Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Advisor, convened a meeting with his counterparts from the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a White House-backed proposal to connect West Asian countries through rail, utilizing Indian expertise, and to establish sea lanes linking the region to South Asia. The proposal seeks to create extensive railway, maritime, and road infrastructure in the region, linking South Asia and West Asia. Ajit Doval traveled to Saudi Arabia to attend a meeting on Sunday.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the overarching plans of a significant collaborative project to establish railway, maritime, and road infrastructure throughout the region, linking South Asia’s Indian subcontinent with West Asia (also known as the Middle East), with the participation of various nations. The meeting aimed to establish the general direction of the project. The United States refers to this region as the Middle East.
This initiative is crucial for the White House and New Delhi as China’s influence in the region is increasing, and the Middle East is an essential component of China’s Belt and Road initiative.
India sees China’s influence in West Asia as a “mission creep,” as Beijing has increased its political sway in the region. India was surprised by the improvement in ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which could have implications for India’s energy security interests in West Asia. Establishing connectivity through rail, maritime, and road infrastructure could facilitate faster transportation of crude oil and reduce India’s costs in the long run. Additionally, the connectivity boost would benefit the eight million Indian citizens who reside and work in the Gulf region.
The proposed connectivity project has a second benefit for India: it will help establish India as an infrastructure builder in the railway sector. India has a strong domestic rail network, and has successfully built rail infrastructure in Sri Lanka, giving it the confidence to undertake similar projects overseas. India is keen for both private companies and public sector enterprises to explore the economic and infrastructure opportunities that the project offers.
This will also act as a counter to China’s Belt and Road initiative, which has resulted in infrastructure of limited utility burdening many countries in the region. The United States, which introduced the Blue Dot network, is one of the partners in the creation of the connectivity project that will be financially viable and sustainable.
The Indian government believes that its connectivity to its western neighbors has been restricted by Pakistan’s blockade of overland transit routes for an extended period. As a result, India aims to leverage shipping routes to access West Asian ports, such as Chabahar and Bandar-e-Abbas in Iran, Duqm in Oman, Dubai in the UAE, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait City. Establishing connectivity projects that link the Gulf and Arab countries, with Indian involvement, would create trading opportunities.
At present, Israel is not included in this initiative, but it may be included later if efforts towards regional normalization continue to advance.