Modi’s Middle East Strategy

India is expected to engage with Muslim states and its diaspora in the region even more actively during his next term

Indian Prime Minister (PM) Na­rendra Modi’s recent UAE-Qa­tar visits right before the In­dian general elections indicate India’s new alignment. The inauguration of a grand Hindu temple in UAE, a sweeping pardon from the Emir of Qatar for eight retired Indian na­val officers, and the ex­tension of the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) deal from Qatar are the highlights of the In­dian PM’s visit stipulating that In­dia is at the pinnacle of its Kautily­an diplomatic prowess. This recent visit marked PM Modi’s seventh trip to the UAE since assuming of­fice in 2014 to showcase India’s evolving approach towards the Middle East under the government of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Apart from the primary agenda of directly engaging with and en­ergising the BJP’s voter base in the region, the visit was also aimed at highlighting and strengthening the strategic and economic partner­ship which reflects India’s proac­tive engagement with the Middle East. This could cause challenges for Pakistan especially when the ties with the Middle East are un­dergoing a less smooth phase.

Historically, India’s foreign policy in the Middle East has been char­acterised by a careful balancing act, maintaining cordial relations with both Israel and the Arab na­tions. India did not have that kind of sway in the region before but since its departure from non-align­ment, it has been making allianc­es in both security and economic domains through agreements like I2U2 (a new quadrilateral arrange­ment aimed at deepening econom­ic cooperation among Israel, India, the UAE and the United States), and the India Middle East Eu­rope Economic Corridor (IMEEC). These developments signal India’s increasing influence and partner­ships in the region.

The inauguration of the incredi­bly grand Baps temple, in the heart of the Arab world is an indicator of India’s successful diplomacy. The temple has been built at the cost of $95 million on an area of 27 acres of land donated by Emirate Presi­dent Sheikh Muhammad and in­augurated by PM Modi. However, the inauguration of a Hindu tem­ple in Abu Dhabi following the offi­cial opening of the Ram Temple on the site of a centuries-old mosque in Ayodhya paints a bleak picture of realpolitik where principles and morals are being sacrificed at the altar of history. But at the same time, it shows the influence and success of PM Modi’s newly launched Middle East strategy.

Similarly, the PM’s visit to Qatar was another breakthrough as Mr Modi managed to avert the death sentence awarded to eight former Indian naval officers, under the charge of espionage. It is argued that it was PM Modi who stepped in personally and changed the Qatari Emir’s mind. Another milestone that he achieved during the visit was the extension of the LNG deal for next twenty years which was about to expire in 2028. All these developments showcase that PM Modi is biding these ties because of his personally managed relation­ship with the rulers of these prom­inent Gulf countries marking a new era of its Middle East strategy.

Owing to the high probability of PM Modi’s win in the election, India is expected to engage with Muslim states and its diaspora in the region even more actively dur­ing his next term. Pakistan, be­cause of its longstanding relation­ships with these Islamic nations needs to look at these advance­ments carefully as a slight gear shift has been observed in Paki­stan’s historic relation with the Middle Eastern states. The Gulf Co­operation Council (GCC) has been observed recently maintaining a deliberate silence on the issue of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) which can be attributed to its growing strate­gic relations with India which is a genuine concern for Pakistan.

Furthermore, the Middle East has also been one of the primary sourc­es of financial support for Pakistan for several decades. Growing eco­nomic ties between India and the Arab world have the potential to hamper Pakistan’s economic re­lations as the volume of bilateral trade of India with the Arab coun­tries is over US$ 110 billion. The Pakistani diaspora in UAE is already facing a sudden setback because of the suspension of labor visas under the UAE’s work policy for Pakistani workers while the Indian diaspora is enjoying the inauguration of Baps temple. This situation is causing se­rious concerns as the region em­ploys the largest Pakistani diaspora and is the second-highest source of remittances for the country.

As both Islamabad and the Arab nations share historically strong foundations of multidimension­al relations, there is a dire need for Pakistan to retain its ground in the Middle East. It is imperative for Pakistan to proactively engage with Arab nations, independent of India’s engagements, to bolster both economic and strategic ties. Under the new government, Pak­istan has the opportunity to pave the way for fresh investment ave­nues, exemplified by initiatives like the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), which has garnered interest from numerous Gulf coun­tries for potential investments. This approach can solidify existing bonds and create new avenues for mutual growth and cooperation, positioning Pakistan favorably in the evolving regional landscape.

Ramsha Shahid
The writer is a researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), Lahore, Pakistan. She can be reached at

Ramsha Shahid
The writer is a researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), Lahore, Pakistan. She can be reached at

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