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India West Asia Relations

India West Asia Relations
West Asian Countries.

Overall analysis of India’s policy

West Asia is most sensitive region of International politics. Why? Former vice president Hamid Ansari, in his article TRAVELLING THROUGH THE CONFLICT suggests that the strategic importance of West Asia lies in its geography, its essential resources. However he points that West Asia suffers from the curse of centrality. 

West Asia suffers from the curse of centrality

Hamid Ansari, Former Vice President of India.

Importance for India

C Rajamohan explains India’s foreign policy strategy in form of 3 concentric circles.
1_Immediate neighbourhood.
2_Extended neighbourhood &
3_The outside world
West Asia is in the second concentric circle. West Asia is not just a gas station for India, it has huge strategic importance.

Views of Alfred T Mahan.
He advised British India to focus on West Asia to maintain the hegemony of British empire. India’s security is linked to peace and stability in West Asia.

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What has been India’s policy in West Asia?

One of the earliest decisions on foreign policy matters taken by independent India was related to West Asia i.e. The creation of Israel. What was India’s view of creation of Israel? Indian leaders opposed the creation because of Pakistan factor. India was against making religion the basis of statehood. India took pro-palestinian approach. It is generally believed that there is a domestic determinant of India’s stand on palestinian issue i.e. The sentiments of Muslim minorities in India.

Views of Ishrat Aziz
The foreign policy of any country including India is based on national interest. It was purely secular consideration. What? India knew that creation of Israel will destabilize the entire middle east. Instability create security threat for India. It is a wrong assumption that the sentiments of Muslims shaped India’s west Asia policy. It is to be noted that unlike USA where there are different lobbies, there is no Muslim lobby in India, directing India’s foreign policy. India’s foreign policy so far has been conducted in the framework of non-alignment. West Asia is the best place where India could successfully pursue non-alignment. India could maintain good relations with Iran, Israel as well as Gulf countries. This shows that even for West Asian countries, religion is not a consideration. At present, Gulf countries are strengthening their relations with India even at the cost of Pakistan. Reason is, they are looking at India as an opportunity. e.g. Saudi Arabia wants to diversify its economy rather than just relying on oil exports. Gulf countries are looking at India as a net security provider. India is also a source of cheap labour. India has huge cultural capital, diaspora in the region. //30% of UAE population is Indian. (3.5 million).

Former Ambassador Ranjit Gupta described India’s policy as ‘non interventionist, non judgemental, non prescriptive and non alignment’. India has stayed away from taking sides in Local conflicts. What should be India’s policy in West Asia? West Asia is a highly challenging area because of numerous fault lines. It is not easy to navigate through ‘the choppy waters’ of the politics in West Asia. So far India has done well. India could protect its interests, even none of the non state actors in West Asia have directly targeted against India.

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There are two schools of thought in India.

1) Continue the traditional policy. Maintain low profile.
Prof. Girijesh Pant
– West Asia is not a place for display of India’s power. It is a place for augmentation of India’s power.

Former Ambassador Ranjit Gupta – Our policy should be based on the mature recognition of the limits of our capabilities. India’s passivity is fine in unpredictable and volatile environment. If speech is silver, silence is golden.

2) India should play more proactive role.
Former foreign secretary S Jaishankar (@ Raisina dialogue). India’s foreign policy should change in accordance to its changed status. India should be a leading power and not just a balancing power. India’s ‘think west’ shall match match India’s ‘act east’.
According to him, up till now our foreign policy towards West Asia was free from ‘strategic calculations’ driven by market than by strategic interest. However now we are consolidating the partnership.

C Rajamohan – After many false starts, India is emerging as the swing state. India has potential to shape the outcomes on many critical issues.

Chinmaya Gharekhan – India should leave the passive approach and should raise its ‘diplomatic profile’.

Nicolas Blarel – Article RECALIBRATING INDIA’S MIDDLE EAST POLICY. // Expert on India Israel relationship.
India is a linked to the region through culture, commerce and colonialism. India needs multiple engagements. Under Modi govt. India is able to overcome its attitude of looking at West Asia through the prism of Pakistan.

Achievement in ‘look west.’

Though there is a impression that Look East is the most successful initiative but actually from the very beginning, Look West has been successful. Still India’s trade with South East Asia is much less than the bilateral trade India has with Gulf Countries ($ 200 bn).

1. Gulf countries – up till now India has neglected Saudi Arabia, UAE but we have entered into the strategic partnership. Even India does have good relations with Qatar. Prime Minister visited even Qatar.

2. Iran – PM tried to consolidate relations with Iran also. However India Iran relations have never reached to its optimal potential. The reason is Iran’s aspiration to become the leader in the Muslim world compels Iran to take pro-Pakistan approach in Kashmir. Iran is also fearful of Saudi Arabia loosing Pakistan to create instability. India’s compulsions to have closer relations with USA make it difficult for India to maintain equity in the relations. According to Iranian diplomat’s New Delhi’s Qiblah is Washington. According to PM Modi, there is a huge potential. Once we make up our mind, distance is just half a step.

3. Israel – India always had close relations with Israel. However the relationship has not been open. Nehru’s policy towards Israel was ‘recognition without relations’. Nehru took extremely pro-palestinian stand. It used to be said that Nehru tried to look more Arab than the Arabs themselves. Much before India, Egypt, Jordan recognized Israel. Israel has always provided critical help in India’s war against Pakistan. Israel’s help was critical in Kargil war. It was during the time of Narsimha Rao in 1992 that we established full diplomatic relations. Now across the party consensus is to maintain close relations with Israel. What is new in Modi’s approach? RSS has always been in favour of close relations with Israel. Vajpeyi called Israel as a natural ally. Modi has personal chemistry with Bibi Netanyahu. They believed that India – Israel marriage was made in heaven.

The basic difference in Congress and BJP’s approach is, Congress’s approach was to keep the relations in closet. It used to be said that Palestine is like a wife and Israel is like a mistress. There is always more love for mistress but person walks with wife. Israel was not happy with the status of mistress hence Modi govt. has brought the relations in public.

According to C Rajamohan, Modi’s approach is transparent and more confident. There  was no need to hide closeness with Israel. Is Israel India’s natural ally? 1) Israel is critical for conventional and non-conventional security of India. India can get high technology weapons at a much cheaper prize.  2) Israel has expertise in servicing Soviet weapons.  3) Israel has expertise in controlling cross border terrorism.  4) Israel is also important for food security. It has expertise in dryland farming.

However we cannot say Israel as India’s natural ally. 1) Gulf countries are in our closer neighbourhood.  2) Gulf provides huge remittances, energy, diaspora. We cannot pursue our relations with Israel at the cost of Gulf. We should not ignore the fact that Bibi Netanyahu uses similar terminologies for China. Israel also has huge partnership with China. They are also giong for joint production. Israel’s approach towards India is ‘transactional’ and not even strategic. According to Nicolas Blarel, the strategic partnership is a rhetoric. No scope for natural ally, they are placed in different security situations. They do not even have common enemies. There are ‘obvious constraints’ on their strategic relations and regional pressures over India will prevent India from taking neutral position. However India’s stand on Palestine is diluting because 1) Palestinian issue is now an orphan. 2) Muslim world itself is divided.  Hence India can be more pragmatic in its approach.

4. Turkey – India never had good relations with Turkey. Turkey showered all of her love for Pakistan because 1) Turkey’s aspiration to be a leader in Muslim world.  2) Turkey has been a US ally.  3) Turkey also has been semi-authoritarian with huge influence of military.  However Modi govt. tried to restart engagements. It is said that diplomacy is ‘converting friends into allies, neutrals into friends and adversaries into neutrals’. However Modi has played ‘hardball diplomacy’. Turkey is always critical of India’s approach towards Pakistan, hence India invited the president of Cyprus before the visit of the president of Turkey. There is nothing wrong if India reminds Turkey that it does not live in glass house and has messy relations with its neighbours.

Diplomacy is converting friends into allies, neutrals into friends and adversaries into neutrals’.

A popular saying.

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