Exciting news emerged on October 5 that the foreign ministers of India, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arabi Emirates (UAE) would meet at the upcoming 12th Sir Bani Yas Forum in Dubai to discuss plans for connectivity from India to the Mediterranean via the Gulf. This announcement comes as India is on an impressive campaign, led by Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, to break out out of a narrow foreign policy view that rarely extended beyond South Asia and now reaches Oceania, the entirety of Asia, Europe, and even the Caucasus.
Connecting India with the Mediterranean via the Gulf demonstrates a New Delhi that is increasingly becoming more ambitious, not only for the sake of national security, but to open trade corridors to deliver Indian products to the world and offer an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The first major project is the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) that will reduce costs by 30% and travel time by 40% for freight transport. It will also boost trade between Russia, Iran, Central Asia, India and Europe.
The INSTC is also of geopolitical importance as it begins from the Indian-invested port of Chabahar in Iran, thus rivalling the nearby Chinese-invested port of Gwadar in Pakistan. Both aim to be the premier port to service Central Asia. Just as importantly, it also severs Turkey’s ambitions to create its own corridor to the Turkic-heartland of Central Asia at the expense of sovereign Armenian territory, a country desperately seeking to improve ties with India and which Mr. Jaishankar visited on October 12-13.
Turkey also seeks to connect with Pakistan through this hoped corridor to further strengthen their already close ties. The destruction of the Ottoman Empire saw the emergence of the Turkish Republic in 1923 led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who at the time had just completed a campaign to create a “Turkey for the Turks” by exterminating three million Christian Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians. Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah told his sister he wanted to be the Atatürk of India and in his 1938 eulogy, he described Atatürk as the greatest man of the age and an example for the Muslims of India. With Pakistan being founded on an ideology inspired by a genocide perpetrator, the Pakistan-Turkey nexus has always been strong and aggressive, culminating with Ankara’s continuous challenges against Indian sovereignty over Kashmir.
The global system is shifting from a US-led unipolar world order to a multipolar world order comprised of many great and regional powers. During the Cold War and the War on Terror, uncomfortable relations were necessary, but are now redundant. The US once tolerated Turkish aggression as it believed the country was a necessary counterweight to the Soviet Union. The West also attempted to deal with Pakistan as amicably as possible during the War in Afghanistan. However, the stark realization that both Turkey and Pakistan are pariah states has led them to becoming increasingly isolated on the world stage with very few friends.
The most telling aspect of Turkey’s and Pakistan’s global isolation is the fact that Arab states that were traditionally friendly to the two countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, are now shifting their relations closer to Greece and India. Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has been progressing, albeit slowly, from medieval ideology to increasingly opening the country to modernity. Due to this shift in ideology, Saudi Arabia is increasingly disengaging from exporting terrorism and funding extremist groups, something that Pakistan is adamant on maintaining despite chronic social issues in the country that more urgently need attention.
The trade volume between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia was just $3.6 billion in 2019. India and Saudi Arabia in 2019-2020 traded $26.84 billion. Although this is economically impressive, it also points to the geopolitical direction of Saudi Arabia as it now refuses to be locked into partnerships with only Muslim countries.
As Saudi Arabia has their own tensions with Turkey, particularly over the country’s unapologetic support for the Muslim Brotherhood that threatens many of the monarchies in the Arab Peninsula, it too is finding new partnerships and alliances. In one example, Saudi Arabia recently signed off on a deal for a Patriot missile system to be manned by Greek soldiers to protect vital infrastructure from any Yemeni attacks.
Opposition to Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan’s regressive ideology that belongs in centuries past has also seen great resistance in Egypt and the UAE, both of whom have strengthened relations with India. It is also worth noting that later this month, India, Egypt and Israel will participate in joint military exercises, the UAE is in a mutual defense pact with Greece, and Cyprus regularly participates in exercises with Greece, Egypt and Israel.
All the countries involved in the proposed India to Mediterranean corridor are already consolidating their relations in the military and economic fields. However, the completion of such a corridor would consolidate these countries into a formal multilateral partnership, thus further isolating the Pakistan-Turkey nexus of aggression.
In this way, such a corridor will create an arc of peace and cooperation, crossing countries of different religions, cultures, ethnic groups and traditions. Such a corridor would be the ultimate symbol of tolerance that shows the involved countries taking the right steps towards a prosperous future.