India’s engagement with the Middle East via the Arab League has taken new shape. As India prepares to host a two-day meeting with officials and foreign ministers of the Arab League scheduled from January 31, energy and strategic interests will surely mark the talks, alongside regional, security and global issues.
A source said the Arab League is not worried about India’s growing relationship with Israel. But it’s New Delhi’s relations with Iran that worries many nations in the league. India has realized the strategic potential of Iran much earlier than its actual pivot to West Asia.
According to Middle East Institute, from a realpolitik perspective, Iran’s importance for India derives from its immense energy resources, strategically important location linking West Asia with Central Asia, and the possibility of building a friendship not disturbed by the ‘Pakistan factor’. And most importantly the strategically crucial Iranian port of Chabahar.
India sees Chabahar critical for reaching Afghanistan and Central Asia. Moreover, compared to other Muslim-majority countries in West Asia, Iran has taken a more nuanced position towards Kashmir. “In 1994, Iran blocked a consensus on a resolution on Kashmir, pushed by the Organization of Islamic Countries, in the UN Commission on Human Rights.” But, now, most of the members of the Arab League understand and acknowledge that Kashmir is India’s ‘internal matter’.
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Sources say the upcoming meeting is expected to strengthen India’s position on Kashmir issue as several Arab League states have opposed any strong move on it that goes against India.
However, Saudi Arabia has been pushing the Arab League for a unified stance against Iran. In April 2018, Saudi King Salman told the leaders of the 22-member Arab League that Iran was to blame for instability and meddling in the region. According to Haaretz, King Salman said: “Yemeni rebel Houthis, backed by Iran, had fired 116 missiles at the Kingdom since Saudi Arabia went to war in Yemen three years ago.” Besides Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran also back opposing groups in Syria, Bahrain, Lebanon and Iraq.
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