A decade ago, I went to India on a three-week speaking tour that took me to New Delhi, Lucknow, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune, and Hyderabad. The idea behind the trip, which the U.S. State Department sponsored, was to foster an exchange of ideas about the Middle East with officials in the Indian government, academics, students, and journalists. From the perspective of the diplomats who invited me, it was a great opportunity for Indians to understand a nonofficial U.S. perspective on a part of the world that was likely to loom large for New Delhi in the future. I had a wonderful trip, but I came back skeptical about a future Indian role in the Middle East.
India and Middle Eastern countries were already intertwined in various ways, of course. There were budding military and technology ties between India and Israel. One could not travel in the Persian Gulf region without noticing that guest workers from the Indian state of Kerala provided the labor that made many of the Gulf countries run. India also imported a lot of oil from the Middle East. Yet after my conversations with officials, diplomats, generals, and analysts, it struck me that Indians did not want to play a larger role in Middle East.