Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Mint Explainer: What’s behind NSA Ajit Doval’s secretive four-nation Middle East talks?

The national security advisors of three countries, including India, met in Saudi Arabia on Sunday for talks to “advance their shared vision of a more secure and prosperous Middle East region interconnected with India and the world”. Mint explains the importance of the meeting.

  • Early last week Axios, a news outlet, broke the news that India, the US, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were scheduled to hold a high-level meeting. According to the report, the national security advisors of the four nations were set to discuss an ambitious infrastructure connectivity project.
  • Plans are emerging for a sprawling railway network to connect Middle-Eastern countries with their neighbours. This network would also rope in India through shipping lanes by linking up with ports in the region.
  • According to Axios, the plan was originally conceived by Israel. In Tel Aviv’s view, India’s experience in building railway networks in the Middle East and other parts of the developing world would be a key asset.
  • On Sunday some details of the report were confirmed after India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met with the NSAs of the US and the UAE as well as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Riyadh. The readout of the meeting simply mentioned that the four sides met to “advance their shared vision of a more secure and prosperous Middle East region interconnected with India and the world”.
  • Such an infrastructure project would have several important benefits for India. First, it would help create a strong counter to China’s infrastructure connectivity efforts in the region. Few countries have the ability to execute hard infrastructure projects in foreign nations and India is among them.
  • Second, India’s diplomatic reputation would be significantly enhanced by the successful execution of such a project. The Middle East is in search of new diplomatic partners amid a reorientation away from its reliance on America. This could be a crucial opportunity for New Delhi.
  • Finally, India has long nursed an ambition to improve connectivity with the Middle East. With overland routes running through Pakistan and Afghanistan, maritime connectivity remains the only viable option available to India.
  • The four countries involved in the project agreed to maintain a regular dialogue going forward. While the initial discussions have been encouraging, it remains to be seen whether this highly ambitious project can defy bureaucratic inertia and take off.

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