Having cast its lot with the Arab League on the Syria question, India will step up its multilateral engagement with the Arab world in the coming months with a series of events that will include a visit to Cairo by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna to confabulate with the Arab League and to re-engage Egypt, which is stepping out of the rigid policy confines of the Mubarak era.
During his three-day visit, starting on March 2, Mr. Krishna will hold talks with the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League. But before that, Secretary (East) Sanjay Singh will lead an official delegation that will meet the first Joint Committee meeting of the Arab Troika (Qatar, Libya and Iraq), as well as representatives of the Arab League Secretary-General. During Mr. Krishna's visit, India and Egypt will also hold their first Joint Commission meeting after the exit of the former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak.
India will be stepping up its engagements at a time when the unfolding situation in Syria might tally with the current strategy of casting its lot with the Arab League by calling for early elections in the violence-wracked country. India changed tack, apparently after persistent violence in Syria made it difficult for New Delhi to continue its strong all-weather ties with the Assad family, which lasted three-decades. India had backed the Arab League proposals in the vetoed U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria and later a U.N. General Assembly resolution on the same issue. Its vote of explanation statements on both occasions had put the League's proposals in the forefront in justifying its stand.
The face-to-face meetings with Arab Foreign Ministers and other senior officials of the Arab League will also help South Block assess which way the wind is blowing on a host of issues critical to India such as Western sanctions on Iran, the direction and level of unrest in some Arab countries and its prospects of getting involved in reconstruction in Libya.
Iran has become the touchstone defining the foreign policies of several Arab countries, especially of Saudi Arabia which is engaged in fighting a cold war with Tehran in various regional theatres including Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Lebanon, where the pro-Iran Hezbollah is also a top Syrian ally. Along with China, the solid support of Russia, India's key ally, to extend the life of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has added new complexity to India's attempt to redefine its West Asia policy, which has been recently marked with a pronounced deeper engagement with the pro-West Gulf petro-monarchies. Diplomatic sources said India attached considerable importance to the Arab-India Investment Partnership Conference in the United Arab Emirates in May as a follow up to the two previous conferences, the last of which was held two years back.
Trade between the Arab countries and India in the last few years has exceeded $120 billion and over 60 lakh Indians live and work in the Arab world.
In order to maintain its pro-Palestinian credentials after two high-level interactions with Israel in Tel Aviv and New Delhi, Ministry of External Affairs officials will also ascertain the possibility of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. On the Afghan question, too, the Arab countries are trying to facilitate talks between Kabul and the Taliban.
But the bottom-line during the visit would be an exploration of new venues of interest and cooperation.