India and West Asia, the Considerations Which Have Guided and Energy Security

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India and West Asia

The West Asian region breaks down conveniently into concentric circles of proximity

  • The innermost circle comprises Afghanistan, the Gulf CooperationCouncil countries, Iran, Iraq and Yemen.

  • In the next circle are the countries of the Mashreq ( West Asia)–(Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon) - to our west and those of CentralAsia to our north-west.

  • next the circle comprising Turkey, countries of the Maghreb(Mediterranean sea-board)- Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco- andthe countries in the Horn of Africa -Djibouti, Sudan and Somalia.

At Independence, the first three decisions on India’s foreign policy concernedWest Asia:

  • our active support to the Khilafat Movement.

  • India’s stand in the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) in1947 when in a dissenting note we advocated the establishment of afederal Palestine with internal autonomy for the Jewish population.

  • and the decision on how we were going to deal with the state of Israelwhen it became independent in 1948.These decisions were conditioned by India’s Partition which had left atraumatised, yet larger, Muslim community within India than went to Pakistan. Theimportance of the region, particularly Mecca and Medina in fulfilling the spiritual andreligious needs of India’s Muslim population could not be under-estimated.

The Considerations Which Have Guided

  • our policy in these years remain valid today despite the change in the political, economic and social matrix

  • Friendly relations with the people of the region on the basis of sharedhistory and culture

  • equidistance in intra-regional conflicts

  • support to the Palestinian cause

  • Desire to play an effective role in the region, even as a possibleintermediary

  • in this context, management of the relations with Israel

  • oppose both exclusivist religious ideologies and religious fanaticism

  • Develop economic, trade and investment ties

Energy Security

As Prof. Girijesh Pant has written ‘for India, West Asia is the region toaugment its power rather than to display or assert its power.’ The thrust of India’s West Asia policy and diplomacy thus has to be geared towards mobilizing resources political, strategic, economic and cultural - from the region to contribute in its emergence as global power.

The Region Presents the Following Challenges

  • Waning of the belief in Arab solidarity, unity and socialism which had blurred ,if not eliminated, differences of sects, beliefs and region and tribe; Change in the social structure and mores in the region in favour of sect, tribe and tradition; and a conscious desire to get away from western values. The growing tension between the Sunni and Shia Muslims radiating westward from Pakistan from which India has remained immune so far

  • The emergence of a ‘back-to-roots thinking which gives primacy to religiousbelief in political matters; ;the sway of Al Qaeda and the Taliban

  • The consolidation of the state of Israel in the region, and internationallythe unwritten edict which makes it taboo to mention Israeli nuclearweapons while giving no quarter to Iran ( and Iraq earlier) on thepresumption that they either possess or seek to build them.

  • the impotence of major players to find a way to establish an secure,independent and viable Palestinian state causing a running sore on thepsyche of its peoples ; the dilemma of not having an honest broker to solvethe Palestinian issue coupled with growing disenchantment with US powerand ability to perform this role

  • The presence of foreign troops, in ever larger numbers, both on landand sea- we now have US troops in bases in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar,UAE and Western navies patrolling the Gulf, in particular the Hormuzstraits

  • The passing of Arab leadership from Egypt, Syria, Libya , Iraq and Tunisia inthe post-colonial period to the growing clout of non-Arab players –Iran, US,Turkey and Israel, – in the post-secular period

  • Iran is today the biggest beneficiary of US intervention in Iraq as well as thepolicies of Israel and earlier US Administrations. With its ascendency itsneighbours, many with significant Shia minorities, are concerned, particularly Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Iran has now proxies in Lebanon, Gaza, Syria and Palestine

  • The importance of energy resources of West Asia as the driver of politicaland economic developments in a globalizing world: differences on theirsecurity and their ownership

  • The coming into their own of the Gulf Sheikdoms on the back of high returns from energy , growing stash of foreign exchange reserves and low population bases leading leveraging these resources for internal and external investments

  • Consolidation of authoritarian governments and suppression of dissent within the trappings of democracy; the inability and unwillingness to hand political power to Islamic- oriented parties; at the same time, an increasing recourse to confessional type of governance- Lebanon no longer the exception but the model

  • The increasing desire on the part of major Arab countries-Iraq, Saudi Arabiaand Egypt to seek nuclear and missile weapon capacity both to createequities against Israel but to offset other regional players like Iran , all within professed adherence to the NPT straitjacket

  • The use of Terror as an instrument of political negotiation Internationalization of the scourge of terrorism and terrorist groups after 9/11 ; by implication, a change from opposition of such groups to their placation through co-option and clandestine support to achieve larger goals of religion or political dominance

  • popular frustration at the inability to change systems and promoteparticipative governance

  • The passing by of West Asia by the most significant development of the 21stcentury- the knowledge economy; West Asia is at most a recipient, butneither an innovator, nor a provider

  • Moribund nature of Arab and Islamic institutions – Arab League and the OIC while the former is regarded by Egypt as an instrument of its foreign policy,Saudi Arabia takes a similar view of the latter. Suffice it to say that in the face of the tremendous pressure that Islam and Arabs have been under since 9/11 the two organisations have failed to take up the challenge to project the universality of the Arab and the benign face of Islam.

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