Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

[op-ed snap] Backing West Asia


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much
Mains level: Saudi Crown prince Visit to India And deepening of bilateral realtionship and change in regional dynamics


  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India this week — as part of a larger tour of Asia including Pakistan and China.

Importance of visit

  • It will mark the consolidation of two important trends and help initiate a significant third.
  • The first relates to the trilateral dynamic with Pakistan and the second to the deepening of the bilateral relationship between Delhi and Riyadh.
  • The third is about extending support to Prince Salman’s agenda for “reversing 1979”, when tumultuous regional developments and the Saudi response to them began to alter the equation between religion and politics in the region, destabilise India’s neighbourhood and change South Asia’s inter-state relations for the worse.

Change in South Asia And Gulf relationship after British Withdrawal

  • The Subcontinent’s historic relationship with the Gulf is deep and civilisational.
  • British Raj in undivided India became both the provider of security and the facilitator of the region’s economic globalisation.
  • After Partition and Independence, Pakistan sought to mobilise political support from the Middle East in the name of shared religious identity.
    Non-aligned India had little interest in continuing the strategic legacy of the Raj.
  • At the political level, India’s emphasis was on solidarity with Arab nationalism and against neo-colonialism and Western imperialism.
  • Riyadh became the moving force behind the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
  • The forum’s hostile rhetoric on the Kashmir question (at the instigation of Pakistan) generated the perception in Delhi that Saudi Arabia and the conservative monarchies were “pro-Pakistan”.

Reason for Interest conflicts

  • Divergence over regional issues such as Afghanistan,
    India’s embrace of the Soviet Union.
  • The deep dependence of the Gulf kingdoms on the West
    Saudi support for radical Islam beyond its borders since the late 1970s.

Growing Proximity over the years

  • The end of the Cold War, India’s economic reforms, and the growing economic interdependence , growing oil imports and manpower exports, generated greater interest in the Gulf monarchies.
  • As the gap in national economic capabilities between India and Pakistan began to widen since the 1990s in favour of Delhi, Saudi Arabia de-hyphenated its engagement in South Asia.
  • Delhi stopped viewing the Saudi kingdom through the political lens of Pakistan.
  • Prince Salman’s visit now is an opportunity for Delhi to construct a solid and comprehensive partnership on the foundation laid over the last decade.

New Avenues for cooperation

  • Beyond the traditional focus on strengthening cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector new possibilities come from Prince Salman’s ambitious agenda for modernising the economy of the Saudi kingdom.
  • Bilateral agenda for cooperation to counter terrorism.
  • Bilateral defence cooperation and developing bilateral strategic coordination on regional affairs.

Reversing 1979

  1. Four developments in 1979
  • seizure of Mecca’s Grand Mosque by militant Saudi Salafis.
  • overthrow of the Shah of Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini
  • Shia revolt in eastern Saudi Arabia
  • the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
  1. Forced with new internal and external threats, the House of Saud promoted a more conservative Islam at home and support Sunni extremism abroad.
  2. This included support to the jihad in Afghanistan and the American and Pakistani war against the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul.

Way Forward

  • Prince Salman vowed to overcome the deviations of 1979 and return Saudi Arabia to “moderate Islam”.
  • Many observers, are sceptical of the potential for real change in Saudi Arabia.
    Delhi, in contrast, has every reason to strongly support Prince.
  • After all, India continues to suffer the consequences of 1979.
  • Apart from number of MoUs that India will sign with Saudi this week, is Delhi’s visible and unstinted solidarity with Prince Salman’s reform agenda at home and his effort to promote religious and political moderation in the region.
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