Relevance : GS Paper II (International Relations)
Theme of the Article
Gulf countries can play a significant activism to help defuse the current tensions between India and Pakistan.
The Pakistan Angle: Past
- In the past, many parts of the Gulf and Middle East tended to act as Pakistan’s strategic depth.
- For decades, shared religious identity and common approach to regional affairs gave Pakistan a political edge over India in the region.
The Pakistan Angle: Present
- In recent years, India has begun to correct that imbalance.
- As many Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, develop stronger economic and security bonds with India, they could become potential allies in nudging Pakistan towards political moderation and regional accommodation in the Subcontinent.
- The parlous state of its economy and dependence on financial bailouts from the UAE and Saudi Arabia has made Pakistan more amenable to such an outcome.
India-Gulf link: Colonial Era
- The security of the Indian Subcontinent and the Gulf region have always been inter-linked.
- In the colonial era, undivided India loomed large over the Gulf. During that era, the Raj offered security protection, a framework for commerce and some administrative support.
- The Gulf and other locations in the Middle East were critical links in the larger architecture of Great Britain’s Imperial defence system in the eastern hemisphere centred on undivided India.
- The armies of India had to embark on repeated expeditionary operations in the Gulf and the Middle East through the 19th and early 20th centuries.
- The Indian army played a key role in the Middle Eastern theatre in both the World Wars.
India-Gulf link: Post-Colonial Era
- Independent India tended to underestimate the importance of this strategic intimacy with the Gulf.
- After Independence, India pulled out of any security role in the Gulf and the Middle East.
Pakistan Replaced India in Gulf
- Pakistan joined the Anglo-American effort to replace the security vacuum created by the Indian withdrawal. It became a member of CENTO.
- While India aligned with the nationalist and non-aligned governments like Egypt, Pakistan embraced conservative and pro-Western regimes.
- CENTO provided the basis for Pakistan’s external and internal security cooperation with a number of countries in the Gulf region. Some of them like Jordan, Iran and Turkey backed Pakistan during its wars with India in 1965 and 1971.
- As the Arab nationalist regimes steadily weakened in relation to the regional conservatives, India steadily lost political ground to Pakistan in the 1970s.
- Matters got worse in the 1980s as India remained silent on the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Gulf regimes joined Pakistan in promoting jihad against the Soviet Union.
- The 1990s saw Pakistan mobilise significant support within the Middle East, including at the OIC and other international forums, to castigate India’s internal policies.
- The attack on the Babri Masjid and India’s troubles in the Kashmir valley gave ample political ammunition to Pakistan.
The Winds of Change
- The nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May 1998 and the Kargil crisis in the summer of 1999, opened the possibilities for restructuring South Asia’s relations with the Gulf.
- The strategic dialogue between Jaswant Singh and the US Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott during 1998-2000 opened an influential new channel to the Gulf.
- More important, the US mobilised Saudi Arabia during the Kargil War to encourage Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to accept the Indian demand to pull Pakistan’s army back to the Line of Control.
- That Jaswant Singh was the first Indian foreign minister to ever visit Saudi Arabia in late 2000 underlined how far Delhi and Riyadh had drifted in the decades before.
- The bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia that steadily improved in the UPA decade, acquired a fresh momentum under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
- Two decades ago, Jaswant Singh sought to lift the Pakistan constraint on the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia. Today the Saudi is becoming a valuable partner for Delhi in promoting regional security in the Subcontinent and beyond.