West Asia is currently in turmoil. There are a number of challenges that plague the region and have caused significant upheaval in recent years. The core issue in the Middle Eastern political scenario seems to be the intrinsic disconnect between the regimes and the people they govern.
First, the horrific rise of the Islamic State (IS) and the spread of its extremist ideology in Iraq and Syria. The spill-over effects of IS to other countries in the region and the spread of extremism to other parts of the world are also of grave concern.
Second, the repercussions of the Arab Spring are still being felt in the region with Syria and Yemen on the brink of civil war. Military intervention by other Arab states in these conflicts and the rapidly intensifying humanitarian crises that these conflicts have created are serious causes of concern for the region.
Third, the Arab states are greatly wary of Iran’s nuclear aspirations and its increasing involvement in the Arab world’s conflicts through proxy wars.
More, recently the drone attacks on major Saudi hydrocarbon facilities have upscaled the tensions in the region and increasing the trust deficit.
Finally, America’s waning interest and involvement in the Middle East have created a future of uncertainty for regional security.
India has traditionally followed a ‘hands-off’ approach toward West Asian countries and consequently enjoyed good relations with them. It has refused to overstretch itself and interfere in the conflicts of the Middle East.
However, recent geopolitical tussle has cascading impacts and multiplier effect-
Amid all the regional tensions, Indian migrants in the GCC countries alone generated remittances worth $40 billion in 2018 highlights the need for India to stabilize its interests in the region.
The Gulf supplying nearly two-thirds of India’s oil and gas are from the oil-rich powers of the region.
The proximity of the region and the spill-over effects of religious extremism are only few of the reasons why India needs to increase its involvement in the region.
A pro-active Indian approach to the Middle East and its problems would also ensure greater visibility for India vis-à-vis the rising influence of China.
A strong India-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) relationship is essential for India’s rising economic interests and India’s aspirations to exert its influence beyond the Indian Ocean.
Maintaining a close relationship with the Sunni monarchs of the Arab world without disrupting the relationship with Iran is most challenging.
Given their multiple interests in the Middle East, India must not take sides between Arabs and Israel, the Shia and Sunni, until it becomes absolutely unavoidable.
Need for sustained diplomatic outreach. India must extend its bilateral visits to all these countries for greater cooperation
So long as the US remains the principal power shaping the region, New Delhi must find ways to maximize regional cooperation with the US, where our interests converge and minimize the negative consequences when they diverge.
As conflicts deepen in our western neighborhood, many nations would look towards increased security cooperation with New Delhi. India, in turn, needs an active engagement with the armed forces of the region, which should include arms transfers.
India also needs new guidelines on when it would deploy its armies in the region. India has a long tradition of sending troops to the Middle East and Africa on peacekeeping missions.
The “balancing” policy in the region has so far made sure that India sets its priorities to ensure energy security and accelerate economic ties in the region. Nevertheless, the sectarian-based conflicts and the proxy wars that constantly weaken the Middle East’s security and stability make it extremely complex for India to stabilize its interests in the region, much less venture into new domains of engagements.