India’s Engagement with West Asia

Emerging Dynamics in West Asia & India’s Interest Thereof.

India shares deep historical, cultural and civilizational links with West Asia. India’s civilizational links can be traced back to Indus/Dilmun civilization in ancient time to their anti-colonial struggle in modern times. In the post-colonial era both regions worked along the ideology of non-alignment.  In modern times the ties have been reinforced as both regions are developing common understanding and trying to deal with more or less common developmental challenges of the 21st century.

In present time we have seen the changing nature of India’s foreign policy and its dynamic engagement with countries world over. It’s certainly a good start where the bilateral relations are moving to a new platform and multi-dimensional engagement is becoming a norm rather than the exception. The present government or to say PM, has emphasized on India’s “Look West policy”, which is becoming a linchpin in linking with the region and has launched it’s upgraded version i.e. “Think West” Initiative.

To underscore the importance of our relations with West Asia lets embark upon few important aspect:

Economic Ties:

India’s economic and commercial engagement with the region is of the value of $ 185-200 billion/annum making it the largest trading regional block.

Investment Inflow is on consistent increase –  Year 2015 seen $ 1.09 billion investment from West Asia ( bulk of it coming to Core Sectors). India is looking to route the funds from West Asia in general and Qatar in particular through the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund ( NIIF ).

Various Political and Diplomatic visits to the West Asian Countries have attached central importance to boosting energy and economic ties. Here the difference is the commitment on both sides to upgrade the existing buyer-seller relations to long-term partnerships based on investments and joint ventures.

The two sides also agreed to pursue cooperation in new frontier areas, such as space, telecommunications, renewable energy, food security, sustainable development, desert ecology, and advanced healthcare.

Every country  pledged to become a partner in India’s developmental efforts, with the UAE even setting aside a fund of $75 billion to invest in India’s infrastructure needs.

Cultural Ties:

All countries emphasised the value of cultural ties  and committed themselves to enhancing people-to-people links. The joint statement with Iran, titled ‘Civilizational Connect, Contemporary Context’, particularly focussed on sustaining historic cultural ties through interactions among scholars, authors, artists, filmmakers, the media, and sportspersons.

Security Ties:

Most of the countries have spoken of India as their “strategic partner”, a status that represents a high degree of shared values, perceptions and approaches to matters of security concern.

The enhancement of defence ties has been given central importance by all the countries . This includes frequent dialogue between senior diplomats, joint exercises by the three arms of the military of both countries, joint marine operations, and supply and joint development of arms and ammunition.

Cooperation in defence and intelligence affirms that India is seen as a worthy partner in these sensitive areas by countries that face serious domestic and external threats from extremists.

Every Gulf country expressed anxiety about the threat from terrorism and pledged to work closely with India to combat it, not only through strong armed action but also by countering radicalisation through promotion of a moderate religious discourse espousing peace, tolerance, and inclusiveness.

In view of the situation in the region, new areas of defence and security cooperation have emerged which include counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing, piracy, money laundering, small arms smuggling, financing terror activities, etc. Specific measures for strengthening institutional security mechanisms can include: greater naval presence in the region; regular participation in Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) meetings; stronger regional cooperation through naval assets in the Strait of Hormuz and Red Sea for protection of maritime trade.

West Asia Today:

West Asia today is in the throes of the gravest crisis in its modern history. Besides the ongoing war in Syria, there is the scourge of radical Islamist Forces, represented by the transnational al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The two Islamic giants, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are locked in a competition in which each country sees the other as rivals With the deep doctrinal and political divide between them, the proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, the stage is set for their differences to escalate into direct conflict.

But it is important to note that the regional rivalries and friction among them are not imposing any undue pressure on India to choose among any particular country specific policy.
Moreover, the sizable Sovereign Wealth Funds of Gulf Countries can offer a significant platform in general and can provide a fillip to India’s liquidity starved infrastructural sector and initiatives like ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Smart Cities’ etc in particular.

India’s Concerns:

The region as a whole is undergoing rapid political transformation impacting the political and security situation of the region and its consequences that are felt beyond. The protests by the people of the region against their rulers demanding political and economic reforms and the subsequent fall of some long ruling authoritarian rulers and the rise of Islamists to power has significantly changed the political landscape of the region. The GCC-Iran rivalry, Shia-Sunni conflict, rise of religious radical tendencies have further led to destabilising the region. This is posing a serious challenge to India.

India’s energy security and its economic interests are linked intricately with regional security, as is the welfare of its more than million-strong diaspora, who significantly contributes towards the growth of the country’s GDP by way of remitting over $ 40 billion annually .

The region is a source for more than 50 per cent of our Oil and  85 per cent of our Gas requirement, critical for our Energy Security.

The Maghreb region is a major source of phosphate and other fertilizers, a significant factor in our Food Security.

India’s infamous ” Hormuz Dilemma “ – choking off the straits of Hormuz.

India’s abiding interests require that it  contribute actively to regional stability by promoting engagement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and by working with regional and extra-regional partners  to structure platforms for dialogue.

This is a daunting challenge, but India is fully equipped to handle it. India is no longer willing to be a passive recipients of outcomes. It’s growing capabilities make it a credible partner. The interplay among these nations actually offers us new avenues of cooperation.

Hence it is clear, that with huge stakes and interest in the region such as energy, trade, diaspora and security related issues it has become important for India to watch out for micro and macro developments in its ” extended neighbourhood”.