During a G20 summit in New Delhi earlier this month, participants unveiled a proposed India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), believed to act as a foil to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aimed at facilitating a direct route to the Gulf through Pakistan. The proposed IMEC comprises two separate corridors—an eastern one connecting India to the Arabian Gulf and a northern one connecting the Gulf to Europe. “This will give the whole world’s connectivity and development a sustainable direction,” claimed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to approval from the U.S., which has long voiced objection to China’s BRI. Unsurprisingly, neither Chinese President Xi Jinping, nor Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the G20 summit.
The IMEC spans 3,000 miles and aspires to establish a dependable and cost-effective cross-border ship-to-rail transit network upon its completion. It would complement existing maritime and road transport routes, facilitating the movement of goods and services between India, the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Europe. Critics in Pakistan and China have claimed it seeks to rival Beijing’s attempts at normalizing ties between Gulf states and Iran, bolstering the U.S. naval presence in the region. Supporters in the Middle East, however, see it as yet another option to expand their trade ties.
A key reason for this project is basic economics. India is Saudi Arabia’s second-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching $52.75 billion during 2022-23. Similarly, trade between India and the U.A.E. surged to $85 billion in 2022, positioning the country as Delhi’s third-largest trading partner, and its second-largest export destination. Pakistan should not consider the IMEC a threat to CPEC, but rather a chance to expand its geo-economic aims by serving as a median state that generates revenue by allowing passage to trade through its territory. Following the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, the regional situation has shifted dramatically. Pakistan must take cognizance of this and re-evaluate its increased strategic importance to extract maximum benefit amidst ongoing economic turmoil.