India’s Approach to West Asia

 

   West Asia or Middle East

Links – 

Amb. Ranjit Gupta @ipcs.org – On potential role for India in West Asia

Amb. Ranjit Gupta @ ipcs.org – West Asia in 2015

Amb. Ranjit Gupta @ ipcs.org – Bridging the gulf with GCC

Amb. Ranjit Gupta @ ipcs.org – Modi finally begins his interaction with West Asia

 

Summary of above articles:

Fact file –

  • The 6 GCC countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Besides GCC countries, the  Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria are other  important countries in West Asia. Israel and Palestine stand differently due to their identities.
  • This region is also the heartland of Islam – The largest minority of India is Muslim.
  • 8 million Indians are living and working there who send annual remittances worth $40 billion back home. Indians have been the largest expatriate group in each of the six GCC countries.
  • India’s total trade with the GCC countries in 2012-13 at US$159.14 billion made them India’s largest regional trading bloc by far. The UAE is India’s largest trading partner, Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trading partner and also the largest supplier of oil to India, and Qatar is the largest supplier of gas. Almost half of the total oil imports of India are from the GCC countries.
  • Some GCC countries have absolutely huge Sovereign Wealth Funds, some of which they wish to invest in India.
  • Strategic profile of the West Asia/Gulf states – It is at the confluence of Asia, Europe and Africa, and are petroleum exporters so is one of the centres of global geopolitics (Resource curse!). They cover the most important sea trade route in the world. Cradle of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Prevalence of dictatorships as well as that of political Islam. Rise of non-state actors such as terrorism has destabilized this region.

 

Important aspects –

  • De-hyphenation of relationships – Saudi Arabia and UAE’s special relationship with Pakistan as well as India’s defence relationship with Israel have not come in the overall broad relations between India and West Asian countries.
  • Despite having a special relationship with Pakistan, none of the GCC countries ever stopped oil exports to India or even threatened to do so through the different Indo-Pakistani wars.
  • Despite Pakistan’s strenuous efforts, anti-terrorism cooperation from Saudi Arabia and the UAE has been particularly noteworthy.
  • Just as Energy security is of prime importance to India, Food security is of prime importance to West Asia.
  • Since these nations are mostly ruled by individuals and families, cultivating personal relations with them would yield substantial benefits.

 

India’s past interaction with West Asia has been guided by the following considerations (by Amb. Ranjit Gupta)
  1. India has had a consciously low-key, non-intrusive policy approach to the Arab world, guided preeminently by considerations of pragmatism and mutual benefit.
  2. No interference in the internal affairs of other countries has been a cardinal principle of Indian diplomacy.
  3. Independent India has never gotten intrusively involved in wars between other countries.
  4. India has been consistently opposed to military interventions to solve political problems.
  5. Though India is the world’s largest democracy and takes pride in that fact, it does not consider that promoting any particular form of government in other countries is any business of New Delhi. India endeavors to maintain good relations with all countries and accepts ground realities as they are, irrespective of its own preferences. It is certainly not for outsiders to decide what constitutes legitimacy of the forms of government of West Asian countries.
  6. India deliberately avoids making partisan comments in relation to internal situations in countries experiencing domestic turmoil and continues its interaction with the regimes of the day in these countries, while keeping possibilities of discreet lines of communication with select influential groups, including those in the opposition.
  7. India fully respects the right of any country in the region to have whatever relationship it wishes to have with any other country.
  8. India does not take sides in intra-regional disputes except supporting the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. India’s relationships with countries of the Gulf region and Israel started growing substantively since the early nineties and have been blossoming in parallel particularly since the advent of the new millennium, even as India’s commitment to the Palestinian cause has remained robust.

 

Quote – Unquote

Amb. Ranjit Gupta –

  • “India’s relationships with the GCC countries, Iran and Israel began growing simultaneously in the early 1990s and really took off in the first decade of the current millennium. Based on mutual benefit and advantage, they developed in parallel without impinging on each other. Modi, in his interview with the Khaleej Times, very rightly pointed out that “India is uniquely blessed to have good relations with all countries in the region. I have always believed that regional or bilateral problems are best solved by the countries involved. We have often seen the consequences of outside interference. India has always abided by the principle of non-interference in other countries and has consistently supported dialogue as a means to resolve all issues.”
  • Many in India’s strategic community advocate India displaying greater activism including exercising a ‘leadership role’ without suggesting any specific actions to be taken. The indisputable reality is that anything that India says or does will not even marginally influence the actions of any individual player or outcomes on the ground in the context of the highly complicated political and security situation in West Asia. The situation is exceedingly fluid and uncertain. There has been a massive proliferation of violent, irresponsible and irrational non-state actors and India’s becoming intrusively involved could provoke them to harm Indian interests; and in particular to attack the very large Indian community in the region. With 180 million-strong Muslim population, India has to be very careful about potential blowbacks.
  • India does not have the institutional capacity, is not structurally equipped, and lacks national political consensus for the huge strategic leap required for such an leadership/activist role in West Asia yet. Policy should always be consciously tempered by a mature recognition of the limits of one’s capabilities and influence at any given point of time. Reticence or so called policy passivity in a particularly unpredictably changing and volatile environment does not reflect an absence of decision making, an abdication of ‘leadership’, or of being a ‘freeloader’. It is simply being sensibly prudent. India’s non-intrusive, low-profile, pragmatic approach has yielded very satisfying results and there is absolutely no need to change the broad contours of this policy.
  • Future approach – When relations are excellent, there is an understandable tendency on the part of the political leadership to take the relationship for granted. India needs very strong relationships with Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia/ the GCC countries simultaneously and it is absolutely imperative that they are seen to be balanced; and hence, the singular importance of coherent messaging to them. The only way to maintain this is by continuing the focus on mutual advantage and benefit, remaining non-intrusive and non-judgmental, and strictly abjuring taking sides in regional disputes or exhibiting conspicuous partiality amongst them.”

UAE’s Minister of State –

  • “We want to do more, we have the capacity, the willingness, the drive to do more. We hope you allow us to be more entrenched and more involved in your community and your business because the appetite is strong and the commitment is real.”

 

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