the United States, which shares its desire to contain China’s rise. In recent years, the country has joined several economic and military partnerships initiated by Washington with other major regional powers: the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), which places it at the heart of America’s “Indo-Pacific” strategy, the group I2U2, which rose to prominence after the Emirates signed the Abraham Accords, or “India-Middle East-Europe” economic corridor announced on the sidelines of the last G20 summit in September, aims to compete with the centrality of the Suez Canal in world trade.

However, India’s growing proximity to the United States and disregard for its historical neutrality – which until recently was one of the reasons for India’s popularity in the Middle East – could actually be counterproductive to India’s strategic ambitions in the region. Besides the fact that several Arab countries are also Chinese clients, being seen as a “villain” of American interests risks bad press in the Arab world, especially in the current context.

Despite this, India continues to ignore its “old” allies, even though this does not seem to fit with its more pro-American reorientation or its own domestic affairs. Facing the conflict in Gaza, New Delhi finds itself in an uncomfortable situation, firmly condemning Hamas and welcoming Israel’s reaction, but then condemning the humanitarian crisis experienced by the Palestinians. In addition, overtly discriminatory policies against Indian Muslims have been the subject of repeated disputes among Arab chancellors and even the United States, which criticized the country for its attacks on religious freedom… But to date, the partnership remains strong and seems dedicated to continuing. Proof that luck favors the brave.

Serena Hoyles

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