7 Oct 2016 | GS2 | West Asia is an important region for India. Are we giving less attention to it in light of the Look East policy? Are better ties with Israel and Iran leading to problems with other West Asian nations?

GS2 (International relations)

West Asia is an important region for India. Are we giving less attention to it in light of the Look East policy? Are better ties with Israel and Iran leading to problems with other West Asian nations?

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For an energy starve country battling with the menace of terrorism and harbouring a huge population, the region of West Asia is truly a perfect trade partner as:
1. Around 60% of oil is imported from the region.
2. Large number of migrants move to the region to work in both blue collar and lately white collar jobs.
3. The sovereign wealth funds of these countries are potential investments in infrastructure sector.
4. Partnership on counter terrorism (like that with Saudi Arabia).
5. As a gateway to Central Asia that bypasses Pakistan (INSTC, Ashgabat Agreement, IRan partnership)

Although look east has Beena defining policy for India for some while, there has been limited involvement in West Asia, mainly because:
1. Political and security turmoil in the region.
2. The inability to forge a balanced relationships with players having different ambitions, for instance;
– the strife between Iran and Saudi Arabia, has limited our options in getting closer to any one or both of them.
– the animosity between Israel and Arab world has challenged our security related partnership with Israel and energy related partnership with GcC.

Because of the deep ethnic divide between Shias and Sunnis (and to some extent the Jews), the whole region has been divided into spheres of influence that has made making inroads rather difficult.

In such a scenario, perhaps the best way forward would be to work on commonalities that each has with various groups without irritating the other faction – a sort of revival of West Asian NAM, by:
1. Exploring common anti terrorism and work immigration ties with Saudi Arabia along with the age old oil relations.
2. Working with Iran over regional connectivity and refraining from military arrangements.
3. Technical areas of convergence like cleaning Ganga, agriculture and defence I prts without any explicit military level engagement.

The challenge is to balance the three legged chair, albeit of different lengths – Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran.

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