Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

The Abraham Accords as India’s West Asia bridge

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Implications of Abrahams Accord for India

Context

The recent visit by the Indian Air Force chief, to Israel offers a window to study how India is taking advantage of the Abraham Accords deal signed between Israel and a consortium of Arab States led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2020.

Increasing defence cooperation between India and West Asia region

  • India’s trajectory towards an increased strategic footprint in West Asia has been in development for some time now.
  • Starting from the relatively low-key staging visit to Saudi Arabia conducted by the IAF in 2015.
  • India hosted visiting Iranian naval warships in 2018.
  • India takes an active part in the defence of the critical waterways in and around the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the extended Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
  • An Indian contingent of the Indian Air Force (IAF) will visit Israel in October to take part in multilateral military exercises.
  • India also conducted the ‘Zayed Talwar’ naval exercises with the UAE off the coast of Abu Dhabi, further deepening the fast-developing strategic cooperation between the two countries.
  • In December 2020, Indian Army chief visited the UAE and Saudi Arabia, becoming the first chief of the Indian Army to do so.
  • In 2017, India signed a deal with Oman, the home to Duqm Port  for access to the facility, including dry dock use by the Indian Navy.

How Abraham Accords accelerated India’s engagement with West Asia region?

  • No need for balancing act: The signing of the Accords has removed a significant strategic obstacle for India — delicate balancing act India has had to play out between the Arab Gulf and Israel over the decades.
  • India had welcomed the Accords, highlighting its support for mechanisms that offer peace and stability in the region.
  • From the UAE’s perspective, Accords were to make sure the emirate along with its international centres of trade such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi do not become targets between Jerusalem and Tehran.
  • However, not all Arab States have been on board with the geopolitical shifts the Accords have pushed through.
  • Saudi Arabia has maintained a distance from this arrangement.

India’s West Asia construct and relations with Iran

  • Iran, as part of India’s ‘West Asia’ construct, will also play a significant part in India’s outreach in the months to come as the crisis in Afghanistan deepens.
  • Connectivity projects such as Chabahar Port and Chabahar-Zahedan rail project (project discussions are still on) amongst others remain critical.
  • Recently,  strategic cooperation revitalised despite multiple obstacles in the bilateral relations, led by U.S. sanctions against Tehran and the general tensions between Israel, the Gulf and Iran via proxy battles in theatres such as Yemen, Syria and beyond.

Conclusion

India’s strategic play in West Asia will be reflective of its economic growth, and by association, an increasingly important place in the global order.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Abraham Accords as India’s West Asia bridge

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Abraham Accord

Mains level : India's West-Asia plan

The recent visit by the Indian Air Force chief to Israel offers a window to study how New Delhi is taking advantage of the Abraham Accords deal signed between Israel and a consortium of Arab States.

Try this question:

What are Abraham Accords? Discuss how the Israel-Gulf synergy could impact India’s relations with Israel.

0
Please leave a feedback on thisx

What are Abraham Accords?

  • The Israel–UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
  • It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
  • The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
  • Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank. The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

Do you know?

Abraham was the first of the Hebrew patriarchs and a figure revered by the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

New friendships

  • For common enemy: Externally, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain share the common threat perception of Iran.
  • Upholding modern values: They are relatively more modern societies that share the overarching and immediate priority of post-pandemic economic resuscitation.
  • Extended cooperation: They have lost no time to set up logistics such as Internet connectivity and direct flights to pave the way for more active economic engagement.

India and the Gulf

  • Now India has stronger, multifaceted and growing socioeconomic engagements with Israel and the Gulf countries.
  • With over eight million Indian diasporas in the Gulf remitting annually nearly $50 billion, annual merchandise trade of over $150 billion.
  • It sources nearly two-thirds of India’s hydrocarbon imports, major investments, etc. Hence it is natural to ask how the new regional dynamic would affect India.
  • India has acquired a large and rewarding regional footprint, particularly as the preferred source of manpower, food products, pharmaceuticals, gem and jewellery, light engineering items, etc.
  • Indians are also the biggest stakeholders in Dubai’s real estate, tourism, and Free Economic Zones.
  • In the evolving scenario, there may be scope for a profitable trilateral synergy, but India cannot take its preponderance as a given.

The Israel-GCC synergy

  • Culture: Even the Israeli Arabs may find career opportunities to bridge the cultural divide. Israel is known as the start-up nation and its stakeholders could easily fit in the various duty-free incubators in the UAE.
  • Tourism: Tourism, real estate and financial service sectors on both sides have suffered due to the pandemic and hope for a positive spin-off from the peer-to-peer interactions.
  • Defense: Israel has niche strengths in defence, security and surveillance equipment, arid farming, solar power, horticultural products, high-tech, gem and jewellery, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Technology: Further, Israel has the potential to supply skilled and semi-skilled manpower to the GCC states, particularly from the Sephardim and Mizrahim ethnicities, many of whom speak Arabic.

The Iran link

  • Iran, as part of India’s ‘West Asia’ construct, will also play a significant part in India’s outreach in the months to come as the crisis in Afghanistan deepens.
  • The fact that New Delhi used Iranian airspace and facilities when evacuating its diplomatic staff from Kandahar in July showcases a level of strategic commonality.
  • Keeping this in mind, connectivity projects such as Chabahar Port and Chabahar-Zahedan rail project (project discussions are still on) amongst others remain critical.

Conclusion

  • India’s strategic play in West Asia will be reflective of its economic growth, and by association, an increasingly important place in the global order.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Making a case for Indo-Abrahamic accord

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Abraham Accords

Mains level : Paper 2- Opportunities for India in middle east

Context

An Egyptian scholar, Mohammed Soliman, has recently written about the significance of what he calls the emerging “Indo-Abrahamic Accord” and its trans-regional implications to the west of India.

About Abraham Accord

  • Abraham Accord, signed in August last year in Washington, signifies the normalisation of Israel’s relations with the UAE and Bahrain.
  • The UAE and Bahrain were followed by Sudan and Morocco in signing the Abraham Accords.
  • Although Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) had established diplomatic relations with Israel earlier, the Abraham Accords are widely seen as making a definitive breakthrough in the relations between Israel and the Arabs.

Factors in favour of accord

  • Depth of trilateral relationship: Although India had relations with UAE and Israel for many years, they certainly have acquired political depth and strategic character recently.
  • Converging interests: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s assertive claims for the leadership of the Islamic world and hostile stand against India on several issues, indicates converging interests between India, the UAE, and Israel.
  • One of the unintended consequences of Erdogan’s overweening regional ambition, his alienation of Israel as well as moderate Arabs, his conflict with Greece, and his embrace of Pakistan is the extraordinary opportunity for India to widen India’s reach to the west of the Subcontinent
  • Cooperation: There are many areas like defence, aerospace and digital innovation where the three countries can pool their resources and coordinate development policies.
  • India’s extended neighbourhood: The notion of a “Greater Middle East” can provide a huge fillip to India’s engagement with the extended neighbourhood to the west.

India-Turkey relations

  • Hostile approach on Kashmir: Turkey has been championing Pakistan’s case on Kashmir after India changed the territorial status quo of the state in August 2019.
  • Blocking NSG entry: At Pakistan’s behest, Turkey is also blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
  • The new geopolitical churn is also driven by Pakistan’s growing alignment with Turkey and its alienation from its traditionally strong supporters in the Arab Gulf — the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Opportunities for India in extended neighbourhood to the west

  • Relations with Greece: The renewed territorial disputes between Turkey and Greece, and Turkey’s quest for regional dominance has drawn Greece and the UAE closer.
  • Greece has also looked towards India to enhance bilateral security cooperation. 
  • Greece’s European partners like France, which have a big stake in the Mediterranean as well as the Arab Gulf, have taken an active interest in countering Turkey’s regional ambitions.
  • Erdogan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to overthrow the current political order in the region, has deeply angered the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
  • India’s relations with Egypt: If there is one country that can give substantive depth to the Indo-Abrahamic Accord it is Egypt.
  • Located at the cusp of Mediterranean Europe, Africa, and Asia, Egypt is the very heart of the Greater Middle East.
  • Independent India’s engagement with the region in the 1950s was centred on a close partnership with Egypt.
  • If Delhi and Cairo lost each other in recent decades, India can rebuild the strategic partnership jointly with the Egypt government which is calling for the construction of a “New Republic” in Egypt.
  • The notion of a “Greater Middle East” can provide a huge fillip to India’s engagement with the extended neighbourhood to the west.
  • The familiar regional institutions like the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation might endure but are incapable of addressing the region’s contradictions.

Consider the question “Amid Turkey’s quest for regional dominance and hostility towards India, the deepening engagement between India, the UAE and Israel can be converted into a formal coalition on the lines of Abraham Accords” Comment.

Conclusion

The opportunities that are coming India’s way to the west of the Subcontinent are as consequential as those that have recently emerged in the east.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India-Turkey relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Turkey's rising space in geopolitical arena

As a new round of geopolitical jousting begins on India’s north-western frontiers, Delhi must deal with a number of new actors that have carved out a role for themselves in the region.

Overambitious Turkey

  • Our focus today is on Turkey’s regional ambitions (particularly in Afghanistan) and their implications for India.
  • Ankara is in negotiations with the US on taking charge of the Kabul airport which is critical for an international presence in Afghanistan that is coming under the Taliban’s control.
  • Turkey has been running Kabul airport security for a while, but doing so after the US pullout will be quite demanding.
  • Taking a longer view, though, Turkey is not a new regional actor in India’s northwest.

Turkey and Afghanistan

  • Ankara and Kabul have recently celebrated the centennial of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
  • Through this century, Turkey has engaged purposefully with Afghanistan over a wide domain.
  • While it joined the NATO military mission in Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban at the end of 2001, Turkey avoided any combat role and differentiated itself from the Western powers.
  • Ankara has contributed to the training of the Afghan military and police forces.
  • It has also undertaken much independent humanitarian and developmental work.

Affinity with Pakistan

  • Turkey’s good relations with both Afghanistan and Pakistan have also given space for Ankara to present itself as a mediator between the warring South Asian neighbours.
  • Turkey’s “Heart of Asia” conference or the Istanbul Process has been a major diplomatic vehicle for attempted Afghan reconciliation in the last few years.
  • Widespread goodwill for Turkey in Afghanistan has now come in handy for the US in managing some elements of the post-withdrawal phase.
  • In Pakistan, PM Imran Khan has rallied behind Erdogan’s ambition to seize the leadership of the Islamic world from Saudi Arabia.
  • Pakistan’s Army Chief had to step in to limit the damage with Saudi Arabia, which has long been Pakistan’s major economic benefactor.

Challenges for India

  • Turkey’s growing role in Afghanistan opens a more difficult phase in relations between Delhi and Ankara.
  • India’s opposition to alliances and Turkey’s alignments reflected divergent international orientations of Delhi and Ankara after the Second World War.
  • And Turkey’s deepening bilateral military-security cooperation with Pakistan made it even harder for Delhi to take a positive view of Ankara.
  • Turkey and Pakistan were part of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) that was set up in 1955 by the British.
  • Although CENTO eventually wound up in 1979, Turkey and Pakistan remained close partners in a number of regional organizations and international forums like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Pre-Erdogan era Turkey

  • The shared secular values between Delhi and Ankara in the pre-Erdogan era were not enough to overcome the strategic differences between the two in the Cold War.
  • To make matters more complicated, the positive legacy of the Subcontinent’s solidarity with the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic, emerged out of its ruins in the early 20th century, accrued mostly to Pakistan.
  • There were moments — during the tenures of PM Rajiv Gandhi and Mr Vajpayee, when India and Turkey seemed poised for a more productive relationship.
  • But those have been rather few and far between.

Turkey’s departure from Secularism

  • Meanwhile, Turkey’s Islamist internationalism under Recep Tayyip Erdogan has inevitably led to its deeper alliance with Pakistan, greater meddling in South Asia, and a sharper contraction with India.
  • The Pakistani prism through which Delhi has long seen Ankara, however, has prevented it from fully appreciating the growing strategic salience of Turkey.
  • Erdogan’s active claim for leadership of the Islamic world has seen a more intensive Turkish political, religious, and cultural outreach to the Subcontinent’s 600 million Muslims.

Self-goals on Kashmir

  • Turkey has become the most active international supporter of Pakistan on the Kashmir question.
  • Delhi is aware of Erdogan’s hypocrisy on minority rights.
  • While pitching for self-determination in Kashmir, Erdogan actively tramples on the rights of its Kurdish minority at home and confronts them across Turkey’s border in Syria and Iraq.

Other ambitions in Asia

  • Erdogan was quick to condemn the Bangladesh government’s hanging of a senior extremist leader in 2016.
  • But in a reflection of his strategic suppleness, Erdogan also offered strong political support for Dhaka on the Rohingya refugee crisis.
  • As Bangladesh emerges as an attractive economy, Ankara is now stepping up its commercial cooperation with Dhaka.
  • Turkey, which hosted the Caliphate in the Ottoman era, had natural spiritual resonance among the South Asian Muslims.

Riving the Caliphate

  • With the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924, Turkey’s Westernization under Ataturk reduced its religious significance.
  • Erdogan’s Islamist politics are about regaining that salience.
  • Erdogan’s strategy marks the declining relevance of the old antinomies — between alliances and autonomy, East and West, North and South, Islam and the West, Arabs and the Jews — that so resonate with the traditional Indian foreign policy discourse.

Stance on Israel

  • Turkey was the first Muslim-majority nation that established full diplomatic relations with Israel.
  • Erdogan now actively mobilizes the Arab and Islamic world against Israel without breaking relations with Tel Aviv.
  • Erdogan’s outrage on Israel is about presenting himself as a better champion of Palestine than his Arab rivals.

India’s option against Turkey

  • India, which has been at the receiving end of Erdogan’s internationalism, has multiple options in pushing back.
  • The recent naval exercise between India and Greece in the Mediterranean offers a small hint of India’s possibilities in Turkey’s neighbourhood.
  • Many Arab leaders reject Erdogan’s policies that remind them of Ottoman imperialism.
  • They resent Erdogan’s support of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood that seek to overthrow moderate governments in the Middle East.
  • There is much that India can do to up its game in the Arab world.

Lessons for India

  • The new fluidity in geopolitics in India’s extended neighbourhood to the west.
  • Agency for regional powers is growing as the influence of great power weakens.
  • Religious ideology, like the more secular ones, is a cover for the pursuit of power.
  • Finally, Erdogan has carefully modulated his confrontation with major powers by avoiding a breakdown in relations.

Conclusion

  • For Erdogan, the choices are not between black and white. That should be a good guide for India’s own relations with Turkey.
  • Delhi needs to vigorously challenge Turkey’s positions where it must, seize the opportunities opened by regional resentments against Erdogan’s adventurism, and at the same time prepare for a more intensive bilateral engagement with Ankara.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Explained: India, Israel and Palestine Ties

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : India's position on Israel-Palestine conflict

Recently India’s permanent representative to the UN made a carefully crafted statement at the UN Security Council “open debate” on the escalating Israel-Palestine violence.

Must read:

[Burning Issue] West Asia Peace Plan

The story so far

  • The violence started on 6 May, when Palestinian protests began in Jerusalem over an anticipated decision of the Supreme Court of Israel on the eviction of six Palestinian families a neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem.
  • Israel’s operation “Guardian of the Walls” began with attacks on Hamas (a fundamentalist Palestinian group) tunnels close to the border fence with Israel.
  • India has adopted a balanced approach to the current Israeli-Palestine conflict that has pushed the volatile region into yet another cycle of violence.

India’s long-standing position

  • India has since long been maintaining that the Israel-Palestine conflict should be resolved through negotiation resulting in sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
  • India has urged both countries to “engage with each other, including on the recent proposals put forward by the United States, and find an acceptable two-state solution for peaceful coexistence”.

The dilemma

  • India seems to strive to maintain a balance between India’s historic ties with Palestine and its blossoming relations with Israel.
  • The request that both sides refrain from “attempts to unilaterally change the existing status quo including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhoods” seems to be a message to Israel about its settler policy.
  • The statement was also emphatic that “the historic status quo at the holy places of Jerusalem including the Haraml al-Sharif/Temple Mount must be respected”.

Ties with spikes

  • India’s policy on the longest-running conflict in the world has gone from being unequivocally pro-Palestine for the first four decades, to a tense balancing act with its three-decade-old friendly ties with Israel.
  • In recent years, India’s position has also been perceived as pro-Israel.

From Nehru to Rao

  • The balancing began with India’s decision to normalize ties with Israel in 1992, which came against the backdrop of the break-up of the Soviet Union.
  • There were massive shifts in the geopolitics of West Asia on account of the first Gulf War in 1990.
  • That year, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) lost much of its clout in the Arab world by siding with Iraq and Saddam Hussein in the occupation of Kuwait.
  • The opening of an Indian embassy in Tel Aviv in January 1992 marked an end to four decades of giving Israel the cold shoulder, as India’s recognition of Israel in 1950 had been minus full diplomatic ties.
  • PM Nehru’s reasoning for the decision to recognise Israel was that it was “an established fact”, and that not doing so would create bitterness between two UN members.

Why did India then support Palestine?

  • In 1948, India was the only non-Arab-state among 13 countries that voted against the UN partition plan of Palestine in the General Assembly that led to the creation of Israel.
  • Scholars ascribe various reasons for this India’s own Partition along religious lines; as a new nation that had just thrown off its colonial yoke; solidarity with the Palestinian people who would be dispossessed; and to ward off Pakistan’s plan to isolate India over Kashmir.
  • Later, India’s energy dependence on the Arab countries also became a factor, as did the sentiments of India’s own Muslim citizens.

India and Palestine

  • The relationship with Palestine was almost an article of faith in Indian foreign policy for over four decades.
  • At the 53rd UN session, India co-sponsored the draft resolution on the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.
  • In the 1967 and 1973 wars, India lashed out at Israel as the aggressor.
  • In the 1970s, India rallied behind the PLO and its leader as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
  • In 1975, India became the first non-Arab country to recognise the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people and invited it to open an office in Delhi.
  • In 1988, when the PLO declared an independent state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, India granted recognition immediately.

Continuity for the cause

  • India voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution in October 2003 against Israel’s construction of a separation wall.
  • It voted for Palestine to become a full member of UNESCO in 2011, and a year later, co-sponsored the UNGA resolution that enabled Palestine to become a “non-member” observer state at the UN without voting rights.
  • India also supported the installation of the Palestinian flag on the UN premises in September 2015.

Changes after 2014

  • For two-and-a-half decades from 1992, the India-Israel relationship continued to grow, mostly through defence deals, and in sectors such as science and technology and agriculture.
  • But India never acknowledged the relationship fully.
  • There were few high-profile visits, and they all took place when the PM Vajpayee was in office.
  • Israel was perceived as an ideal of a “strong state” that deals “firmly” with “terrorists”.
  • It was during NDA-2 that the government under PM Modi decided to take full ownership of the relationship with Israel.

Balancing act

  • Meanwhile, India continues to improve ties with Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE and feels vindicated by the decision of some Arab states to improve ties with Israel.
  • For instance, even as it abstained at UNESCO in December 2017, India voted in favour of a resolution in the UNGA opposing Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Factors driving India’s growing security footprints in West Asia

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India's growing security footprints in West Asia

The article examines the factors that are leading to a growing footprint of Asian economies in West Asia.

Growing interest of Asian Economies  in West Asia

  • This month, a contingent of the Indian Air Force participated in a multi-nation exercise hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) named Desert Flag (March 3-27).
  • Other than India and the UAE, Bahrain, France, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the United States are also participating.
  • While joint exercises in West Asia between Arab states and their western counterparts is common, the 2021 edition’s involvement of contingents from India and South Korea.
  • This showcases the growing interests of Asian economies.
  • As net importers of crude oil, these Asian economies rely heavily on the West Asian states for their supplies,
  • And, by association, Asian economies have increased stakes in the safety and security of the region from the perspective of political and economic stability.
  • And more importantly, in the protection of vital sea lanes in areas such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea stretching out into the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean.

Declining U.S. influence

  • In April 2020, Saudi Arabia was India’s top supplier of oil followed by Iraq.
  • For South Korea, in late 2019, it was also Saudi Arabia as the top supplier.
  • The participation of both India and South Korea in these exercises in the Persian Gulf is reflective of these trends and growing concerns in Asian capitals over an eroding U.S. security blanket in the region.

Tension in Iran-U.S. relations

  • Both India and South Korea have found themselves caught in regional tensions as the pressure on Iran to restart the 2015 nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) increases.
  • Both India and South Korea have faced carbon-copy consequences over the past decade as the West first negotiated with Iran, and later tried to manage the fallout of the JCPOA collapse.

India’s role in protecting it’s energy interests

  • The idea of Asian nations having to band together to protect their energy interests in West Asia is not new.
  • Former Indian diplomats have even suggested an idea equitable to an ‘importers OPEC’ led by Asian states which today have a much larger stake in West Asia’s oil than the West.
  • The Indian Navy has made multiple port calls from the UAE and Kuwait to Iran and Qatar in recent years.
  • In 2020, India had also planned its first bilateral naval exercise with Saudi Arabia.

Consider the question “Examine the factors responsible for India’s growing security footprint in West Asia and how India is achieving its objectives?”

Conclusion

Regional states will become more responsible for their own security, and as Asian economies become stronger stakeholders, their geopolitics will become more visible across this geography.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Geopolitical turbulence in the Middle East and consequences for Indian subcontinent

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Countries of the Middle East

Mains level : Paper 3- Trends from the Middle East and implications for the Indian subcontinent

Three broad trends emerging from the Middle East and its implication for the region have been discussed here.

Growing vulnerability of Iran and implications for subcontinent

  • The brazen murder of a top Iranian nuclear scientist highlights the Islamic Republic of Iran’s growing strategic vulnerabilities.
  • This geopolitical turbulence in the Middle East has major consequences for the subcontinent.
  • Whether they want to or not, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh must deal with three broad trends that define the new Middle East.

3 Trends in the Middle East

1) Iran’s growing isolation

  •  The Trump administration and the Republicans, Israel and the Gulf Arabs have a shared interest in preventing the next US President from renewing nuclear diplomacy with Iran and ending Tehran’s isolation.
  • The assassination of Fakhrizadeh is about achieving that political objective.
  • If Iran retaliates vigorously, it will invite an all-out confrontation with Israel and the US.
  • Holding back will expose Iran’s weakness and sharpen internal divisions between pragmatists who want to engage the US and the hardliners.
  • The frequent attacks on high-profile Iranian targets indicate hostile penetration of its society such that domestic opponents of the regime are now willing to collaborate with foreign security agencies, including Israel’s Mossad.
  •  Iran’s internal political weakness is compounded by the massive economic pain imposed by the Trump administration through sanctions.
  • Iran has much goodwill in South Asia, but India and its neighbours have no desire to get sucked into Tehran’s conflicts with the Arabs or the US.

2)  Transformation of Arab relations with Israel

  • The fear of Iran has been driving Gulf Arabs to embrace Israel.
  • In the last few months, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have normalised ties with Israel.
  • There is speculation of an impending normalisation of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  • Pakistan’s Prime Minister has talked of pressure, apparently from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, on recognising Israel.
  • If Pakistan recognises Israel, Bangladesh would not want to be left behind.
  • Economic and technological collaboration with Israel will give Bangladesh’s economy and foreign policy a big boost.
  • For Israel, having Bangladesh and Pakistan, two of the world’s largest Islamic nations, recognise it would be a great ideological and political bonus
  • An India that proclaims the virtues of engaging all sides in the Middle East can’t grudge the same privilege for Israel in South Asia.

3) Rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Turkey

  • While Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE want to return the Middle East towards political and religious moderation, the once secular Turkey has become the new champion of political Islam.
  • Turkey’s contestation with Saudi Arabia is already having an impact on India and Pakistan.
  • Turkey is now hostile to India and has joined Pakistan in taking up the Kashmir question at international forums.
  • For Pakistan, this seemed a useful counter to the Gulf Arabs, who were ramping up strategic ties with India.
  • However, UAE and Saudi Arabia have the option to put massive costs on the Pakistani economy that can’t be plugged by Turkey or Malaysia.

Conclusion

Although India has made some important adjustments to its engagement with the Middle East in recent years, Delhi can’t take its eyes off the rapid changes in the region.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India &Gulf regions

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gulf countries

Mains level : Paper 2- New possibilities in cooperation with the Gulf countries

The Gulf region offers new possibilities of cooperation to India. The article explains these possibilities.

Context

  • External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s visit to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recently is a good moment to reflect on the structural changes taking place in the Gulf and the region’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean.

Issues in approach towards the region

  • For decades, India’s mercantilism saw the Gulf as a source of oil and a destination for labour exports.
  • India’s bureaucratic approach to the Gulf was incapable of a political engagement with the region’s interests.
  • The Indian elite has long viewed the Gulf as a collection of extractive petro-states run by conservative feudatories.
  • Although the Gulf kingdoms were eager to build strong and independent political ties with India without a reference to Islamabad, India viewed them through the prism of Pakistan.

Influence in the Indian Ocean

  • Delhi’s traditional focus in the Indian Ocean was riveted on Mauritius and the large Indian diaspora there.
  • P.M.s visit to Mauritius and Seychelles in March 2015 saw the articulation of a long-overdue Indian Ocean policy and an acknowledgement of the strategic significance of the island states.
  • Since then, India has brought Madagascar and Comoros along with Mauritius and Seychelles into the Indian Ocean Division.
  • India also unveiled a maritime strategic partnership with France, a resident and influential power in the Western Indian Ocean.
  • Earlier this year, Delhi became an observer at the Indian Ocean Commission — the regional grouping that brings France’s island territory of Reunion together with Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles.
  • India has also become an observer to the Djibouti Code of Conduct — a regional framework for cooperation against piracy between the states of the Gulf, the Horn of Africa and East Africa.

5 Areas of new possibilities with the Gulf

1) Protecting India’s interests

  • First is the immediate need to shield India’s interests in the post-pandemic turbulence that is enveloping the region.
  • As the Gulf considers cutting back on foreign labour, Delhi would want to make sure its workers in the region are insulated.
  • Delhi is also eager to improve the working conditions of its large labour force — close to eight million — in the Gulf.

2) New and long-term economic cooperation

  • As the Gulf looks at a future beyond oil, they have embarked on massive economic diversification and are investing in a variety of new projects including renewable energy, higher education.
  • India must get its businesses to focus on the range of new opportunities in the Gulf.
  • India also needs to tap into the full possibilities of Gulf capital for its own economic development.

3) Financial power translating into political influence

  • The Gulf’s financial power is increasingly translating into political influence shaping political narrative in the Middle East.
  • The influence has been manifest in their successful transformation of the debate on Arab relations with Israel.

4) Influence on regional conflicts

  • The Gulf’s ability to influence regional conflicts from Afghanistan to Lebanon and from Libya to Somalia has increased.
  • The Gulf today delivers economic and security assistance to friendly states.
  • The UAE currently chairs the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and has been eager to work with India in developing joint infrastructure projects.
  • India needs to bring scale and depth to its regional initiatives on connectivity and security in the Indian Ocean.

5) Reforms taking place in the region

  • The Gulf seek to reduce the heavy hand of religion on social life, expand the rights of women, widen religious freedoms, promote tolerance, and develop a national identity that is not tied exclusively to religion.
  • The UAE has been the leader in this regard.

Consider the question “India’s engagement with the Gulf countries has been limited in several aspects. However, the region offers new possibilities of strategic and cooperation to India. Evaluate these possibilities.” 

Conclusion

As India seeks to recalibrate it’s ties with the Gulf, the real challenge for South Block is to get the rest of the Indian establishment to discard outdated perceptions of the Gulf and seize the new strategic possibilities with the region.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

UAE’s Golden Visa Program

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Indian diaspora in Gulf region

The United Arab Emirates will extend its “golden” visa system — which grants 10-year residency in the West Asian nation — to certain professionals, specialised degree-holders and others.

Do you know?

 India is the world’s top recipient of remittances with its diaspora sending a whopping $79 billion back home in 2018 a/c to the World Bank.

Golden Visa Programme

  • The “Golden Card” programme is open to investors and “exceptional talents” such as doctors, engineers, scientists, students and artists.
  • The visa categories include:
  1. General investors who will be granted a 10 years visa
  2. Real estate investors, who can get a visa for 5 years Visa
  3. Entrepreneurs and talented professionals such as doctors, researchers and innovators: 10 years Visa
  4. Outstanding students — will also be permitted residency visas for 5 years
  • All categories of visas can be renewed upon expiry.

Benefits for India

  • The Indian expatriate community is reportedly the largest ethnic community in the UAE, constituting roughly about 30 per cent of the country’s population of around nine million.
  • Though most of the Indians living in the UAE are employed, about 10 per cent of the Indian population constitutes dependent family members, according to the Indian Embassy.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

New dimension to the bilateral engegement

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Contrasting India and China's engagement with West Asia

The article draws parallels in the past in India and China’s engagement with West Asia and contrasts it with the present approach adopted by China in dealing with the region.

Strategic autonomy

  • According to a former Foreign Secretary of India, Vijay Gokhale, the ideation of ‘strategic autonomy’ is much different from the Nehruvian era thinking of ‘non-alignment’.
  • Speaking in January 2019, Mr. Gokhale said: “The alignment is issue based, and not ideological.”

India’s engagement with West Asia

  • Pre-dating 2020, India’s outreach to West Asia sharpened since 2014.
  •  Oil-rich Gulf states looked at India as investment alternative away from the West to deepen their own strategic depth.
  • India also doubled down on its relations with the likes of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, giving open economic and political preference to the larger Gulf region.
  • While engagements with Israel moved steadily forward, Iran lagged behind, constrained by U.S. sanctions, which in turn significantly slowed the pace of India-Iran engagements.

China’s engagement with West Asia

  • China’s overtures have been steadily more adventurous as it realises two major shifts that have taken place in West Asia.
  • First, the thinking in the Gulf that the American security safety net is not absolute.
  • Second, the Gulf economies such as Saudi Arabia, even though trying to shift away from petro dollar, will still need growing markets to sell oil to in the coming decade as they reform their economic systems.
  • The obvious two markets here are China and India.

Similarity in India and China’s approach to West Asia

  • Both India and China employed similar versions of ‘non-alignment’ thinking is in West Asia based on equitable engagement with the three poles of power in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel.
  • Both countries did it without getting involved into the region’s multi-layered conflicts and political fissures.
  • However, deteriorating U.S.-China ties, the COVID-19 pandemic that started in China, followed by the Ladakh crisis, is forcing a drastic change in the geopolitical playbooks of the two Asian giants, and, by association, global security architectures as well.

Changing approach of China

  •  A report in September shone a light on a $400 billion, 25-year understanding between Iran and China, with Beijing taking advantage of abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal.
  • China is no longer happy with a passive role in West Asia, and through concepts such as “negative peace” and “peace through development”.
  • In concert with tools such as the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing is now ready to offer an alternative model for “investment and influence”.
  •  It remains to be seen, however, how China balances itself between the poles of power while backing one so aggressively.

Stability of the region and opportunity for India

  • From India’s perspective, the overt outreach to the Gulf and the ensuing announcements of multi-billion-dollar investments on Indian shores by entities from Saudi Arabia and the UAE is only New Delhi recognising the economic realities of the region. 
  • Despite entanglements in the Yemen war and general tensions between the Gulf states and Iran, the likes of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and so on have maintained relatively strong and stable economic progression.
  • Israel’s recent peace accords with the UAE and Bahrain add much further weight towards a more stable Gulf region — the caveats withstanding that the operationalisation of the accords is smooth and long-lasting.

Consider the question “Despite turbulence in the region, India’s engagement with West Asia has always been characterised by non-alignment and ethos of equitable engagement. In light of this, elaborate on India’s approach to the region and region’s importance for India.”

Conclusion

While in the recent past, the Indo-Pacific, with the development of the Quad, has taken centre stage, other geographies such as West Asia have also started to showcase bolder examples of New Delhi and Beijing’s metamorphosing approaches towards the international arena.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

What are Abraham Accords?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Abraham Accord

Mains level : Balance of relations between India, Israel and the Gulf

The White House has marked the formal normalization of Israel’s ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Bahrain has created a significant inflexion point in regional history and geopolitics.

Try this question:

Q. What are Abraham Accords? Discuss how the Israel-Gulf synergy could impact India’s relations with Israel.

What are Abraham Accords?

  • The Israel–UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
  • It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
  • The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
  • Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank. The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

New friendships

  • Externally, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain share the common threat perception of Iran.
  • Internally, while all three have their respective hotheads opposing this reconciliation, these seem manageable.
  • They are relatively more modern societies which share the overarching and immediate priority of post-pandemic economic resuscitation.
  • They have lost no time to set up logistics such as Internet connectivity and direct flights to pave the way for more active economic engagement.
  • If these sinews evolve, other moderate Arab countries are likely to join the Israel fan club.

India and the Gulf

  • Now India has stronger, multifaceted and growing socioeconomic engagements with Israel and the Gulf countries.
  • With over eight million Indian diasporas in the Gulf remitting annually nearly $50 billion, annual merchandise trade of over $150 billion.
  • It sources nearly two-thirds of India’s hydrocarbon imports, major investments, etc. Hence it is natural to ask how the new regional dynamic would affect India.

The Israel-GCC synergy

  • With defence and security cooperation as a strong impetus, both sides are ready to realize the full potential of their economic complementarity.
  • The UAE and Bahrain can become the entrepôts to Israeli exports of goods and services to diverse geographies.
  • Israel has niche strengths in defence, security and surveillance equipment, arid farming, solar power, horticultural products, high-tech, gem and jewellery, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Tourism, real estate and financial service sectors on both sides have suffered due to the pandemic and hope for a positive spin-off from the peer-to-peer interactions.
  • Further, Israel has the potential to supply skilled and semi-skilled manpower to the GCC states, particularly from the Sephardim and Mizrahim ethnicities, many of whom speak Arabic.
  • Even the Israeli Arabs may find career opportunities to bridge the cultural divide. Israel is known as the start-up nation and its stakeholders could easily fit in the various duty-free incubators in the UAE.

Implications of the new trinity

  • Geopolitically, India has welcomed the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel, calling both its strategic partners.
  • In general, the Israel-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) breakthrough widens the moderate constituency for peaceful resolution of the Palestine dispute, easing India’s diplomatic balancing act.
  • However, nothing in West Asia is monochromatic: The Israel-GCC ties may provoke new polarization between the Jihadi fringe and the mainstream.
  • The possibility of the southern Gulf becoming the new arena of the proxy war between Iran and Israel cannot be ruled out, particularly in Shia pockets.
  • India would have to be on its guard to monitor and even pre-empt any threat to its interests in the Gulf.

Way forward

  • Israeli foray into the Gulf has the potential to disrupt the existing politico-economic architecture India has carefully built with the GCC states.
  • India has acquired a large and rewarding regional footprint, particularly as the preferred source of manpower, food products, pharmaceuticals, gem and jewellery, light engineering items, etc.
  • Indians are also the biggest stakeholders in Dubai’s real estate, tourism and Free Economic Zones.
  • In the evolving scenario, there may be scope for a profitable trilateral synergy, but India cannot take its preponderance as a given.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

India needs to change the framework of non-involvement

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Peace in the Middle East

Realignment of relations is taking place in the Middle East with wider implications for the future of the region. India needs to reconsider its framework based on the non-involvement.

Recent geopolitical developments

  • India-China tensions have soared over the border issue.
  • The Afghan peace process is underway with the first direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban insurgents at Doha, in Qatar.
  • The normalisation of the relations between Israel and Arab countries began with the UAE and Bahrain normalising the relations.

Issues with the development

  • The chances of failure in Afghanistan are real.
  • The momentum behind the normalisation of ties between Israel and the Gulf kingdoms, may not necessarily lead to broader peace in the Middle East.
  • The US initiatives in Afghanistan and Arabia are driven by President Donald Trump’s quest for diplomatic victories.

Why it matters to India

1) The vulnerability of the peace process

  • Because of competing interests, the peace process in Afghanistan and the Middle East remain vulnerable.
  • The unfolding dynamic will alter the geopolitical landscape in both places.
  • Whether peace breaks out in Afghanistan or not, the Taliban is here to stay.
  • As UAE and Bahrain join Egypt and Jordan in having formal relationships with Israel, the contradiction between Arabs and Israelis is no longer the dominant one in the region.

2) India should recognise the importance of Arabia

  •  India’s strategic community tends to take too narrow a view of the Arabian salience.
  • The focus is mostly on ensuring oil supplies, promoting manpower exports, and managing the Pakistan problem.
  • We should consider that the Afghan peace talks are taking place in Qatar, a tiny Gulf Kingdom.
  • The UAE and Saudi Arabia were the only countries to recognise the Taliban government in the late 1990s.
  • This time around, they appear to have taken a backseat.
  • Delhi will need to pay more attention to the unfolding realignments between the Arabs and non-Arab states like Iran, Turkey and Israel.

3) Paradox of American power

  • The U.S. is being seen as a declining power in the matters of the Middle East and Afghanistan.
  •  But the reality remains that the US is the one forcing a change in both the places.

4) Implications of strategic vacuum created by the U.S. exit

  • As the US steps back from the region, the resulting strategic vacuum is likely to be filled by Russia and China.
  • Russia and China are quite active in both the Middle East and Afghanistan.
  •  China’s future role in Afghanistan, in partnership with Pakistan, could be quite significant and will be of some concern for India.
  • Regional powers have already acquired much say in the new geopolitics of the Middle East.
  • Qatar and UAE punch way above their weight, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are locked in a major contest for regional influence.

5) Domestic politics in the country

  • Religious radicalism, sectarian and ethnic divisions, and the clamour for more representative governments are sharpening conflicts within and between countries.
  • The collapse of the oil market is undermining the region’s economic fortunes.
  • Collapsing oil market is also making it harder for political elites to address the emerging political challenges.

Consider the question “Middle East is going through the major realignment of relations. What are its implications for India?.

Conclusion

As the old order begins to crumble in the greater Middle East, the question is no longer whether India should join the geopolitical jousting there; but when, how and in partnership with whom.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Importance of close alignment with moderate Arab centre

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Threat to sovereignty of the Arab countries and India's role

The article analyses the threat the Arab countries faces from the new geopolitical realignment and India’s role in it.

Geopolitical realignment in the middle east

  • Agreement on the normalisation of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel was signed recently.
  • At the same time, there is an equally significant reorientation of the Subcontinent’s relationship with the region.
  • This is marked by Pakistan’s alignment with non-Arab powers.

Deteriorating relation of Pakistan with Arab world

  • Pakistan has been angry with UAE’s invitation to India to address the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in early 2019.
  • Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to convene a meeting to condemn Indian actions in Kashmir last August has angered Pakistan.
  • While Pakistan appears to be dreaming of a new regional alliance with Turkey and Iran.
  • Pakistan is also betting that a rising China and an assertive Russia will both support this new geopolitical formation as part of their own efforts to oust America from the Middle East.

Threat to the Arab world

  • Saudis and Emiratis see sharpening existential threats to their kingdoms from both Turkey and Iran.
  • Both Turkey and Iran now intervene with impunity in the internal affairs of the Arab world.
  • Two other states have joined this Great Game.
  • Malaysia’s Mahathir fancied himself as a leader of the Islamic world.
  • Arab Qatar, which is locked in a fraternal fight with the Saudis and the Emiratis, wants to carve out an outsized role for itself in the Middle East.

India’s should follow five principles for Arab Sovereignty

  • 1) India must resist the temptation of telling the Arabs what is good for them.
  • India should support their efforts to reconcile with non-Arab neighbours, including Israel, Turkey and Iran.
  • 2) Oppose foreign interventions in the Arab world. In the past, those came from the West and Israel.
  • Today, most Arabs see the greatest threat to their security from Turkish and Iranian interventions.
  • 3) Extend support to Arab economic integration, intra-Arab political reconciliation and the strengthening of regional institutions.
  • 4) Recognise that India’s geopolitical interests are in close alignment with those in the moderate Arab Centre — including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.
  • 5) India can’t be passive amidst the unfolding geopolitical realignment in West Asia.
  • Some members of the incipient alliance — Turkey, Malaysia and China — have been the most vocal in challenging India’s territorial sovereignty in Kashmir.

Consider the question “Examine the importance of India’s relations with Arab countries. What are the threats the region faces to their sovereignty and how India can play an important role to ensure their sovereignty.”

Conclusion

Standing up for Arab sovereignty and opposing the forces of regional destabilisation must be at the very heart of India’s new engagement with the Middle East.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

The South Asian-Gulf Migrant Crisis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Indian diaspora in the Gulf countries

The pandemic has exacerbated the plight of the migrant workers in the Gulf countries. This article examines the issue and suggests the ways to deal with it.

Context

  • The Covid-19 exposed the precarious conditions of migrant workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
  • Employers have used the crisis as an opportunity to retrench masses of migrant labourers without paying them wages or allowances.

Impact of Covid-19

  • The South Asia-Gulf migration corridor is among the largest in the world.
  • The South Asian labour force forms the backbone of the Gulf economies.
  • The pandemic, the shutdown of companies, the tightening of borders, and the exploitative nature of the Kafala sponsorship system have all aggravated the miseries of South Asian migrant workers.
  • They have no safety net, social security protection, welfare mechanisms, or labour rights.
  • Now, thousands have returned home empty-handed from the host countries.
  • Indians constitute the largest segment of the South Asian workforce.
  • Gulf migration is predominantly a male-driven phenomenon.
  • A majority of the migrants are single men living in congested labour camps.
  • The COVID-19 spike in these labour camps has mainly been due to overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions.

Nationalisation of labour in Gulf

  • Now, the movement for nationalisation of labour and the anti-migrant sentiment has peaked in Gulf countries.
  • Countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia have provided subsidies to private companies to prevent native lay-offs.
  • However, the nationalisation process is not going to be smooth given the stigma attached to certain jobs and the influence of ‘royal sheikh culture’.

Challenges and solutions

  • The countries of origin are now faced with the challenge of rehabilitating, reintegrating, and resettling these migrant workers.
  • The Indian government has announced ‘SWADES’ for skill mapping of citizens returning from abroad.
  • But implementation seems uncertain.
  • Kerala, the largest beneficiary of international migration, has announced ‘Dream Kerala’ to utilise the multifaceted resources of the migrants.
  • Countries that are sending migrant workers abroad are caught between the promotion of migration, on the one hand, and the protection of migrant rights in increasingly hostile countries receiving migrants, on the other.

Way forward

  • The need of the hour is a comprehensive migration management system for countries that send workers as well as those that receive them.
  • No South Asian country except Sri Lanka has an adequate migration policy.

Conclusion

The pandemic has given us an opportunity to voice the rights of South Asian migrants and to bring the South Asia-Gulf migration corridor within the ambit of SAARC, the ILO, and UN conventions.

Original article:

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-south-asian-gulf-migrant-crisis/article32215146.ece

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Costs of neglecting new Arabian business

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Arab Countries

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Arabian countries, balancing relations with Iran

The article contrasts the over-emphasis put on the ties with Iran with the neglect of ties with Arab countries in India’s foreign policy. It explores the inherent difficulties in dealing with Iran. And opportunities for India in Arab countries.

Context

  • Iran is accorded high priority in India’s foreign policy.
  • This stands in stark contrast to the under-appreciation of relationship with Arab countries.

Reasons for a special relationship with Iran

  • Historical connections.
  • Civilisational bonds.
  • Energy supplies.
  • Regional security.
  • Geographic and demographic size, the geopolitical location next door.
  • Natural resources and the extraordinary talents of its people.

Importance of Arab countries for India

  • Millions of Indian immigrants in the Arab nations.
  • Massive hard currency remittances from them, and the density of commercial engagement with the Arab Gulf is important for India.
  • The UAE and Saudi Arabia have, in recent years, extended invaluable support in countering terrorism and blocked attempts to condemn India in the Muslim world.

Let’s analyse the issue of railway contract in Iran

  • Large countries with major foreign investments and projects win some and lose some.
  • Then there is no escaping the political risk associated with foreign projects.
  • And politics, both domestic and international, is all-consuming in Iran.
  • The sanctions regime imposed by the US has crippled the Iranian economy.
  • India is careful not to attract the US sanctions.
  • India did gain an exemption from the US sanctions regime for its participation in the Chabahar port project in Iran.
  • But they don’t apply to some of the partners suggested by Iran in the railway project.
  • So, Iran would like India to break the US sanctions regime.
  • A prudent India is resisting that temptation.
  • It would rather lose the railway contract than get into the raging crossfire between the US and Iran.

Issue of balancing the relations with Iran and U.S.

  • India’s Iran policy cannot be seen as a test of India’s “strategic autonomy”.
  • Some expect Delhi to conduct its relationship with Iran without a reference to either a cost-benefit calculus or Iran’s troubled relationship with others with whom India has important partnerships.
  • No government in Delhi can buy into that proposition.
  • Criticism of the government policy is similar to what happened in 2005 over India’s stance on Iran’s covert nuclear programme.
  • Delhi’s vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency drew criticism.
  • But governments stand proved right when Iran concluded a nuclear deal of its own with the US and major powers, a decade later.
  • Iran surely can take care of its own interests, and there is little reason why Delhi must back Tehran in every one of its fights with Washington.

India should focus on Arab countries

  • The Arab world has had its doors open for political, economic and technological cooperation with India.
  • Three moderate Arab nations — Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — are confronting radical forces in the region and are valuable partners for India in countering forces of destabilisation.
  •  There is real Chinese economic action in the Arab world as the region embraces China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
  • India is no minor economic force in the Arab world, having had a much longer engagement with the region than China.
  • Delhi must up its own commercial game in the Arab world, and one of the new possibilities for India lies in the domain of new technologies.
  • There is emerging sentiment among the Gulf Arabs to reduce the over-dependence on oil, promote alternative energy sources, invest in higher education, and develop technology hubs.

Consider the question “India’s relations with Iran has always been driven by the geopolitical contexts. This poses an inherent challenge for both countries. In light of this examine the importance of Iran for India and challenges India’s foreign policy faces in dealing with Iran.”

Conclusion

India must focus on elevating India’s economic partnership with the Arab world to the next level. For India, the costs of neglecting the new possibilities for wide-ranging Arabian business are far higher than a lost railway contract in Iran.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

UAE in support of Open Skies Agreement with India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Open Sky Agreements, OST

Mains level : Not Much

The UAE is keen to have an open sky agreement with India.

Open Skies Agreement! Look how confusing does it sound compared to the Open Skies Treaty between the US and Russia.

What is the Open Skies Agreement?

  • The National Civil Aviation Policy, 2016, allows the government to enter into an ‘open sky’ air services agreement on a reciprocal basis with SAARC nations as well as countries beyond a 5,000-kilometre radius from New Delhi.
  • This implies that nations within this distance need to enter into a bilateral agreement and mutually determine the number of flights that their airlines can operate between the two countries.
  • India has open sky agreements with Japan, Greece, Jamaica, Guyana, Czech Republic, Finland, Spain and Sri Lanka.
  • India also has an open sky agreement with the US, among other countries.

Why UAE wants such an agreement with India?

  • There are about 1,068 flights a week between India and the UAE operated by the airlines of the two countries under the bilateral Air Service Agreement.
  • India has open skies policy with SAARC countries and those beyond the 5,000-km radius.
  • UAE wants India to revisit this policy.

Must read:

U.S. set to exit the ‘Open Skies Treaty’ Copy

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Cooperative security in Persian Gulf littoral and Implications for India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gulf countries

Mains level : Paper 2- Stability and security in the Persian gulf and impact on India

This article analyses the security environment in the Gulf countries. Their common characteristic as being the oil producers and similarity in their social and security problems are also explained in detail in this article. And all this has implications for India. So, what are the implications? Read to know…

Let’s look at the importance of countries surrounding Persian Gulf

  • The United Nations defines this body of water as the Persian Gulf.
  • The lands around it are shared by eight countries: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • All are the members of the UN.
  • There is a commonality of interest among them in being major producers of crude oil and natural gas.
  • And thereby contribute critically to the global economy and to their own prosperity.
  • This has added to their geopolitical significance.
  • At the same time, turbulence has often characterised their inter se political relations.
Arab Countries surrounding Persian Gulf

Power play and security of the region

  • For eight decades prior to 1970, this body of water was a closely guarded British lake, administered in good measure by imperial civil servants from India.
  • When that era ended, regional players sought to assert themselves.
  • Imperatives of rivalry and cooperation became evident and, as a United States State Department report put it in 1973, ‘The upshot of all these cross currents is that the logic of Saudi-Iranian cooperation is being undercut by psychological, nationalistic, and prestige factors, which are likely to persist for a long time.’
  • The Nixon and the Carter Doctrines were the logical outcomes to ensure American hegemony.
  • An early effort for collective security, attempted in a conference in Muscat in 1975, was thwarted by Baathist Iraq.
  • The Iranian Revolution put an end to the Twin Pillar approach and disturbed the strategic balance.
  • The Iraq-Iran War enhanced U.S. interests and role.
  • Many moons and much bloodshed later, it was left to the Security Council through Resolution 598 (1987) to explore ‘measures to enhance the security and stability in the region’.

Gulf regional security framework: Some questions

  • Any framework for stability and security thus needs to answer a set of questions:
  • Security for whom, by whom, against whom, for what purpose?
  • Is the requirement in local, regional or global terms?
  • Does it require an extra-regional agency?
  • Given the historical context, one recalls a Saudi scholar’s remark in the 1990s that ‘Gulf regional security was an external issue long before it was an issue among the Gulf States themselves.

What should be the ingredients of a  regional security framework?

  • The essential ingredients of such a framework would thus be to ensure: 1) conditions of peace and stability in individual littoral states; 2) freedom to all states of the Gulf littoral to exploit their hydrocarbon and other natural resources and export them; 3) freedom of commercial shipping in international waters of the Persian Gulf 4)freedom of access to, and outlet from, Gulf waters through the Strait of Hormuz; 5) prevention of conflict that may impinge on the freedom of trade and shipping and 6)prevention of emergence of conditions that may impinge on any of these considerations.
  • Could such a framework be self-sustaining or require external guarantees for its operational success?
  • If the latter, what should its parameters be?

Misunderstanding the role great powers can play

  • Statesmen often confuse great power with total power and great responsibility with total responsibility.
  • The war in Iraq and its aftermath testify to it.
  • The U.S. effort to ‘contain’ the Iranian revolutionary forces, supplemented by the effort of the Arab states of the littoral (except Iraq)  GCC initially met with success in some functional fields and a lack of it in its wider objectives.

The turbulent nature of US-Iran relations

  • In the meantime, geopolitical factors and conflicts elsewhere in the West Asian region — Yemen, Syria, Libya — aggravated global and regional relationships.
  • And it hampered a modus vivendi in U.S.-Iran relations that was to be premised on the multilateral agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme agreed to by western powers and the Obama Administration.
  • But it was disowned by U.S. President Donald Trump whose strident policies have taken the region to the brink of armed conflict.

Perception of declining U.S. commitment to sub-regional security

  • Perceptions of declining U.S. commitment to sub-regional security have been articulated in recent months amid hints of changing priorities.
  • This is reported to have caused disquiet in some, perhaps all, members of the GCC, the hub of whose security concern remains pivoted on an Iranian threat (political and ideological rather than territorial).
  • And American insurance to deter it based on a convergence of interests in which oil, trade, arms purchases, etc have a role along with wider U.S. regional and global determinants.
  • It is evident that a common GCC threat perception has not evolved over time.
  • It has been hampered by the emergence of conflicting tactical and strategic interests and subjective considerations.
  • The current divisions within the organisation are therefore here to stay.
  • These have been aggravated by 1)the global economic crisis, 2) the immediate and longer term impact of COVID-19 on regional economies, 3) the problems in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), 4) and the decline in oil prices.

Let’s look at the emerging trends in the region

  • One credible assessment suggests that in the emerging shape of the region.
  • 1) Saudi Arabia is a fading power.
  • 2) UAE, Qatar and Iran are emerging as the new regional leaders.
  • 3) Oman and Iraq will have to struggle to retain their sovereign identities.
  • 4)The GCC is effectively ended, and OPEC is becoming irrelevant as oil policy moves to a tripartite global condominium.
  • None of this will necessarily happen overnight and external intervention could interfere in unexpected ways.
  • But it is fair to say that the Persian Gulf as we have known for at least three generations is in the midst of a fundamental transformation.

Improvement relations between Arab states and Iran

  • With the Arab League entombed and the GCC on life-support system, the Arab states of this sub-region are left to individual devices to explore working arrangements with Iraq and Iran.
  • The imperatives for these are different but movement on both is discernible.
  • With Iran in particular and notwithstanding the animosities of the past, pragmatic approaches of recent months seem to bear fruit.
  • Oman has always kept its lines of communication with Iran open.
  • Kuwait and Qatar had done likewise but in a quieter vein.
  • And now the UAE has initiated pragmatic arrangements.
  • These could set the stage for a wider dialogue.
  • Both Iran and the GCC states would benefit from a formal commitment to an arrangement incorporating the six points listed above.
  • So would every outside nation that has trading and economic interests in the Gulf. This could be sanctified by a global convention.
  • Record shows that the alternative of exclusive security arrangements promotes armament drives, enhances insecurity and aggravates regional tensions.
  • It unavoidably opens the door for Great Power interference.

Ties with India and impact on its strategic interests

  • Locating the Persian Gulf littoral with reference to India is an exercise in geography and history.
  • The distance from Mumbai to Basra is 1,526 nautical miles and Bander Abbas and Dubai are in a radius of 1,000 nautical miles.
  • The bilateral relationship, economic and political, with the GCC has blossomed in recent years.
  • The governments are India-friendly and Indian-friendly and appreciate the benefits of a wide-ranging relationship.
  • This is well reflected in the bilateral trade of around $121 billion and remittances of $49 billion from a workforce of over nine million.
  • GCC suppliers account for around 34% of our crude imports and national oil companies in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi are partners in a $44 billion investment in the giant Ratnagiri oil refinery.
  • In addition, Saudi Aramco is reported to take a 20% stake in Reliance oil-to-chemicals business.
  • The current adverse impact of the pandemic on our economic relations with the GCC countries has now become a matter of concern.

India’s relationship with Iran

  • The relationship with Iran, the complex at all times and more so recently on account of overt American pressure, has economic potential and geopolitical relevance on account of its actual or alleged role in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • Iran also neighbours Turkey and some countries of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea region.
  • Its size, politico-technological potential and economic resources, cannot be wished away, regionally and globally, but can be harnessed for wider good.

Consider the question “Stability and security of the Persian Gulf region has wider consequences for Indians strategic concerns. Comment.”

Conclusion

Indian interests would be best served if this stability is ensured through cooperative security since the alternative — of competitive security options — cannot ensure durable peace.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Oslo Peace Accord

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Oslo Peace Accord, West Bank

Mains level : Palestine-Israel conflicts

 

Palestinian officials threatened to withdraw from key provisions of the Oslo Accords, which define relations with Israel, if U.S. President Donald Trump announces his Middle East peace plan next week.

The Oslo Peace Accord

  • The Oslo Accords were a landmark moment in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East.
  • Actually a set of two separate agreements signed by the government of Israel and the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—the militant organization established in 1964 to create a Palestinian state.
  • The negotiations between Israel and the PLO that ultimately led to the Oslo Accords began, in secret, in Oslo, Norway, in 1993.
  • The Oslo Accords were ratified in Washington, D.C., in 1993 (Oslo I) and in Taba, Egypt, in 1995 (Oslo II).
  • Sometimes called Oslo II, the interim agreement set out the scope of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza.
  • The interim pact was only supposed to last five years while a permanent agreement was finalised but it has tacitly been rolled over for more than two decades.

A final nail in the coffin

  • World powers have long agreed that Jerusalem’s fate should be settled through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and believe Trump’s plan buries the two-state solution that has been for decades the cornerstone of international Middle East diplomacy.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

UAE declared ‘Reciprocating Territory’ by India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Reciprocating Territory

Mains level : Reciprocating Territory

Recently, the Ministry of Law and Justice issued an Extraordinary Gazette Notification, declaring the UAE to be a “reciprocating territory” under Section 44A of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. The notification also declared a list of courts in the UAE to be “superior Courts” under the same section.

What is a ‘Reciprocating Territory’ ?

  • Essentially, orders passed by certain designated courts from a ‘reciprocating territory’ can be implemented in India, by filing a copy of the decree concerned in a District Court here.
  • The courts so designated are called ‘superior Courts’.

What does Section 44 of the CPC say?

Section 44A, titled “Execution of decrees passed by Courts in reciprocating territory”, provides the law on the subject of execution of decrees of Courts in India by foreign Courts and vice versa.

Under Explanation 1 of S. 44A:

  • “Reciprocating territory” means any country or territory outside India which the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare to be a reciprocating territory for the purposes of this section; and “superior Courts”, with reference to any such territory, means such Courts as may be specified in the said notification.”
  • 44A (1) provides that a decree passed by “a superior Court” in any “reciprocating territory” can be executed in India by filing a certified copy of the decree in a District Court, which will treat the decree as if it has been passed by itself.
  • According to Explanation-2, the scope of the Section is restricted to decrees for payment of money, not being sums payable “in respect of taxes or other charges of a like nature or in respect of a fine or other penalty”.
  • It also cannot be based on an arbitration award, even if such an award is enforceable as a decree or judgment.

Other countries with such status

  • Apart from Dubai, the other countries declared to be “reciprocating territories” are: United Kingdom, Singapore, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Trinidad & Tobago, New Zealand, the Cook Islands (including Niue) and the Trust Territories of Western Samoa, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Aden.

Why such move?

  • The notification was the only remaining part of a 1999 agreement between the UAE and India related to cooperation in civil and commercial matters.
  • The decision is believed to help bring down the time required for executing decrees between the two countries.
  • With this, Indian expatriates in the UAE would no longer be able to seek safe haven in their home country if they are convicted in a civil case in the UAE.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

UAE’s new 5-year visa scheme

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Indian diaspora in Gulf region

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced a five-year multiple-entry visa scheme for all nationalities, in a move that is geared towards promoting tourism in the country.

What is UAE’s new visa scheme?

  • According to the Dubai-based Gulf News, prior to this, tourists could get single or multiple-entry visas for a duration of 30 or 90 days.
  • In the new five-year multiple-entry system, visa holders may be allowed to stay for six months at a stretch.
  • The details of the scheme are yet to be announced. The country’s Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship will be implementing the decision.
  • Travellers from Africa, some South American countries, Arab states outside the Gulf, and European states from outside the European Union and the former Soviet Union previously needed visas.
  • The UAE currently receives more 2.1 crore tourists annually, and has recently increased its pace of rolling out policies to boost its trade and tourism sectors.

Other reforms

  • In July 2019, the UAE allowed women employed in the country to sponsor work permits for their husbands, fathers, and adult children, and reduced the fees for obtaining work permits by 50 per cent to 94 per cent for 145 services and transactions.
  • In the same month, the Emirate of Dubai said it would accept the Indian rupee (INR) for transactions at duty-free stores.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] India needs to remove growing negative perceptions of its domestic policies in the Muslim world

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India - Middle East - Islamic World

Context

The Islamic summit last week raised many familiar questions about the role of religion in promoting solidarity between nations. It also reminded the answer that national interest often tends to trump shared faith. 

At the event

  • Malaysia, Turkey, and Qatar led the summit.
  • Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were absentees.
  • Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic nation, kept a low profile at the summit.
  • Pakistan’s prime minister dropped out at the last minute.
  • Mahathir Mohamad wanted to use the summit to increase his domestic room for manoeuvering and win a leadership role in the Muslim world.

The leadership of the Islamic world

  • Middle East – The real contestation for leading the Islamic world remains within the Middle East. Turkey and Iran have a long tradition of challenging the Saudi leadership of the Islamic world. Qatar has now joined their ranks.
  • Outside OIC – Saudi Arabia is not pleased with convening the Islamic nations outside the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. 
  • On OIC – Mahathir suggested that the OIC has not been an effective instrument in addressing the contemporary challenges facing the Islamic world.

Religion – people

  • Binding force – The idea that religion can bind people together has an enduring appeal. In practice, religion has not been enough to sustain unity within and among nations that profess a common faith. 
  • Islamic nations – Many countries in the Islamic world struggle to respect the rights of minorities, Muslim or non-Muslim, and cope with the problems of religious sectarianism and ethnic separatism.
  • Supranational identity – keeping the faithful together within a nation is hard. It is a lot harder to promote supra-national solidarity in the name of Islam.
  • Pan Islamism – The origins of pan Islamism date back to the late 19th century, but its record in binding nations has not been impressive.

Other means of solidarity

  • Ethnic solidarity – the same applies to ethnicity-based solidarity in the world. The pan-Arab and pan-Asian movements that stirred the world in the 20th century, are pale shadows of themselves. The decline of pan-Arabism has been evident. The idea of Asian solidarity endures. 
  • Asian solidarity – if we look beneath the rhetoric on “Asian solidarity”, we can find deep contradictions between China and India, and China and Japan.
  • Class or political values based solidarity has been difficult to sustain for long periods. The communist solidarity that seemed so powerful in the middle of the 20th century crashed quickly against the rocks of nationalism in Central Europe, Russia and China.
  • Political and economic liberalism was successful in holding together the so-called political and economic “West”. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became ever harder to sustain harmony within the western world.
  • Donald Trump appears determined to restructure the political-economic institutions built after World War II. Intra-Western contradictions shaped the world before the middle of the 20th century, and are becoming an important factor in the 21st century.
  • National interests – In all these cases, the tension between transcendental ideologies and narrow national interests have often been resolved in favor of the latter.

Splits in the Islamic world 

  • Political Islam – The main differences are about political Islam and its role in shaping the domestic structures in Muslim nations.
  • Different versionsTurkey and Qatar have championed the Muslim Brotherhood that seeks to overthrow the current political order in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, as well as in Egypt. Iran has its own variant of political Islam for export.
  • Domestic protection – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are protecting their own societies and state structures and are pushing back.
  • Strategic competition – Beyond the nature and role of Islam, there is also the growing competition among the major Middle Eastern states for strategic influence in the region and beyond.

South Asia – Islam

  • Monolith – In South Asia, the Muslim world is seen as a monolith. That has become difficult to maintain amidst the current conflicts in the Middle East.
  • Pakistan – Imran Khan was supposed to play a leading role at the Kuala Lumpur summit. But, under pressure from the Saudis and the Emiratis, he chose to stay away.
  • India – Malaysia, and Turkey have become critical of the NDA government’s policies. The UAE and the Saudis have given India the benefit of doubt. The Qatar-owned Al Jazeera channel has run a damaging campaign against Delhi.

Way ahead for India

  • Domestic policies – There is an urgent need to remove the growing negative perceptions of its domestic policies in the Middle East and in the Muslim world.
  • Otherwise, Delhi might be giving an opportunity to a divided world to disapprove of India’s domestic politics.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Palestine-India Techno Park

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Balanced relations between India, Palestine & Israel

The Representative of India to Palestine released third tranche of funding, worth $3 million, for the construction of a Palestine-India Techno Park.

The Palestine-India techno park

  • The techno park is meant to create a national business environment and culture “that will enable knowledge-based and creative enterprises as well as technology clusters to successfully operate locally, regionally and globally”.
  • In 2017, the park became a member of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation (IASP), a global network of science and technology parks.
  • Its objectives include establishing an environment that is accessible to industry, supporting the process of commercialisation and industrialisation, supporting entrepreneurship and bridging the knowledge gap between the private sector and academia.

Indian investment in Palestine

  • In total, India has made a commitment of investing over $12 million, part of India’s broader framework of capacity building in Palestine.
  • The Indian government pays $3 million on a half-yearly basis.
  • Trade between India and Palestine stands at roughly US $40 million and spans automotive spare parts, medical tourism, agro-products, textiles, agro-chemicals and pharmaceuticals among others.
  • India’s investment towards the park is part of India’s support to the Palestinian cause.

Back2Basics

India, Palestine & Israel

  • Historically, India’s ties with Israel and Palestine have been more or less balanced. India fully established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992.
  • Defence and agriculture have formed the main pillars of their relationship.
  • In 1974, India became the first non-Arab state to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
  • In 1938, while expressing sympathies for the persecution of Jews in Germany, Mahatma Gandhi said, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French”.
  • In 1988, India was one of the first countries to recognise the state of Palestine after the Palestinian National Congress declared independence.
  • At that time, India maintained its support for the two-state solution and championed a “sovereign, independent, united” Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem.
  • In 1996, India opened its Representative Office to the State of Palestine in Gaza, which was shifted to Ramallah in 2003.
  • In July 2017, PM Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Palestine.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] One state push for Israel and Palestine?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Two state solution

Mains level : Two state solution and the future of Israeli peace

Context

The U.S. State Department’s recognition of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank is another indication that the two-state solution is dead. 

Israel – Palestine

    • There are 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. They will soon be one-third of the overall population. 
    • When the Zionist settlers in the 1930s became one-third of the population, Palestine was doomed.
    • Then, the Zionist leadership began to contemplate the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
    • The West Bank is under a similar danger. Vast areas have already been ethnically cleansed. The rest can turn inhabitable, as it did in the Gaza Strip. 

Imaginary homeland

    • The “Green Line” — the 1949 armistice line that separates Israel from the West Bank — is a figment of the imagination of those who support the two-state solution. 
    • It was replaced by a greater Israel, ruled by the Israeli nationality law passed in 2018. 
    • It states that only the Jews have the right of self-determination all over historical Palestine.
    • It sanctions the continued colonization of the country and upholds its apartheid system.

Requires new approach

    • This requires a different approach by anyone caring for the future of the Palestinians and respects their basic rights. 
    • The existing regime allows half of the population living between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean to have all the privileges.
    • It is robbing the other half of its living space, lands, rights, dignity, and life. 

Decolonization

    • It cannot be solved by a “peace process” but only by decolonization.
    • It should reformulate the relationship between the third generation of Jewish settlers and the indigenous population of Palestine on the basis of equality.
    • Decolonization is associated with processes that took place in the first half of the last century.
    • The process of decolonization, apart from Algeria and South Africa, has not affected settler-colonial projects which ended in the creation of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.

Ongoing ‘catastrophe’

    • In some cases, the settler community acted upon “the logic of the elimination of the native”. 
    • This led to the genocide of native Americans and aboriginals. 
    • Even there the struggle continues for recognition, restitution, and equality. 
    • In Palestine, it was translated into an incremental process of ethnic cleansing. Palestinians call it “the ongoing Nakba”.
    • The Zionist movement succeeded in expelling half the Palestinian population in 1948.
    • Since 1967, it led to the departure of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from all over historical Palestine.
    • Today, the Israeli government continues to dispossess land and take away resources from Palestinians. This is creating conditions that become unsustainable for many Palestinians.

Early resistance

    • In the 1960s and 1970s, the Palestinians resisted this policy of colonization and dispossession with an armed struggle. 
    • In many ways, the Hamas in Gaza still seems to believe that this can be an effective tool in the struggle. 
    • Quite a few Palestinians seem to prefer a different kind of popular resistance given the imbalance of power.

Changing resistance

    • The “march of return” — the weekly peaceful demonstrations by thousands of Palestinians on the fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel is an example of a different kind of popular resistance.
    • It demands not only the end of the siege on Gaza and its two million people but also the right of return of refugees to their homes.
    • 80% of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are refugees who live near their lands, villages, and towns from which they were expelled in 1948.

International diplomacy

    • Popular resistance on the way to liberation would not have been needed if international diplomacy examined the origins of the conflict in Palestine. 
    • But the international community fully supports Israel and remain silent in the face of continued dispossession of Palestinians. 
    • It adopted the two-state solution as its mantra for what should be done and was supported by the Palestinian leadership. It hoped to salvage at least part of Palestine (22%). 

Failure of a two-state solution

    • Israel has established that any sovereign Palestinian state is impossible. 
    • We have an American administration that fully endorses Israel’s wish to de-politicize the Palestinian question.
    • It allows Israel to fully extend its sovereignty all over historical Palestine and also rejects the right of any Palestinian refugee to return.
    • We wasted 50 years trying to push towards this solution.
    • The end result of this effort was more Jewish settlements in the West Bank and total separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
    • Now we see an American recognition of the Judaisation of the West Bank.

Way forward

    • The situation in Palestine is not a conflict but a struggle against settler colonialism. Not unlike the struggle against Apartheid South Africa. 
    • Call upon the international community to divest from, boycott and sanction Israel in order to stop the “ongoing catastrophe”. 
    • BDS – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, the campaign will continue until the people of the West Bank would be liberated from a military rule, the people of Gaza from the siege, the refugees return from their exile, and the Palestinians in Israel would be recognized as equal citizens.
    • An alternative Palestinian call for the establishment of one democratic state all over historical Palestine is being heard.
    • Rectify past evils by compensating and restituting lost land and property, enable the repatriation of refugees, and offer democracy for all who live in historic Palestine. 
    • Pressure from the outside, a continued popular struggle from the inside and a clear Palestinian vision for the future can turn this vision into reality.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Occupation rewards: On U.S. support to Israeli occupation

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Two state solution

Mains level : Israel - Palestine issue

Context

The US administration declared that the Israeli settlements on the West Bank are not illegal. The decision is in line with President Donald Trump’s Israel policy, which has unconditionally favored the nation.

Immediate consequence

    • This challenges international laws and consensus on the issue.
    • It also complicates the already-stalled peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Line of events

    • Jerusalem – In 2017, Trump announced that the U.S. would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That broke an international consensus that the status of Jerusalem should be settled as part of a peace agreement. 
    • Golan Heights – In 2019, the US recognised the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war, as part of Israel. 
    • West Bank – with the recognition of the Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the US has boosted Israel’s religious right, which wants the settlements to be annexed.

International action

    • The UN General Assembly, the Security Council and the International Court of Justice have all stated that the Israeli settlements on the West Bank are illegal. 
    • According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power “shall not transfer parts of its civilian population into the territory it occupies”. 

West Bank

    • There are at least 4,00,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank.
    • The ‘security barrier’ Israel has built has cut deeper into the West Bank to incorporate some of the settlements. 
    • The check-points Israel has set up across the West Bank restrict the movement of Palestinians. 

Two state solution

    • Palestine wants the two-state solution implemented only based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state of Palestine.
    • Israel is non-committal on Jerusalem. The right of return of the Palestinian refugees forced from their homes during the 1948 war remains an issue. 

Border

    • Israel has already taken effective control of a huge chunk of the West Bank through the settlements. 
    • UNSC has asked Israel to stall the settlement activities, but Israel has hardly paid any attention to international opinion. 

Conclusion

If Israel goes ahead with the annexation of the settlements, that will be the last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.


Back2Basics

Two-state solution

It is a proposed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It envisages an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel, west of the Jordan River.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Down, but still a potent terror force

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : ISIS - falldown and way ahead

Context

The U.S. President announced last week of the death of Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the Idlib Province of northwest Syria. 

Similar to Osama

    • This incident reminds of the elimination of Osama bin Laden. This perpetrator of violence and hatred was also hunted down in Abbottabad, Pakistan and liquidated by the Americans.

Economic background

    • Osama bin Laden was the older of the two and was from an affluent business family. Baghdadi had a modest economic background and was from a family of farmers. 

Education

    • But both had a religious streak and a university education with somewhat modest attainments. 

Violence

    • The violence came naturally to both, except that bin Laden seemed more rational in the choice of his targets.

Vision

    • Baghdadi’s vision was narrower and confined itself to West Asia, particularly Iraq and Syria. He exploited the opportunity created by bin Laden and retreating into a shell to escape American operations. 

Relationship

    • The al-Qaeda and the IS operated independently although not always at cross-purposes. 
    • They never complimented each other. The IS came into existence after bin Laden became nearly moribund. It believed in spectacular action and did not get bogged down to theory or ideology.

Ideology

    • Osama bin Laden never spoke in terms of sovereignty or territory. His appeal favored an ideology that considered all non-Muslims as infidels who needed to be dealt with the utmost severity. 
    • Baghdadi believed in the power of control over geographic territory and the full use of the state apparatus with all its resources, including oil, to spread and perpetuate the IS’s message. 

What lies ahead

    • No leader needed – The movement thrives solely on an individual’s spirit of vengeance and does not call for any extraordinary organising capacity. 
    • Immediate response – The short audio clipping that was released announcing the appointment of leader warned the U.S. of severe reprisal for Baghdadi’s killing. 
    • The situation in Iraq and Syria – It makes one believe that Iraq and Syria are in for a turbulent time. The partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria has led to the escape from custody of a number of IS prisoners and their families.
    • Cadre – The IS’ new leadership may be expected to make an intense appeal to its cadres not to become demoralised after the elimination of Baghdadi.
    • They may scale up revenge against the remaining American forces.
    • Extended organisation – There may not be any immediate attrition in the IS’s ranks which are spread over a wide area encompassing most of West Asia and parts of Asia and Africa. 
    • The basic structure would comprise what is known as Wilayats headquartered in a number of provinces in each country.

What it means for India

    • India has enough reason to be apprehensive about the developments in West Asia. 
    • There is the possibility of ‘lone wolf’ IS attacks across the nation. MHA is apprehensive about attacks on high dignitaries. 
    • The raids by NIA in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere suggest an IS presence in the country. 
    • A few misguided Indian youths crossed into Iraq in the early days of the IS to fight for jihad. Most were disillusioned in a quick time and a few returned home with horror stories of the state of IS camps. 
    • Others might have stayed back and could be the dangerous part of IS’s core.

Way ahead

    • Security agencies should keep a close eye on the returnees so that they do not lapse into mischief and allow themselves to be used as ‘sleeper cells.
    • They should also assist the authorities in deradicalisation as well as checking new recruitment to the IS. 
    • Both tasks require enormous community alertness and swift communication with security agencies.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Beyond Pakistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India - Saudi Arabia relations

Context

The expansion and institutionalisation of strategic cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia mark the consolidation of a partnership that has long struggled to realise its full potential. 

Efforts in the past

    • Early efforts under Vajpayee – Efforts to end the mutual indifference began during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee when his foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, traveled to the Kingdom in early 2001. 
    • King Abdullah – Five years later, King Abdullah visited Delhi, the first visit to India by a Saudi monarch in half a century, to announce a new phase in bilateral relations. 
    • Slowed down – Progress in building the partnership remained elusive. It seemed confined to India buying oil from the Kingdom and exporting manpower. 
    • Expanding, limited by Pakistan – There were the beginnings of counter-terror cooperation but the Pakistan factor continued to cast a shadow over the relationship — until recently.

Pakistan factor

    • Balance – The Saudis sought to maintain a balance in their relations with India and Pakistan.
    • Religion + finances – Pakistan has demanded religious solidarity and unending financial support from Riyadh. 
    • Hesitations of India – India was hesitant to adopt a bolder friendship towards Saudi Arabia amidst the obsession with the Pakistan question. 
    • Even in recent visit – when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, visited Delhi, the question of India’s tensions with Pakistan figured quite prominently. 
    • No reference now – This time, the joint statement issued at the end of PM Modi’s visit made no reference to Pakistan. India appreciated that Saudi Arabia has a lot more on its mind than protecting Pakistan in the name of religious solidarity.
    • It is possible to build a solid partnership with Saudi Arabia on the basis of shared interests.

Saudi interests

    • Neighbor issues – Within its immediate neighborhood, Saudi Arabia has been struggling to cope with an assertive Iran and Turkey. Both of them seek to undermine the authority of the Saudi monarchy within the Kingdom and the region. 
    • If Iran mobilises the Shia militancy against the Kingdom, Turkey chips in with its support to Sunni radicals threatening the House of Saud. 
    • US – increasingly looks unreliable. 
    • Limits to religion – The rapidly growing Saudi population can no longer be kept with a diet of religious orthodoxy.
    • Oil revenues – the generous subsidies from oil revenues are no longer a source of comfort. 
    • Reforms initiated – Saudi Arabia has begun serious social and economic reforms at home and diversification of its security and commercial partnerships abroad. 

India

    • India has recognised the urgency of seizing this moment and building strong security and economic partnership. 
    • The agreements signed during the PM’s visit include the establishment of a strategic partnership council, deepening energy interdependence, and expanding defense and security cooperation bilaterally as well as in the Indian Ocean region. 

Conclusion

The challenge for India now is to translate this bold new agenda with Saudi Arabia into quick and tangible results.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] ISIS after Baghdadi

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : ISIS fall

Context

On October 26, the top leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr-al-Baghdadi blew himself in a dead-end tunnel. As a “leader on the run” for more than five years, Baghdadi was more of a symbol for a Caliphate. His killing will only be a short-term setback for the network.

ISIS – brief history

    • Formation of ISIS – Within 18 months of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011, the al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) captured large territories across Iraq and Syria and morphed itself into ISIS. 
    • Caliphate – In 2014, the group declared a Caliphate and anointed a “descendant” of the Prophet, Abu Bakr Baghdadi as the Caliph. 
    • Propaganda – Using propaganda on social media, the Caliphate attracted thousands of foreign fighters, including over 5,000 from the West.
    • Decentralised wilayas(branches) – Riding high on extremists and terrorists from across the globe, ISIS announced “decentralised” wilayas and asked their supporters to join them if they could not travel to the Caliphate. 
    • Unique modus operandi – This modus operandi paid rich dividends and has continued to keep the network going despite their losses. 
    • Operation Inherent Resolve – The US-led coalition launched Operation Inherent Resolve in 2014 and cleared the last pocket of the Caliphate in Baghouz, Syria in March.

Only a temporary setback

    • Prepared for the eventuality – the ISIS core had been preparing for this eventuality even while fighting to save the Caliphate. Soon enough, the ISIS core will anoint a new Caliph, to whom all the wilayas and extremists and supporters will readily offer allegiance to. 
    • More ready to prove resilience – The ISIS network will also make serious efforts to mount “signature” attacks on chosen targets to prove its resilience, while local networks may mount lone-wolf attacks.
    • Attacks after victory – the ISIS-claimed attacks in Sri Lanka. It released the second video of Baghdadi. He hailed the revenge for Baghouz by “brothers in Sri Lanka”. The rare video of Baghdadi was released to assure the cadres that it could hit their enemies anywhere at will.
    • Huge cadres
      • Over 25-30,000 ISIS cadres have survived and many foreign fighters have escaped the Iraq-Syria theatre. 
      • Thousands of fighters and family members are being held in the Kurdish areas of Syria.
      • ISIS sleeper cells across Syria and Iraq have mounted hundreds of attacks this year. 
      • The decentralised wilayas in West Africa, the Philippines, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Libya have become more active and are showcasing successes on social media daily. 
      • The open propaganda forums have been replaced by “invitation only” links on social media, making detection much harder.
    • Complicated situation in Syria
      • The situation in Syria has become far more complicated as the US is only “guarding” oil fields from ISIS and chasing its counter-terror targets in Syria. 
      • The weakening of the Syrian Democratic Force’s position vis a vis Turkey and the Assad regime will deplete its resources and hinder the capability to defeat ISIS. 
      • Sectarian fault lines and public protests in Iraq and Lebanon, US/Saudi-Iran tensions, the region offers a fresh opportunity for recruitment to both the ISIS and al Qaeda networks.
    • Foreign networks: South AsiaISIS has attracted foreign fighters from South Asia, mainly Pakistanis, Afghans, Maldivians, and Bangladeshis.
      • The Easter attacks showed the potential of violence even by a small group of committed cadres with support of the ISIS network. 
      • In Bangladesh three years ago, ISIS did create an effective but small network, with the active support of western nationals of Bangladeshi origin. Bangladesh remains vulnerable.
    • India
      • Less than 100-200 Indians are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan to join ISIS. This creates the potential for more recruitment as well as aiding attacks on Indian soil or interests.
      • A few weeks ago, ISIS propaganda has called for jihad pegged on sentiments around Kashmir and has specifically called for attacks on Indian interests in the Arabian Peninsula.
    • New radicalism – The fresh round of radicalisation and recruitment that ISIS will embark on under its new leader, will pose further threats to India as well as to South Asia.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] Raja Mandala: Prince and the PM

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India - Saudi Arabia relations

Context

Prime Minister is in Saudi Arabia for business. But he should also be interested in the wide-ranging social and religious reform initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the last few years. 

Davos in the Desert

    • PM is attending the annual international forum popularly known as “Davos in the Desert”.
    • The forum is formally called the Future Investment Initiative and seeks to elevate Saudi Arabia’s international economic engagement. 
    • It is part of Prince Mohammed’s efforts to rapidly transform Saudi economy under the “Vision 2030” that he unveiled in 2016.

Saudi – MBS

    • Economic reforms – Saudi Arabia’s economic transformation envisaged by MbS opens up huge new opportunities for India’s economic cooperation with the kingdom.
    • Beyond oil – Saudi has been limited for far too long to the import of oil and export of manpower.
    • Modernising society – Prince Mohammed has set an ambitious agenda to modernise the Saudi society that has come under the domination of religious conservatism since 1979, when Islamic radicals came close to destabilising the kingdom.
    • The drift towards conservatism in the Arabian peninsula had multiple negative effects on India and its neighbors. The reform of Saudi society will hopefully help to reverse some of these negative effects.
    • Reaction to reforms – Western liberals are dismissing the MbS agenda as cosmetic. Some religious conservatives in the Middle East are denouncing it as radical. Regional rivals of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, are mounting relentless pressures against MbS.

Economic reforms

    • Moving away from oil – The aim is to diversify the Saudi economy from its historical reliance on the oil business and develop manufacturing and service sectors through liberalisation and integration with the world. 
    • 3 basic foundations – It is founded on a tripod — the kingdom’s special status in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its strategic location at the trijunction of Africa, Europe, and Asia, and its expansive investment capability.
    • Initiatives made 
      • attempt to turn Saudi Aramco, the national oil producing company, into a global conglomerate
      • easing the restrictions on foreign direct investment
      • promoting tourism and the entertainment industry
      • development of the debt market
      • a bankruptcy law
      • introduction of VAT to enhance non-oil revenue generation
      • cuts in water and power subsidies
      • cash handouts to the needy
      • massive anti-corruption campaign
    • The result – The World Bank’s ease of doing business named the kingdom one of the top ten “global business climate improvers” in 2019.

India – Saudi

    • India has a huge stake in the successful economic and social modernisation of Saudi Arabia. 
    • Reinforce change – A modern and moderate Arabia will reinforce similar trends in the Subcontinent. 
    • Partnerships – An important element of Vision 2030 is the idea of strategic partnerships with select countries like the US, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Germany, France and the UK.
    • Investing capital – growing Saudi interest to deploy massive capital into India. Aramco’s decision to take a large stake in the oil business of Reliance could be the beginning of a new economic era in bilateral relations.
    • Moderate Islam – MbS’s commitment to strengthen the moderate trends in Islam is positive news for the subcontinent. Some of the social reforms of the last three years include limiting the power of the religious police in public places, granting more rights to women, lifting the 35-year-old ban on cinema halls, letting restaurants play music and permitting large music concerts. Yoga schools are now flourishing in Saudi cities. 
    • Strengthening nationalism – the “nationalist” themes of the kingdom’s narrative about itself are given strength. Nationalism is not seen as a counter to the deep religiosity of the people, but is seen as important to bring a much-needed balance into the Saudi worldview.

Conclusion

Developing stronger ties with Saudi Arabia has been an important diplomatic achievement in Modi’s first term. The reform agenda of Prince offers an opportunity for the PM to lend the relationship a durable strategic dimension.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Pullback and chaos

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : US withdrawal from Syria

Context

With the withdrawal of US forces from north-east Syria under Kurdish control, Trump is attempting to fulfill his promise of extricating the US from the conflicts it has been embroiled in across the globe ahead of the 2020 US presidential elections. 

Regional scene

    • The manner of the troop withdrawal sharpened the conflict in the region.
    • It also increased the influence of Russia in West Asia. 
    • Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan ordered his troops into the region, and there are reports of civilian casualties. US troops had suffered minimal casualties and were a buffer protecting the Kurdish forces. 
    • Erdogan is facing a violent Kurdish-led in the insurgency in his own country. He is seeking a deeper strategic buffer through military control of Syria’s autonomous Kurdish region. 
    • Russia and Iran are expected to back the Assad regime, filling the power vacuum left by the US. 
    • Erdogan seems undeterred by the threats of sanctions and other diplomatic consequences by the US and NATO.

Impact of the withdrawal

Trump’s sudden withdrawal is likely to be counterproductive. 

    • The claim that the “ISIS caliphate” has been defeated may be technically true, but many IS fighters retreated into remote parts of Iraq and Syria. 
    • Since the conflict in Syria began in 2015, the Kurds were instrumental in the fight against the Islamic State. Now, remnants of the IS may be emboldened
    • Assad regime has consolidated and its influence is growing along with that of Russia. 
    • An aggressive and expansionist Turkey could pose a long-term challenge to the regional balance of power. It has long been a NATO ally and even houses a US military base with nuclear capabilities.

Way ahead

In the near term, what is required is well-thought-out, firm diplomacy by the US and other world powers.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] The fires of Arabia

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Houthi attack on Saudi - Peace in the Middle East

Context

The drone attacks on major Saudi hydrocarbon facilities have led to a spike in world oil prices. 

Facts of the issue

  • The attacks are claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
  • It has knocked out more than half of Saudi crude output and5% of the global oil supplies. 
  • Oil industry experts say the damage is serious and Saudi Arabia will not be able to quickly make up for the shortfall in production close to 5.7 million barrels a day. 

Marginal global impact

  • Global oil production expanded in recent years and there is the emergence of new major exporters like the US.
  • The world could possibly absorb the new oil shock without too much pain.

Challenges remain

  • Drone attacks have exposed the massive vulnerability of Saudi oil production 
  • Houthis have promised to attack again if Saudi Arabia continues its four-year-old war against them
  • The other is the danger of escalation in the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has enveloped the region in proxy wars. 
  • If Saudi Arabia has supported the government in Yemen in the tragic civil war, Iran has been the main backer of the Houthi rebels. 
  • Iran has backed the Houthi right to self-defense against Saudi Arabia. 
  • The US decision to blame Iran after the attack appeared to push the region to the brink of a new war. 
  • In the last couple of years, Iran has seen most of its oil exports vanish due to the American sanctions. 
  • Though Iran can hurt Saudi oil production, a military confrontation with the US could set Tehran back by decades. 

Way ahead

  • The recent developments offer an opportunity for all sides to step back. 
  • The US and Saudi Arabia have miscalculated that Iran would cave under the current campaign to put “maximum pressure”.
  • The current lose-lose situation should open the door for sensible compromises all around. 
  • India, which is friends with all the actors in the Middle East, can easily do more than being a passive observer. 
  • Like Japan and Europe, which are trying to calm the waters, India too must step in to nudge the region towards military restraint and political engagement.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] Israel, Pakistan ties a bridge too far?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Pakistan-Israel-India

Context

Recently, Israeli and Pakistani scholars have speculated about the possibility of the two states establishing diplomatic ties. 

Background of the relationship

  • Ever since Israel’s founding in 1948, it has been trying to overcome its regional isolation and enhance diplomatic relations with as many countries as possible. 
  • Apart from Turkey (1949), Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994), none of the states in the region have recognised Israel.
  • OIC routinely pillories Israel for its “occupation” of Palestinian lands. Recently OIC called to convene an emergency session to discuss Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks that, if re-elected, he would definitely annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank and the northern Dead Sea.
  • Still, Israel has been successful in gradually expanding its diplomatic profile beyond its immediate neighborhood. 
  • Israel has established diplomatic relations with a large majority of the 193 UN member states.

India-Israel ties

  • India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992. 
  • Many factors brought these two democracies together. Both have successfully tackled state-centric threats throughout their history. 
  • Both Israel and India have been victims of asymmetric warfare such as terrorism, which they continue to tackle with resolve.

India-West Asia

  • India’s interactions with the GCC states have witnessed an impressive upward trajectory in recent times. 
  • High-level political engagement with the West Asian region has been another hallmark of the government.

Israel’s outreach

  • Mutual apprehensions about Iran have brought Israel and the Gulf states closer. 
  • Israel continues to look beyond the confines of its immediate region for greater economic and diplomatic relationships.
  • Israel established diplomatic ties with China at the same time as India. Their relations have been primarily limited to the economic realm due to the American embargo on selling sophisticated weapons systems to Beijing. 
  • Israel is expanding its arms sales to India and countries in Southeast Asia.
  • It is also looking at increasing its diplomatic footprint in South Asia and beyond. 
  • Forging closer ties with populous Asian Muslim countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia would help it to gain greater legitimacy in the Islamic world.

Relations with Pakistan – convergence

  • It is argued that Pakistan’s national interests would better be served by having ties with Israel, particularly since Israel carries weight in Washington and could mediate on recurring U.S.-Pakistan tensions. 
  • Concerns regarding Iran were also cited as a point of convergence.
  • Iran is recognised as a potent threat by Israel and the Shia-Sunni divide in Pakistan is frequently a point of friction between Iran and Pakistan.

Limitations of the relationship

  • Pakistan is considered the “sword-arm” of the Sunni world. 
  • It has invested considerably in the security of the Arab monarchies, including in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. 
  • Pakistani military units have been stationed in these countries to promote internal stability. 
  • Pakistan has used the platform provided by the OIC to increase support for its stand on Kashmir, just as the OIC has done for the Palestinian issue. 
  • If Pakistan were to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, it would dilute its Islamic credentials and lead to a weakened support base within the OIC on Kashmir. 
  • The regime in Pakistan would also face the heat from its many domestic conservative Islamist groups. 
  • Israel cannot expect Pakistan to be used against Iran and escalate sectarian conflict as more than 20% of its population is Shia.
  • Pakistan is unlikely to take any steps that could rock its relations with Iran. In 2015, Pakistan’s Parliament had turned down Riyadh’s request to join a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen to fight the Houthi rebels supported by Iran.

Conclusion

It is not in Israel’s interest to seek diplomatic ties with a state that sponsors terrorism. The idea of diplomatic ties between Israel and Pakistan remains, for now, seems a pie in the sky.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: What India has to offer in the Gulf

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India Gulf countries relations

CONTEXT

Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain underlines India’s continuing commitment to relations with the Gulf region.

Gulf region – a new approach to India

  1. Gulf Kingdoms are eager to develop an independent relationship with India, independent of their relationship with Pakistan. 
  2. Modi is being honored with the Zayed Medal, the highest civilian honor in the Emirates.
  3. Some Gulf countries have expanded counter-terror cooperation with India, extending support to India in the conflict over Jammu and Kashmir. They have sought to open the OIC platform for India despite Pakistan’s objections.
  4. Gulf kingdoms have begun to address many of the long-standing Indian concerns with respect to the Indian diaspora and expatriate labor. 
  5. Gulf has begun to see India as a major economic partner. Saudi decision to pick up a 2% stake in the oil business of Reliance Industries Limited and UAE’s support for the construction of India’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve are two examples of deepening energy interdependence.

Challenges/ Way ahead

  1. Regional political turbulence – Paying greater attention to the domestic dynamics in the different kingdoms. A new trend has been the effort to promote moderate Islam in the region.
    1. UAE has been at the forefront of this effort.
    2. In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince has taken some small but significant steps to liberalize the economy and society.
    3. India should offer strong public support for the reform agenda in the region.
  2. India must reciprocate the strategic economic cooperation ranging from energy and digital innovation to arms production and space technology. China has moved quickly to elevate its economic and commercial profile in the region.
  3. Expanding security cooperation: The highly vulnerable Gulf has long depended upon Britain and the US to protect themselves from threats.  Trump’s talk on downsizing America’s role in the Gulf is encouraging the region to diversify its security partnerships. India must have a proactive strategy for defense cooperation in the region.
  4. India’s instinct was to avoid getting drawn into the conflicts. But it can’t be a permanent Indian security strategy in the Gulf. India must vision itself contributing to the regional security in whatever manner it can.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] A blinkered understanding of migration

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Issues in draft emigration Policy

CONTEXT

The draft emigration Bill is more about managing the export of human resources than being a humanitarian framework.

Benefits of emigration

  • A large emigrant population has many benefits for India:
  • The much-discussed international remittances (which touched $80 billion in 2018)
  • A positive impact on foreign direct investments, trade and foreign relations. The Indian diaspora also provides much needed philanthropic activities in health and education to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Issues

There is another side to the Indian emigration story, which is characterised by information and power asymmetries in the global labour markets to include exploitation, inhuman living conditions, violence and human rights violations.

Lost focus

  • Since Independence, a steadily increasing number of low-skilled emigrants moved to destinations in West Asia. In order to safeguard their rights and welfare, the government enacted the Emigration Act, 1983.
  • So, in an effort to update and upgrade this framework, a draft Emigration Bill, 2019 was released.

Abolishment of two different types of passport

  • What is most positive about the draft Bill is the inclusion of all students and migrant workers within its purview and the abolishment of the two passports (emigration clearance required and emigration clearance not required, or ECR and ECNR) regime based on a person’s educational qualifications.
  • This will significantly improve the collection of migration flow data when compared to the current system, which excludes most migrants leaving India.

Crucial exclusions

1.Exclusion of dependent migrants

  •  For instance, Indians reuniting with family members abroad .
  • These “dependent migrants” have increasingly little economic or political freedom at their destinations, an example being the recent attempt by the Trump administration in the U.S. to repeal the employment eligibility of spouses of high-skilled H1B immigrants (a majority are from India).
  • Also alarming are numerous instances of Indian spouses being ‘lured’ abroad in marriage and then stranded or exploited.
  • Between January 2015 and November 2017, the government received 3,328 such complaints.

2.Undocumented migrants

  • The perception is that undocumented migrants are those persons who leave India through informal channels, but most migrants become irregular on account of expired visas/permits.
  • In West Asia, when migrant workers flee their employers to escape exploitation, a single police complaint can make them ‘undocumented’ for no fault of theirs.

3.Regulation of intermediaries

  • The intermediaries play an instrumental role in minimising information asymmetries and migration costs.
  • Thus, any regulatory framework needs to balance strong disincentives for migrant welfare-destroying practices with the efficient supply of affordable intermediary services for prospective workers and students.

4.Return migrants

  • To effectively ensure their welfare, any emigration policy framework needs to be considerate of the complete migration cycle: the pre-departure, journey, destination and return.
  • The 2019 draft Bill addresses only the first three parts of the cycle while completely ignoring return migration.
  • Globally, one in four migrants today is a return migrant.

Other issues with emigrants

  • There is no complete database number of Indian migrants abroad.
  • There is also an erroneous assumption that Indian migrants in a developed destination country have sufficient protection and welfare. 
  • The draft Bill personifies the government’s primary view of emigration policy as a means for managing the export of human resources rather than a humanitarian framework to safeguard Indian migrants overseas.

Conclusion

Without drastic changes to the draft Bill’s approach, we will miss the opportunity to fulfil the hard-fought shared objectives of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

UAE launches ‘Golden Card’ scheme

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Golden Visa Scheme

Mains level : Indian diaspora in UAE


  • The United Arab Emirates has launched a permanent residency scheme to woo wealthy individuals and exceptional talents, a move that could attract more Indian professionals and businessmen to the Gulf nation.

Golden Card Programme

  • The “Golden Card” programme is open to investors and “exceptional talents” such as doctors, engineers, scientists, students and artists.
  • The visa categories include:
  1. General investors who will be granted a 10 years visa
  2. Real estate investors, who can get a visa for 5 years Visa
  3. Entrepreneurs and talented professionals such as doctors, researchers and innovators: 10 years Visa
  4. Outstanding students — will also be permitted residency visas for 5 years
  • All categories of visas can be renewed upon expiry.

Benefits of the move

  • The new initiative will attract greater foreign investment and stimulate the local economy, making it more efficient and attractive for investors.
  • It will also increase the UAE’s competitiveness and reaffirms the country’s position as a global incubator.
  • The benefits of the permanent residency also include the spouse and children of the cardholder to ensure cohesive social ties.

Benefits for India

  • The Indian expatriate community is reportedly the largest ethnic community in the UAE, constituting roughly about 30 per cent of the country’s population of around nine million.
  • Though most of the Indians living in the UAE are employed, about 10 per cent of the Indian population constitutes dependent family members, according to the Indian Embassy.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Explained: Significance of the Golan Heights

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Golan Heights

Mains level: Read the attached story


News

Controversy again

  • Trump has recently said that the US should back Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967.
  • The dramatic shift mirrors Trump’s decision in Dec. 2017 to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the US Embassy to the city.
  • This delighted Israel but infuriated Palestinians and many Arab political and religious leaders.
  • The recent announcement is likely to further complicate US’s long-awaited plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Golan Heights

  • The Golan Heights were part of Syria until 1967, when Israel captured most of the area in the Six Day War, occupying it and annexing it in 1981.
  • That unilateral annexation was not recognised internationally, and Syria demands the return of the territory.
  • Syria tried to regain the Heights in the 1973 Middle East war but was thwarted.
  • Israel and Syria signed an armistice in 1974 and the Golan had been relatively quiet since.
  • In 2000, Israel and Syria held their highest-level talks over a possible return of the Golan and a peace agreement.
  • But the negotiations collapsed and subsequent talks also failed.

Why does Israel want the Golan?

  • Israel says that the civil war in Syria demonstrates the need to keep the plateau as a buffer zone between Israeli towns and the instability of its neighbour.
  • Israel says it also fears that Iran, an ally of Syria’s Assad, is seeking to establish itself permanently on the Syrian side of the border in order to launch attacks on Israel.
  • The area is a key source of water for an arid region. Rainwater from the Golan’s catchment feeds into the Jordan River. The area provides a third of Israel’s water supply.
  • The land is fertile, with the volcanic soil being used to cultivate vineyards and orchards and to raise cattle.

Who lives there?

  • More than 40,000 people live on the Israeli-occupied Golan, more than half of them Druze residents.
  • The Druze are an Arab minority who practice an offshoot of Islam and many of its adherents in Syria have long been loyal to the Assad regime.
  • After annexing the Golan, Israel gave the Druze the option of citizenship, but most rejected it and still identify as Syrian.
  • About another 20,000 Israeli settlers also live there, many of them working in farming and tourism.

Syrian stance on Golan 

  • Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011, there was an uneasy stand-off between Israeli and Syrian forces loyal to Assad.
  • But in 2014 anti-government Islamist rebels overran Quneitra province on the Syrian side.
  • The rebels forced Assad’s forces to withdraw and also turned on US forces in the area, forcing them to pull back from some of their positions.
  • The area remained under rebel control until the summer of 2018, when Assad’s forces returned to the largely ruined city of Quneitra and the surrounding area following a Russian-backed offensive and a deal that allowed rebels to withdraw.

What is the current military situation? 

  • Assad’s forces are now back in control of the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, which reopened in October 2018, while UN forces are still carrying out refurbishment works.
  • Although Israel signalled that it would not impede the Syrian army’s return to Quneitra, it has repeatedly expressed concern that Assad may defy the U.N. armistice, or let his Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah allies deploy there.

What separates the two sides on the Golan? 

  • A United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) is stationed in camps and observation posts along the Golan, supported by military observers of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).
  • Between the Israeli and Syrian armies is a 400-square-km (155-square-mile) “Area of Separation” – often called a demilitarized zone – in which the two countries’ military forces are not permitted under the ceasefire arrangement.
  • The Separation of Forces Agreement of May 31, 1974, created an Alpha Line to the west of the area of separation, behind which Israeli military forces must remain, and a Bravo Line to the east behind which Syrian military forces must remain.
  • Extending 25 km beyond the “Area of Separation” on both sides is an “Area of Limitation” in which there are restrictions on the number of troops and number and kinds of weapons that both sides can have there.
  • There is one crossing point between the Israeli and Syrian sides, which until the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011 was used mainly by United Nations forces, a limited number of Druze civilians and for the transportation of agricultural produce.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed sanap] An opening in Abu Dhabi

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: OIC

Mains level: OIC’s Invitation to India and change in relationship with Islamic world.


NEWS

CONTEXT

The invitation to Swaraj, coming 50 years after Pakistan compelled the OIC to disinvite India from the founding session, marks the emerging possibilities for India.

Importance of this invitation

  • India getting an invite to address the gathering of the foreign ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation may not look like a big deal.
  • OIC has the distinction of competing with the Non Aligned Movement and the League of Arab Nations for the unflattering tag of the world’s most ineffective international organisation.
  • External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s participation at the meeting in Abu Dhabi is a significant discontinuity in India’s engagement with the Muslim world.
  • Its recasting India’s relations with the Middle East.

Change in the relationship with the middle east

  • Modi’s felicity to be befriend apparent adversaries — Saudi Arabia and Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, Egypt and Turkey as well as Israel and Palestine.
  • Real breakthrough under Modi is the transformation of India’s engagement with the conservative Arab monarchies, especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia. These two Muslim states have long been Pakistan’s closest international partners. Islamabad has flaunted ties to the UAE and Saudi Arabia as reflecting its special religious connect to the Middle East.
  • dia’s expanding political ties with the UAE and the House of Saud go back a number of years, they have acquired a special strategic character under Modi.

Shared  Interests

  • Relationship is also rooted in the shared interest between India and the Arab conservatives in blunting the edge of religious extremism and terrorism.
  • In the past, the conservative Arab monarchies were happy to turn a blind eye to the dangers of encouraging political Islam and condoning the Pakistan army’s support for terror and religious extremism in South Asia.
  • Today, no governments are more threatened by forces of religious destabilisation than the Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
  • Equally important has been the region’s growing economic and energy interdependence with India, which is emerging as the world’s third-largest economy and one of the biggest hydrocarbon importers and labour exporters.
  • As the region’s geopolitics enters a turbulent period, the potential for India as a military partner is also coming into view.
  • That India has one of the world’s largest Muslim populations, of course, is the immediate explanation of the surprising invite for Swaraj to address the OIC.

Pakistan’s expected Response

  • Pakistani establishment must be expected to redouble the effort to poison India’s ties with the OIC.
  • It will not miss any opportunity to use the OIC to criticise India’s Kashmir policy.

Relevance of OIC

  • Like NAM again, the OIC is a toothless tiger when it comes to dealing with squabbles among member states.
  • Since everyone has a veto on what is said, nothing serious can be said,  about the many serious disputes between the member states that are now shaping the Middle East.
  • If Third Worldism in the case of NAM and pan-Arabism in the case of the League did not bind them into a cohesive force, Islamic identity was never going to be too strong a glue for the OIC.
  • While the OIC raises concerns about Muslim minorities in non-member states, it could never take up the problems that Shia or Sunni minorities face in countries across the Middle East.

Conclusion

The invitation to Swaraj, coming 50 years after Pakistan compelled the OIC to disinvite India from the founding session, marks the emerging possibilities for India to break out this unfortunate legacy. A non-ideological and interest-based relationship suits both India and the conservative Islamic states in the Middle East. Moving towards this new framework has allowed both sides to stop being defensive about engaging with each other.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Picking sides in West Asia

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: International relations| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of India and its neighbourhood- relations.

Mains level:  Chanaging nature of relationship and regional powers in West Asia


NEWS

CONTEXT

Over the past few years, the course of India’s relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) suggests that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India finally appears to be moving away from its traditional “balancing” approach to West Asia.

Recent Trends

The  government has in practice demonstrated a preference for working with the three regional powers rather than Iran, a trend likely to be reinforced after the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and the proposed trip by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to New Delhi.

Regional Realities

  • Since the 1990-91 Gulf War, India has officially adopted a “balancing” approach to West Asia, which some view as a legacy of non-alignment.
  • Although this approach has allowed India to eschew involvement in regional disputes and de-hyphenate relations with regional rivals including Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia, the policy has also constrained India’s ability to press its geopolitical interests in the region.
  • Geopolitically, MBS and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) have over the past few years escalated their battle against political Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Most notably, this materialised in their support for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s takeover of power in Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, and in their dispute with Qatar, a key regional backer of the group.
  • Naturally, this brings them closer to Israel, which faces a growing threat from Islamist militant groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iranian-backed forces in Syria.
  • The campaign by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to curtail the influence of political Islamist groups also draws them closer to India.
  • During his visit to New Delhi, the Saudi Crown Prince hinted at the attack by vowing to “cooperate in every way, including intelligence sharing”.
  • The UAE has also ramped up its security cooperation with India, extraditing at least three suspects wanted in relation to the AgustaWestland case.

Defence and energy needs

  • India’s defence and security partnership with Israel has already proven useful to its security and military modernisation drive.
  • India’s defence and security partnership with Israel has already proven useful to its security and military modernisation drive.
  • India and Israel have collaborated on a $777 million project to develop a maritime version of the Barak-8, a surface-to-air missile that India successfully tested in January.
  • India has also reportedly agreed to purchase 54 HAROP attack drones for the Indian Air Force and two airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) worth over $800 million from Israel.
  • Israel has become one of India’s top suppliers of military technology.
  • Economically, the ability of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to mobilise investments despite low oil prices are a huge asset in their relations with India.
  • Investments have included a $44 billion oil refinery in India by Saudi Aramco and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company in partnership with an Indian consortium.
  • During his visit to New Delhi, MBS said he foresaw up to $100 billion worth of Saudi investments in India over the next few years, including a plan by the Saudi Basic Industries Corp. to acquire two LNG plants.

Iran’s Stake

  • The simultaneous attacks that claimed the lives of 27 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and 40 members of India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) are likely to bring India and Iran closer together against Pakistan, it is doubtful that the occasion would generate much momentum in bilateral relations.
  • U.S. sanctions have turned Iran into an unreliable economic partner.
  • Despite obtaining a six-month waiver from the U.S. in November on energy imports from Iran, India is shoring up plans to find alternative sources as the waiver reaches its term.
  • Meanwhile, Indian investments in Iran, including the Shahid Beheshti complex at Chabahar and the Farzad B gas field, have languished for years, reflecting the severe constraints on doing business with Iran.

Complex Relationships

  • India’s tilt towards Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE is not a risk-free move. Iran continues to exercise much influence in West Asia and can help shape events in Afghanistan by shoring up the Taliban against the U.S.
  • Iran’s Chabahar port represents a strategic investment for India which hopes to use the facility to connect with the International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC) that extends to Central Asia and to bypass Pakistan en route to Afghanistan.
  • Yet, as tensions rise in West Asia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have coalesced more closely against Iran under the U.S.-sponsored Middle East Security Alliance (MESA).
  • Concurrently, the recent escalation between Iran and Israel on the Syrian front suggests that tensions are unlikely to drop soon.

Conclusion

  • Amid competing demands from West Asian powers for India to take sides, India might find it difficult to maintain a “balancing” approach even if it wanted to. Having practically abandoned a “balancing” approach, the government has, in effect, placed its bets on Israel and the Gulf monarchies, relegating relations with Iran to the side.

 

WEST ASIA

India’s relations with the West Asian countries are historical since the independence. India has interests in economic, political, security and strategic fields with the West Asian nations.

India’s west Asia policy

For decades, India was a passive player in West Asia-a beneficiary of good relationships with multiple actors. Historically, India’s West Asia policy has been multi-directional.

  • During the Cold War years, India maintained close economic cooperation with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, the rival poles in regional geopolitics.
  • In the post-Soviet world: The bi-directional approach has been expanded to a tri-directional foreign policy to accommodate the three key pillars of West Asia — Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel.

Importance of west Asia for India

India has huge stakes involved in the region such as energy, trade and safety of Indian community in the region.

  • Energy security: 70 per cent of India’s imported energy needs come from West Asia and this dependence will only increase as the Indian economy continues to grow at 8 per cent or more.
  • Security of Indian community :
  •  India is the largest recipient of foreign remittances from west Asia.
  •  11 million Indians working in West Asia. Therefore, stability in the region is high on India’s core agenda.
  • To counter radicalization: close cooperation is essential to counter radicalization in India.
  • Gate way to central Asia : West Asia is gate way to land locked and energy rich central Asia .
  • Geostrategic importance: To reduce the influence of china in west Asia and in Arabian Sea. China is continuously making in road to west Asia through OBOR initiative.

Challenges in west Asia

Political instability

The security situation in West Asia has been continuously deteriorating ever since the onset of the Arab Spring in December 2010.

  • The internal security situation in Syria, Iraq and Yemen has gone from bad to worse. The regional powers continue to fight proxy wars on sectarian lines, pumping huge amount of money and weapons to bolster their favoured groups.
  • The involvement of extra-regional players such as the USA and Russia in the internal conflicts in West Asia has further aggravated the situation.
  • The GCC-Iran rivalry, Shia-Sunni conflict, external intervention in the region, the fear of rise of religious radicalism etc have further contributed to instability in West Asia .
  • Terrorism: Terrorism has emerged as the biggest security threat to the region. The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the most disturbing trend.
  • Saudi-Iran rivalry: destabilizing West Asia and influencing West Asian geopolitics.
  • Pakistan factor : Pakistan is very close ally of many west Asian countries especially with GCC.
  • Shia- Sunni divide may impact internal security of India.

India’s close relation with Israel is another sore point with west Asia.

  • India’s close relation with Iran may antagonize Saudi Arabia. India has to balance its ties with all three regional power in west Asia-Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

India’s “Look West” policy

India adopted look west policy in 2005. However, the policy did not get much attention since 2005. Recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to number of west Asia countries has the potential to transform our engagement with West Asia.

Change in West Asian strategic thinking

Several factors have contributed to this fundamental shift in West Asian strategic thinking.

  • First, the structural change in the global energy market with West Asian oil and gas increasingly heading to South and East Asian markets rather than to the Trans-Atlantic markets.
  • Second, partly as a consequence of this change in flows and partly owing to the fiscal stress faced by the trans-Atlantic economies, West Asia is looking to India and other Asian powers to step in and offer security guarantees to the region. Many GCC states have welcomed defence cooperation agreements with India.
  • Third, in the wake of the Arab Spring and the mess in Egypt and Iraq, the Gulf states find India and China to be more reliable interlocutors than many western states.
  • Fourth, under pressure from radical and extremist political forces within West Asia, most states in the region have come to value the Indian principle of seeking and securing regional stability as an over-riding principle of regional security.

Analysis

  • “Look East” Policy succeeded because South-East Asia began to “look West” to India, seeking a balancer to China.
  • “Look West” Policy will succeed because West Asia is “looking East” worried about the emerging strategic instability in its own neighbourhood and the structural shift in the global energy market.
  • India-West Asia relation is the assertion of not just a “shared” past but of shared challenges in the present and a shared future.

FIRST INDIA ARAB MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE

  • The 1st Ministerial Meeting of Arab-India Cooperation Forum was held on 24 January 2016 in the Bahraini capital Manama.
  • From Indian side meeting was attended by Minister of External Affairs and Overseas Indian Affairs and foreign ministers of Arab States also participated in this meet.
  • In meeting, leaders reviewed the achievements of the Arab- Indian cooperation and adopted the Manama Declaration.
  • The Arab-Indian Co-operation Forum was launched in New Delhi in 2008.

 

Key Highlights

 Regional Issues

  • Arab Israel Conflict – A comprehensive and permanent solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict should be achieved on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions, Madrid Peace conference of 1991 and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative in Beirut.
  • Syria Issue – There is need to preserve the unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity and stability of Syria and the importance to reach a political solution to the crisis that preserves the lives of Syrians.

Israel – Palestine Conflict

  • Israel should end its occupation of the Palestinian “Arab” territories it seized in 1967 and dismantle all the settlements.

Global Issues

  • UNSC Reforms – There is a need for urgent reform of the United Nations Security Council through expansion in both permanent and non-permanent membership to reflect contemporary reality.
  • Terrorism – They emphasized the need for concerted regional and international efforts to combat terrorism and to develop a strategy to eliminate the sources of terrorism and extremism including its funding, and combating organized cross-border crime.

INDIA-SAUDI ARABIA

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid first official visit to Saudi Arabia. He is the fourth Indian Prime Minister to visit Saudi Arabia after Dr. Singh in 2010, Indira Gandhi in 1982 and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956.

  • Prime Minister presented a gold-plated replica of the Cheraman Juma Masjid to King Salman of Saudi Arabia.
  • Prime Minister was conferred the Arabian country’s highest civilian honour — the King Abdulaziz Sash.

Significance of visit

Following are the areas in which Prime Minister visit will have significant impact:

  • The first is the elevation of ties between the two countries. This involves upgrading three key agreements-the energy security partnership of 2008, the strategic partnership of 2010 (which has included robust anti-terror cooperation), and the defence partnership of 2014.
  • The second possibility is improving the trade and investment relationship. Bilateral trade at about $40 billion must be built beyond its current oil dependence.
  • Investment opportunities for India: The Saudi government is pitching its mega project, the King Abdullah Economic City, with a deep-sea port as a connector between the East and the West, and wants India to see it as a gateway to its new forays into Africa.

Importance of Saudi Arabia:

Maintaining vibrant ties with Saudi Arabia is imperative for India’s energy security as well as for national security.

  • Saudi Arabia is India’s largest supplier of crude oil.
  • India is the largest recipient of foreign remittances from the kingdom.
  • Of the 11 million Indians working in West Asia, nearly three million are in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, stability in the region, and particularly in Saudi Arabia, is high on India’s core agenda.
  • In recent years, bilateral ties had acquired a security dimension with both countries stepping up cooperation in counter-terrorism and intelligence-sharing.
  • Riyadh also extradited several terror suspects to India.
  • Saudi Arabia can force Pakistan to abandon its anti-India foreign policy.

Importance of India for Saudi Arabia

  • Economic Strain: Due to persistently weak oil prices. Also competition in oil market due to a sanctions-free Iran entering the global economic mainstream. In this context, India is a vital market for Saudi Arabia.
  • Change in US policy: The US is no longer as dependent on the region for energy as it used to be. Also, US is more accommodative towards Iran to bring peace in west Asia.
  • Friction with Pakistan: Islamabad renewing its ties with Tehran. Pakistan also refused to join Saudi Arabia’s war coalition against the Iran-backed Shia rebels (Houthi) in Yemen.

Critical Issues with Saudi Arabia

Saudi – Pakistan relation: Pakistan is a “Historic ally” of the Saudis.

Saudi-Iran rivalry: destabilizing West Asia and influencing West Asian geopolitics.

Ideological problem:

  • While Saudi Arabia denounces all forms of terrorism, Saudi money is funding Wahhabi Islamic groups around the world.
  • Many extremist outfits are inspired by the Wahhabi branch of Islam.

Saudi Arabia’s aggressive foreign policy in West Asia: foreign policy is doing great damage to regional stability, which is India’s most important goal in the region.

  •  In Syria, the Saudi support for the rebels has played a key role in destabilising the regime, leading to the rise of the Islamic State.
  • In Yemen, the war has unleashed chaos and a humanitarian catastrophe, creating conditions for radicalism to flourish.

India’s west Asia policy

  • Despite the growing economic ties, political contacts between Saudi Arabia and India were at minimum till the Manmohan Singh government took office in 2004.
  • In 2010, India and Saudi Arabia signed the Riyadh Declaration, which set the framework for enhanced cooperation in the security, defence and economic spheres. Since then, there has been marked improvement in security cooperation and intelligence sharing.
  • Prime Minister visit to Riyadh reflects a resolve to deepen India’s engagement in West Asia.

 

INDIA AND IRAN

Prime Minister paid his first official visit to Iran. During the visit, the two sides signed a total of 12 of agreements on economy, trade, transportation, port development, culture, science and academic cooperation.

Chabahar port agreement

India and Iran signed the “historic” Chabahar port agreement, which has the potential of becoming India’s gateway to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe.

  • A contract for the development and operation for 10 years of two terminals and five berths;
  • The extension of credit lines of $500 million for the port and of Rs.3,000 crore for importing steel rails and implementation of the port;
  • Memorandums of understanding on provision of services by Indian Railways, including financing to the tune of $1.6 billion, for the Chabahar-Zahedan railway line — a line that is also part of the trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan on a transit and trade corridor.
  • India will invest billions of dollars in setting up industries — ranging from aluminium smelter to urea plants in Iran’s Chabahar free trade zone after it signed a pact to operate a strategic port on the Persian Gulf nation’s southern coast New Delhi and Tehran had agreed in 2003 to develop the port, near the Iran-Pakistan border. But the project did not take off, mainly owing to international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, but also on account of inertia in Delhi.

Economic significance of Port

  • Once the Chabahar port is developed, Indian ships will get direct access to the Iranian coast; a rail line to the Afghan border town of Zaranj will allow India a route around Pakistan.
  • The Zaranj-Delaram road constructed by India in 2009 can give access to Afghanistan’s Garland Highway, setting up road access to four major cities in Afghanistan — Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. This will surely boost trade with Iran and Afghanistan.
  • Once the Chabahar port is developed, goods from India will not only travel up to Afghanistan, but beyond, along the yet-to-be developed International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to Central Asia.
  • The road, rail and port development projects, once implemented, will change the way India, Afghanistan and Iran do business.

Strategic significance

  • Chabahar is situated just 100 km from Pakistan’s Gwadar port, the centrepiece of a $46 billion economic corridor that China is building.
  • The Chabahar port will act as a gateway for India to Central Asia bypassing the China-Pakistan arc.
  • India’s presence in Chabahar will offset the Chinese presence in Pakistan port of Gwadar.

The trilateral trade treaty

  • India, Afghanistan and Iran signed the trilateral trade treaty for developing the Chabahar port.
  • The signing of the trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan has been described as a “game changer”. A trilateral transport corridor project has the potential to alter the geopolitical map of South and Central Asia.

INDIA-UAE

  • Prime Minister made his first visit to the Gulf region and West Asia with a trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), marking the first visit by Indian PM to the UAE in more than three decades. In 2014-2015, trade between India and the UAE crossed $59 billion with the balance of trade in favour of India, making the UAE one of India’s biggest trading partners.
  • India and UAE elevated the relationship between the two countries to a comprehensive strategic partnership.That is being seen as a significant elevation of ties as well as a sign of India’s shift in the region.
  • Both the countries agreed to “co-ordinate efforts to fight radicalisation and misuse of religion by groups and countries for inciting hatred, perpetrating and justifying terrorism or pursuing political aims.” It is seen as a shift in foreign policy where security and terrorism take precedence over diplomacy in driving India’s interests.
  • The joint statement was also significant in the way it indicted Pakistan and state sponsored terror without naming the country.
  • The two countries would also work towards the adoption of India’s proposed Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism in the United Nations.
  • In real terms, the strategic relationship will entail regular meeting (at least every six months) between national security advisors of both countries, and improve points of contact between their security agencies to improve operational cooperation.
  • The UAE will also support India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC).

Transformational visit

  • The Joint Statement between the United Arab Emirates and India is an important articulation of a significant shift in the Arab world’s view of India.
  • It talks of historic ties of “commerce, culture and kinship”, drawing attention to the unique history of Arab interaction with Indian communities of the west coast, from Gujarat to Kerala.
  • The joint statement, outlining closer government-to-government (G2G) relations, draws attention to the vibrant business-to-business (B2B) and people-to-people (P2P) relationships and commits the UAE to a sharp increase in its investment in India.
  • The new strategic partnership outlined by the UAE and India is not just defined by India’s “Look West” policy but that it is equally defined by the GCC’s “Look East” policy.

INDIA-QATAR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid his first official visit to gas-rich Qatar. During the visit following seven agreements were signed.

  • MoU between National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) and Qatar Investment Authority (QIA).The MoU aims at establishing framework for facilitating participation of Qatari institutional investors in Infrastructure projects in India under NIIF
  • Agreement on Cooperation and Mutual Assistance in Customs Matters.
  • MoU between Financial Intelligence Unit – India (FIU-IND) and the Qatar Financial Information Unit (QFIU) concerning cooperation in the exchange of intelligence related to money laundering, terrorism financing and related crimes.
  • MoU for Cooperation in Skill Development and Recognition of Qualifications.
  • MoU on cooperation in Tourism.
  • The First Executive Programme for MoU in the field of Youth and Sports.
  • MOU for Cooperation in the field of Health.

Importance of Qatar

  • Qatar is an important trading partner for India in the Gulf region with bilateral trade in 2014-15 standing at $15.67 billion of which India’s exports accounted for nearly $1 billion.
  • It is also one of India’s key sources of crude oil.
  • India is the third largest export destination for Qatar after Japan and South Korea, with LNG being the major item of trade.
  • Indians comprise the single largest group of migrants in Qatar.
  • The Prime Minister has been focusing on improving ties with the Gulf region which is crucial for India’s energy security. He has already visited United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Qatar is member of Gulf cooperation council (GCC).

India Israel Relations

An overview

India formally recognised Israel on September 17, 1950. Relations between India and Israel were not always warm. The two countries found themselves at loggerheads for almost 4 decades. India was the leader of NAM, and tilted towards Soviet and Arab world, where as Israel was out and out an US ally. India’s large muslim population was also a hurdle in establishing good bilateral relations.

Since firmly establishing ties, both countries have benefitted immensely.

Since the upgradation of relations in 1992, defence and agriculture have been the main pillars of bilateral engagement. In recent years, ties have expanded to areas such as S&T, education and homeland security. The future vision of the cooperation is of a strong hi-tech partnership as befits two leading knowledge economies.

India-Israel Interaction
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President Pranab Mukherjee visited Israel in October, 2015. From Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Ezer Weizmann visited India in 2003 and 1997 respectively . There have been frequent Ministerial level exchanges in the recent past.

India has benefited from Israeli expertise and technologies in horticulture mechanization, protected cultivation, orchard and canopy management, nursery management, micro-irrigation and post-harvest management particularly in Haryana and Maharashtra. Israeli drip irrigation technologies and products are now widely used in India. Some Israeli companies and experts are providing expertise to manage and improve dairy farming in India through their expertise in high milk yield.

India imports critical defence technologies from Israel. There are regular exchanges between the armed forces and defence personnel.

India is known in Israel as an ancient nation with strong cultural traditions.

Why India and Israel are bringing their relation out of the carpet?

Since 1992, the relations between the countries has developed steadily. Shared concerns regarding terrorism, have been  key drivers. In fact, The President of India recently stated that Israel has come through for India, when needed the most.

The president referred to the assistance given during the Kargil crisis in 1999 in particular, but there has also been less publicly-acknowledged help in the past. India, for its part, has felt that the closer relationship with Israel has created a constituency for it in the United States.

The governments have also been trying to increase people-to-people interaction through educational exchanges and tourism, with some success.

Israel has talked about the relationship being held under the carpet.” More bluntly, happy to engage intimately in private, but hesitant to acknowledge the relationship in public. The explanations for this have ranged from Indian domestic political sensitivities to its relations with the Arab countries.

In 2014, India had expressed concern about loss of life in Gaza strip, as well as provocations against Israel, and called both sides to deescalate. Yet, it then voted in support of the U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that condemned Israel, a move that left observers wondering why didn’t India abstain. Since then, however, the government has moved toward the expected approach.

The first sign of this was PM Modi’s decision to meet with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in 2014. Since then, there have been a number of high-level visits and interactions, including a few “firsts.  Last year, Pranab Mukherjee, for example, became the first Indian president to travel to Israel. The Israeli ambassador to India has observed the “high visibility” the relationship now enjoys.

 

 

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The deepening and more open relationship with Israel, however, hasn’t been accompanied by a U-turn on the Indian government’s policy toward Palestine. Government seems to be doing is trying to de-hyphenate its ties with Israel and PalestineThe de-hyphenated approach, in turn, potentially gives Indian policymakers more space to take India’s relationship with Israel further.

The government has reiterated India’s traditional position on a two-state solutionas  an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The continuity on this front is not just driven by historic and domestic political factors, but also by India’s broader balancing act in the region. Even as India’s relations with Israel have deepened, it has maintained and even enhanced its relations with Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

Main areas of cooperation

There is a lot of complementarity between both nations’ economic interests.

source
  • In the defense space, cooperation is only growing. India has recently bought spike anti tank missiles, and Barak Missiles, for navy, and also tested the Barak 8 missile system.
  • Cooperation is also continuing in the agricultural sector, with 30 centers of excellence either established or planned across 10 Indian states.
  • More broadly, the two governments are seeking to facilitate greater economic ties, as well as science and technology collaboration. 
  • Israel is one of the first country which is implementing the ‘Make In India’ vision.There are already plans for joint ventures for making for India by Israeli company with the support of the Israeli government.
  • There are vibrant people-to-people interactions, strategic dialogues between the security forces and strategic establishments, among other on-going exchanges between the two countries.
  • India has been a favourite tourist destination, especially for Israeli youth. In 2010, nearly 50,000 Israeli tourists had come to India.

Israeli President’s visit to India

  • Mr Reuven Rivlin met both the President and the Prime Minister, and discussed working together to combat terrorism and extremism. He  is  the first Israeli president to travel to India since 1996
  • Memoranda of understanding,  in agriculture and the management of water resources, were signed.
  • Israel and India already cooperate closely in the areas of defense and combating terrorism, but in talks between Rivlin and Modi, it was agreed to strengthen this cooperation even further.
  • PM  and Mr Rivlin said that they deeply value the strong and growing partnership between their countries to secure their respective societies.

What challenges remain?

  • One area that needs attention is coproduction in order to produce cheaper products and to reduce dependency on third actors. Military exercises should be incorporated into defence cooperation since Israel has a growing interest in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • In the area of academics, one issue constraining better relations between Indian and Israeli academics is money.
  • Foreign policy concerns for the two countries are dominated by third party issues such as Iran and the Palestinian issue.

Asian alliance comprising India, Israel, South Korea, Japan and Australia could work together to deal with issues including missile defence and piracy. At the global level, the differences in outlook of both nations are evident. India seems more in favour of a multi-polar world while Israel prefers a uni-polar one. But both nations do not want to see a weakened US.

Conclusion

Over the past 60 years, India’s Israel policy has been rooted in pragmatism.  Although India initially opposed the creation of Israel, strategic cooperation caused Indo-Israeli relations to warm from the 1960s onward without alienating the Arab World.

Today India maintains close relationships with both Israel and Arab nations.  Due to its close ties with both parties, India has the potential to play a major role in the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis.  India is in a position to serve as an honest, unbiased broker, a role that the United States has struggled to fill.

The India-Israel relationship provides a valuable lesson in international politics, especially for states whose ideological alliances prevent them from forging solely pragmatic ties.  India has shown that the even-handed pursuit of diplomatic, military, and economic interests is the way to garner diplomatic credibility and popular good will without damaging other strategic relationships.

Important Contemporary issues related to West Asia

IRAQ CRISIS

A civil war is raging in Iraq. There is a deadlock between the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (alternatively translated as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and abbreviated as ISIL or ISIS an unrecognized state and active Jihadist militant group in Iraq and Syria influenced by the Wahhabi movement). It is operating in Iraq and Syria.

Here we are analyzing the situation of IRAQ in FAQ form:

 What was Operation Iraqi Freedom?

After the attacks on September 11, 2001, and the overthrow of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the United States Government turned its attention to Iraq and the regime of Saddam Hussein. Citing intelligence information that Iraq had stockpiled and continued to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) such as poison gas, biological agents, and nuclear weapons, as well as harboring and supporting members of Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network, the United States and Great Britain led a coalition to topple Hussein’s regime in March 2003.

Since the end of the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991, the United States Air Force had maintained a continuous presence in the Middle East, enforcing no-fly zones in the northern and southern portions of Iraq, termed Operation NORTHERN WATCH, based out of Turkey, and Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, based out of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the U.S.-led coalition military operation in Iraq, was launched on March 20, 2003, with the immediate stated goal of removing Saddam Hussein’s regime and destroying its ability to use weapons of mass destruction or to make them available to terrorists. Over time, the focus of OIF shifted from regime removal to the more open-ended mission of helping the Government of Iraq (GoI) improve security, establish a system of governance, and foster economic development.

What were the outcomes of Operation Iraqi Freedom?

The outcomes were:

a) End the regime of Saddam Hussein.

b) Elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

c) Destruction of terrorist infrastructure in Iraq.2

d) Coalition military forces secured Iraq’s southern oil fields

e) Sanctions on Iraq were imposed by the United Nations Security Council as a result of the Hussein regime’s unwillingness to abandon its weapons of mass destruction and terrorist programs, account for individuals missing from the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and stop its repression of the Iraqi civilian population. With the military action to remove the Hussein regime a success, U.N. sanctions against Iraq come to an end.

f) Estimates on the number of casualties during the invasion in Iraq vary widely. Estimates on civilian casualties are more variable than those for military personnel. According to Iraq Body Count, a group that relies on press reports, NGO-based reports and official figures to measure civilian casualties, approximately 7,500 civilians were killed during the invasion phase. The Project on Defense Alternatives study estimated that 3,200–4,300 civilians died during the invasion.

What was Operation New Dawn?

The transition to Operation New Dawn, Sept. 1, marks the official end to Operation Iraqi Freedom and combat operations by United States forces in Iraq.

During Operation New Dawn, the remaining 50,000 U.S. service members serving in Iraq will conduct stability operations, focusing on advising, assisting and training Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Operation New Dawn also represents a shift from a predominantly military U.S. presence to one that is predominantly civilian, as the Departments of Defense and State work together with governmental and non-governmental agencies to help build Iraq’s civil capacity.

The transition to Operation New Dawn represents the U.S. commitment to the government and people of Iraq as a sovereign, stable country that will be an enduring strategic partner with the United States. This has been made possible by the improved capability of the ISF to take the lead in securing their country.

New Dawn also signifies the success of the responsible drawdown of forces and the redeployment of thousands of U.S. Soldiers, as well as the return or transfer of war fighting equipment to the U.S. or to combat troops fighting in Afghanistan.

What happened after withdrawal of US forces in 2011?

The withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq began in June 2009 and was completed by December 2011, bringing an end to the Iraq War.

Despite the elimination of a repressive single-party cult of personality state, the invasion and occupation led to sectarian violence which caused widespread displacement among Iraqi civilians. The Iraqi Red Crescent organization estimated the total internal displacement was around 2.3 million in 2008, and as many as 2 million Iraqis leaving the country. Poverty led many Iraqi women to turn to prostitution to support themselves and their families, attracting sex tourists from regional lands. The invasion led to a constitution which supported democracy as long as laws did not violate traditional Islamic principles, and a parliamentary election was held in 2005.

In addition the invasion preserved the autonomy of the Kurdish region, and stability brought new economic prosperity. Because the Kurdish region is historically the most democratic area of Iraq, many Iraqi refugees from other territories fled into the Kurdish land.

What was the Economic and Political Situation of Iraq after withdrawal?

Iraq’s political and economic challenges dominated both its internal politics and relations with the US, Iran, and Iraq’s other neighbors. To improve economic situation Iraq needs trade and cross-border support from Iran, just as it needs aid, diplomatic, and military support from the US. Iraq’s much-reduced military capabilities make it dependent on aid, military sales, and training from the United States, and Iraq still lacks the resources and cohesion to resist against Iranian coercion and to defend against Iranian aggression.

A budget crisis that lasted from 2008 to 2010, and a political crisis that began long before the March 2010 election that produced a de facto stalemate in many aspects of governance, have added to these economic problems as well as sharply delayed critical qualitative improvements in every branch of Iraq’s national security forces.

Iraq has not been able to absorb and support many of the aid projects funded during the US occupation, and its problems in national governance have been compounded by corruption, political infighting, and sectarian and ethnic struggles at the provincial and local levels.

While the existence of vast oil reserves in Iraq are not in question, the country’s petroleum sector faces many challenges that have limited its ability to produce, export, and deliver this valuable natural resource.

Battle over Iraq’s natural resources has a significant impact on its domestic politics and divisions. Iraq faces political fallout between the central government and the Kurdish regional government (KRG) over energy contracts and the right to invite and award lucrative contracts to international companies.

In April 2012, the KRG halted its supply of oil for export through Iraq’s national pipeline, claiming that the central government owed over $1.5 billion in operating costs to companies in the Kurdish region.

For its part, the government in Baghdad has threatened to simply deduct that lost oil revenue from what the KRG’s portion of the Iraqi budget. At the same time, Iraq’s oil-rich Shi’ite provinces want a larger share of the country’s export earnings while other Arab Shi’ite and Sunni provinces want the distribution of these shares based on need of their portion of Iraq’s total population.

Internal disputes between the central government and Iraq’s oil rich regions, as well as poor infrastructure, political uncertainty, sabotage, and internal demand will further limit Iraq’s ability to produce and export oil.

What were the Criticisms for the USA Invasion on Iraq?

The Bush Administration’s rationale for the Iraq War has faced heavy criticism from an array of popular and official sources both inside and outside the United States, with many U.S. citizens finding many parallels with the Vietnam War. For example a former CIA officer who described the Office of Special Plans as a group of ideologues who were dangerous to U.S. national security and a threat to world peace, and that the group lied and manipulated intelligence to further its agenda of removing Saddam. The Center for Public Integrity alleges that the Bush administration made a total of 935 false statements between 2001 and 2003 about Iraq’s alleged threat to the United States.

Criticisms include:

  • Legality of the invasion
  • Human casualties
  • Insufficient post-invasion plans, in particular inadequate troop levels (a RAND Corporation study stated that 500,000 troops would be required for success)
  • Financial costs with approximately $612 billion spent as of 4/09 the CBO has estimated the total cost of the war in Iraq to US taxpayers will be around$1.9 trillion.
  • Adverse effect on US-led global “war on terror”
  • Damage to U.S.’ traditional alliances and influence in the region, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia. Endangerment and ethnic cleansing of religious and ethnic minorities by insurgent.
  • Disruption of Iraqi oil production and related energy security concerns (the price of oil has quadrupled since 2002)
  • After President Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, some anti-war groups decided to stop protesting even though the war was still going on. Some of them decided to stop because they felt they should give the new President time to establish his administration, and others stopped because they believed that Obama would end the war.

The financial cost of the war has been more than £4.55 billion ($9 billion) to the UK, and over $845 billion to the US government. According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard public finance lecturer Linda J. Bilmes it costs the United States $720 million a day to wage the Iraq war. This number takes into account the long-term health care for veterans, interest on debt and replacement of military hardware.

In March 2013, the total cost of the Iraq War was estimated to have been $1.7 trillion by the Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University. Critics have argued that the total cost of the war to the US economy is estimated to be from $3 trillion to $6 trillion, including interest rates, by 2053.

What are the Reasons for Current Crisis?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, took power in 2006 and largely left out many Sunnis from ascending in the political ranks, leaving religious strife as the centerpiece of this disagreement. In the past, al- Maliki has also been criticized for his alleged “spoils system” approach in promoting his political allies to posts in the military.

Earlier Shiite militants had encouraged by the government to conduct sectarian cleansing in mixed areas around Baghdad, particularly in Diyala province between Baghdad and the Iranian border. These events contributed to the motivation of Sunnis who have taken up arms or acquiesced in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s offensive.

Even as the ISIS tide rolls southward down the Tigris, there is probably little danger of Baghdad and other Shiite areas falling into Sunni insurgent hands.

Who are the major Players in the Iraq crisis?

The major players and groups in the crisis:

Insurgents

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a Sunni jihadist group that has its roots in the al-Qaeda linked insurgents that formed the backbone of the resistance against U.S. forces in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

It has since expanded operations into Syria, where it is fighting the regime of Bashar Assad, and has broken formal ties with al-Qaeda. It embraces a radical form of Islam and consists of battle-hardened fighters.

Earlier this year, the group ransacked Fallujah and Ramadi, two influential Sunni cities in western Iraq. It has managed to hold much of Fallujah and portions of Ramadi. More recently it seized parts of Mosul and was positioned to edge toward Baghdad.

ISIL is also referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Nouri al-Maliki

The prime minister of Iraq leads a Shiite dominated government that has alienated many of the Sunnis in Iraq over the past several years. Maliki has been criticized for not taking more steps to include rival Sunni leaders in his government.

Shiites are the majority sect in Iraq, but for most of Iraq’s history they were oppressed by the Sunnis, who dominated the government. Saddam Hussein and his key leaders were all Sunnis. Shiite leaders during that time were driven into exile.

Iraq’s Armed Forces

Organized, trained and, to some extent, equipped by the United States, the Iraqi military was a competent force when the United States pulled all its forces out in 2011.

But over the past several years Maliki has been accused of appointing political cronies to key leadership positions and the military has ceased to conduct regular training. Sunnis have said the army is little more than another Shiite militia and have little confidence in its ability to protect them. Many units simply collapsed when insurgents attacked Mosul and other cities in Iraq.

 Shiite militias

During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Shiite militias, some of which were backed by Iran, grew to become powerful forces. Among the strongest such militias is the Mahdi Army, a group loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Shiite militias at various times attacked U.S. forces and also participated in sectarian warfare in Iraq between Sunnis and Shiites, which peaked in 2006. Most of the insurgent gains were in Sunni or mixed areas. Shiite militias will likely try to protect Shiite neighborhoods if insurgents attempt to move into Baghdad.

Who are ISIS?

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (alternatively translated as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham abbreviated ISIL and ISIS, is an unrecognized state and active Jihadist militant group in Iraq and Syria. In its unrecognized self-proclaimed status as an independent state, it claims the territory of Iraq and Syria, with implied future claims intended over more of the Levant including Lebanon, Israel, Jordan,Cyprus and Southern Turkey.

It was established in the early years of the Iraq War and has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004. The group was composed of and supported by a variety of insurgent groups, including its predecessor organisation, the Mujahideen Shura Council, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Jaysh al-Fatiheen, Jund al-Sahaba, Katbiyan Ansar Al- Tawhid wal Sunnah, Jeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura etc., and other clans whose population profess Sunni Islam. Its aim was to establish acaliphate in the Sunni majority regions of Iraq, later expanding this to include Syria. In February 2014, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with ISIS.

In addition to attacks on government and military targets, the group has claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians. Despite significant setbacks for the group during the latter stages of the Coalition’s presence in Iraq, by late 2012 the group was thought to have renewed its strength and more than doubled the number of its members to about 2,500.

In early June 2014, following its large-scale offensives in Iraq, ISIS have seized control of most of Mosul, the second most populous city in Iraq, its surrounding Nineveh province, and the city of Fallujah. ISIS has also taken control of Tikrit, the administrative center of the Salah ad Din Governorate, with the ultimate goal of capturing Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. ISIS was believed to have only 2,000–3,000 fighters up until the Mosul campaign, but during that campaign it became evident that this number was a gross underestimate

What steps can be taken to control the problem?

The problem will only get worse in the coming months. Now that the Iraqi government’s weakness in Sunni territories has been exposed, other Sunni extremist groups are joining forces with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to exploit the opening. The Baathist-affiliated Naqshbandi Army and the Salafist Ansar al-Sunna Army are reportedly taking part in the offensive as well, and they are drawing support from a Sunni population that believes itself persecuted and disenfranchised by al-Maliki’s government and threatened by Shiite militias that are his political allies.

The problem at its core is not just a matter of security, but politics. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and its allies would not have had the opportunity to seize ground in the Sunni Arab-dominated provinces of Salaheddin, Nineveh and Anbar if there had been more inclusive and sincere political outreach to the mainstream Sunni Arab community.

In the end, the solution to the ISIS threat is a fundamental change in Iraq’s political discourse, which has become dominated by one sect and one man, and the inclusion of mainstream Sunni Arabs and Kurds as full partners in the state.

If al-Maliki truly wishes to restore government control to the Sunni provinces, he must reach out to Sunni and Kurdish leaders and ask for their help, and he must re-enlist former Sons of Iraq leaders, purged military commanders and Kurdish Peshmerga to help regain the territory they once helped the Iraqi government defend. But these are steps a-Maliki has shown himself unwilling and unlikely to take.

Recommendations for a path forward

In this complicated and quickly evolving situation, the steps that can be taken are:

  • To weaken ISIS to prevent it from controlling substantial territory in Iraq from which it can become a threat to the region.
  • To reduce threats of growing sectarian conflict sparking a wider regional war
  • To safeguard reliable and capable partners such as Jordan, Turkey, and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
  • The nations should engage in a regional full-court press involving top military, intelligence, and diplomatic officials to persuade relevant regional stakeholders—Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and even Iran—to step back from actions in Iraq and Syria that could lead to a wider regional war.
  • Additional security and intelligence coordination and operations with Jordan, Turkey, and the Kurdistan Regional Government are essential, along with humanitarian assistance to help care for those displaced by the crisis. These partners have intelligence and capabilities that should leverage to degrade the threat from ISIS.
  • Action against ISIS in Iraq alone will likely push the problem back across the border into Syria, where ISIS controls large swaths of ungoverned territory. This possibility requires more robust efforts to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition forces that have shown a willingness and ability to fight ISIS and Assad, something CAP has called for previously. The administration and Congress should make this the first test of President Obama’s Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, using resources already dedicated to Overseas Contingency Operations. Details about vetting, the location for training, and the types of equipment necessary should be worked out rapidly.

ARAB SPRING: 

The Arab Spring, a term given to the Arab Revolution. In almost all of the Arabian and African countries they are either ruled by the autocratic Kings or by the Military Rulers who had overthrown the earlier government and established an autocratic regime.

As you know in autocratic regimes it become very difficult for the citizens of the country to be heard as per Rule of Law. In most of the Arabian countries still all the Laws are as per the orthodox Sunni Rules. But now it is very true to say that : “the longer an autocrat stays in power the shorter time it takes for his regime’s ouster” upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, as well as the violent uprising and foreign military intervention in Libya and now the ongoing tension in Syria is the best example of that.

The main reasons for the civil uprising was:
1.Double digit Inflation Rates
2.UNEMPLOYMENT/UNDEREMPLOYMENT:

Mohammed Bouazizi

eg. The very first instance which sparked the whole Arab Spring in Tunisia is only due to Mohammed Bouazizi from Tunisia is a prime example of how unemployment can prove deadly for a regime and how the government’s indifference proves fatal for the whole country. Instead of helping out the 26-year-old who tried his best to seek a job including his attempt to get drafted into the military and applying for jobs in both public and private sectors, the government officials confiscated his vegetables kiosk and effectively barred him from feeding his family and paying for his sister’s university fees.

With no way out, he set himself on fire in front of the government building where his confiscated kiosk rested and registered his extreme condemnation of Ben Ali’s 23-year-old regime and its economic policies. He immolated himself but also burnt the outlandish castles of the ruling elite, spinning the wheel of a massive revolution that changed everything in the country.

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POLITICAL/RELIGIOUS OPPRESSION

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it is independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty

The most apt example of this is :
The civil war in Algeria is a prime example of how political or religious or both forms of oppression can lead a country to civil war. The Front for Islamic Salvation (FIS) won the first round of elections with a heavy mandate in December 1991. Then president Chadli Bendjedid invited the Algerian military to take control of the situation. The army removed the president from power and installed a military-backed government.

The FIS was banned and the army put a squeeze on religious activities across the country. A military operation was started against the armed supporters of the FIS, which then splintered into smaller militant groups that attacked the security forces, police and civilians. The army also staged bloody attacks against suspected Islamists, which ensued a full-fledged civil war, leaving at least 200,000 Algerians dead and approximately 15,000 forcibly disappeared.

The conflict continued till 2002 when the armed militants laid down the arms and accepted the new civilian government’s amnesty. By then the damage was done and the socio-economic fabric of the country was ripped apart.
Following a wave of protests in the wake of popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libiya and Yemen, Algeria officially lifted its 19-year-old state of emergency on 24 February 2011. The country’s Council of Ministers approved the repeal two days prior.

ABSENCE OF POLITICAL DISSENT/LACK OF PARTICIPATION

Political dissent refers to any expression which conveys public dissatisfaction over the policies of the government. It may come in both violent and nonviolent forms – including protests, civil disobedience, strike, lobbying. The violent expressions may include self-immolation, rioting, arson, bombings, assassinations and armed revolution.

The lack of political dissent is the hallmark of any repressive government. Dictatorships and authoritarian regimes tend to punish any form of political dissent and are quick to quell it effectively. The suppression of freedom of speech is the first target of such government that denies an individual or group of individuals to speak freely without censorship, limitation or punishment.
Similarly, the freedom of assembly and association is the individual’s right to come together with the others to express, promote, pursue and defend common interests collectively. Any given authoritarian regime would deny this basic right to its citizens and violators would be punished sternly by employing the services of the notorious secret services and police forces. Jails and prisons in authoritarian states are full of political prisoners at any given time. Also, there is no existence of a viable political opposition group or movement.

Suppression of political dissent is very common in the Middle East and Central Asia. The Libyan example is a classic case study.

The arrest of Fathi Terbil, a human rights activist arrested in Benghazi by the security services, triggered massive anti-government protests in cities across Libya on 16 February.Instead of addressing the concerns of the general public and allowing them to peacefully air their views, the Libyan authorities commanded by Moammar Gaddafi, the 68-year-old dictator who has been in the power since the 1969 coup, opened fire on the protestors and used disproportionate force to disperse them. Initially, the masses withdrew from the streets but came back with vengeance after arming themselves with crude weapons and ammunitions.

Gaddafi source

The result was a large scale revolt that engulfed whole of Libya with large urban centres expelling the pro-Gaddafi regime elements and declaring the cities ‘free’. Though, the Gaddafi regime has mounted unprecedented attacks on the rebels controlled the cities in both east and west of Libya, the rage and determination to break away from the clutches of the authoritarianism and tyranny of the Libyan despot rages stronger than ever.

The Gaddafi regime denied the masses their right to govern themselves and address their problems. The Libyan system of the ‘People’s Committees’ was never reformed and crumbled under the weight of cronyism and nepotism. This injustice and repression turned into an insurmountable rebellion for Gaddafi’s loyal forces and mercenaries to crush.

FOREIGN INTERFERENCE

Acts of foreign interference can be described as activities carried by or on behalf of, are directed or subsidised by or are undertaken in active collaboration with, a foreign power. Such activities are usually clandestine or deceptive and are carried on for intelligence purposes. They are also carried on for the purpose of affecting political or governmental processes. Such activities are detrimental to the interests of a nation and involve threat to a person, group of people or the nation as a whole.
Middle East stands to be one of the most active regions of foreign interference. From meddling into the affairs of the state by regional players to direct/indirect interference by US and other western powers, this region has seen more than its share of foreign interference.

Lebanon is a hapless victim of foreign intervention in the Middle East region that faced brutal invasions and braved civil wars incited by regional powers. The country’s fragmented socio-political scenario provided ideal conditions to the outsiders who furthered their interests at the expense of Lebanese national interests.

Iran and Syria armed and aided Shia militants and named them Hezbollah whereas Israel propped up the Christian Phalange militias that went on to massacre thousands of people from rival sectarian groups.

On the top sat powers like US, France and Russia that benefitted from the arms trade while the country was being reduced to ashes. The situation is so grim in Lebanon today that governments in Beirut are formed or toppled on the directives coming from either Tehran, Damascus, Riyadh, Tel Aviv or Washington DC.

KLEPTOCRACY: 

A group of people that engages itself in thievery to govern is known as kleptocracy. It consolidates the tyrannical powers by practicing transfer of money and power from the many to the few. The kleptocratic ruling class consists of moneyed elite that usurps justice, liberty, equality, sovereignty, and other democratic rights from the people.

Just as the Middle East and North African nations are flush with oil wealth, the region is also a haven of kleptocratic rulers from the shores of the Atlantic to the warm waters of Persian Gulf. Kingdoms upon kingdoms are ruled by dynasties that are at least a few centuries old and owe their existence to the 19th century imperial powers. In fact it was the very imperial system that not only gave birth to them but also propped and saved them from the adverse winds of political change and democracy

The 7,000-strong House of Saud is the most powerful kleptocracy in the Middle East with most power resides in the hands of 200 or so descendants of Ibne Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. Thanks to the tapping of the world’s largest proven oil reserves, the Sheikhs of the Al Saud family have enriched themselves to astronomical proportions.

With all the accumulated wealth, the richest ruling family on the planet aids and abets other dictatorships in the region and provides a safe haven after their removal. In stark contrast to their mega-rich lifestyle, thousands of Saudi families live in dire conditions and are mired in poverty and unemployment.

The Saudi government is also actively accused of supporting neo-Wahhabi Islamic extremists in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Central Asia and elsewhere by funding religious seminaries (madarsas) and providing arms and weapons.

On the other hand, the very same rulers have massive stakes in US and European businesses, spread from California to French Riviera. This bizarre mix of religion and hedonism has contributed to numerous conflicts, human rights abuses and environmental disasters across the region and have resulted into the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

POLICE STATE

Police state can be described as a state in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls with the help of secret police forces and agencies over the social, economic and political life of the nation.

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Syria is one such state in the Middle East where the dynastic Al-Assad regime represses people with the help of the secret services and other state apparatus. The country is void of any form of political freedoms and the decades long arbitrary laws forbid any form of demonstration, activism or dissent.

Despite poverty, unemployment and harsh economic conditions, the masses are afraid of any kind of opposition to the Bashar Al-Assad regime fearing massive reprisals by the state. Many opposition political activists say the Syrian military and intelligence services were behind the 1982 Hama massacre that claimed the lives of more than 20,000 people believed to be supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, an arch rival of the ruling secular nationalist Baath party.

The Human Rights Watch, along with Syrian Human Rights Committee, maintains that thousands of political prisoners, including bloggers and journalists critical of the Baathist regime, remain imprisoned in Syrian jails without any trials.

The country remains under a state of emergency when the Baath Party seized power in 1963. The four major organs of security forces are the air force intelligence, general intelligence directorate, military intelligence and the political security directorate. These agencies, known as Mukhabarat (intelligence), enjoy wide ranging powers including the right to detain any person on suspicion for longer periods without any arrest warrant.

Syria is one of the most repressive countries in the world in terms of freedom of expression and information. Criticism of the president, ruling Baath party or discussions on the ethno-religious issues in Syria remain particularly sensitive and are often punished.

The repression comes despite the fact that Syrian constitution enshrines the right of every citizen “to freely and openly express his/her views in words, in writing, and through all other means of expression,” while also guaranteeing “the freedom of the press, of printing, and publication in accordance with the law.”
AUTOCRACY

Autocracy comes from the Greek words: “autos” meaning “self” and “kratos” meaning “power.” In an autocratic system, one person or group holds all the power, without the participation, or sometimes even the consent, of the people. It is considered as the opposite of democracy.

An autocracy lacks political competition, transparency, freedom of expression, right to have a different opinion, human rights framework, and accountability of state institutions. The autocrat of a country will definitely claim, in theory, the existence of such rights and will ask the state institutions to observe them. However, in practice, there won’t be any checks and balances or the precedent of such rights existing and laws observed by the state.

Egypt under the reign of Hosni Mubarak could be termed as a classical autocratic state where any form of dissent was not tolerated. The state was put under the firm control of the security apparatus that kept a lid on political activities, muzzled the press, and tortured opponents of the regime. Everything revolved around the policies of his cronies, known as the National Democratic Party.

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Mubarak, who came in power in October 1981, stayed clung onto it by “winning” four presidential elections – three of which were not contested by any candidate and the other by a landslide. The existence of the parliament was nothing more than a sham, which acted as a rubberstamp and approved Mubarak’s authoritarian policies without any debate. The formation of political parties was technically impossible if not constitutionally restricted.

The presence of the Egyptian autocrat was overwhelming. His portraits were hung in the government offices, the parliament, courts and public places. The intention of such imposing existence was to make sure that Mubarak is present on the public psyche all around the clock with absolute control. A whole generation grew up watching him in power, who always asked the people to cooperate with the government and help him defeat the imaginary ‘enemies of the state’.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

A landmark Iran nuclear agreement was reached between Iran and six world powers is a historic step forward that solves an over-a-decade-long stand-off between Iran and the West. The agreement looks like a “win-win deal” for all sides.

  • Under its terms, sanctions imposed by the U.S., the European Union and the UN would be lifted, in return for Iran agreeing to long-term curbs on its nuclear programme.
  • All of Iran’s nuclear facilities would be allowed to continue operations. This provision will let the Iranian government sell the deal to its public, pointing out that its right to generate nuclear energy stays intact.
  • Tehran has also agreed to a “snapback” mechanism, under which some sanctions could be reinstated after 65 days if it violated the deal.
  • A UN weapons embargo would remain for five years and a ban on buying missile technology for eight years.

Global implications

  • It sets the stage for a radical realignment of equations in West Asia, and has the potential to transform the conflict-ridden region in the long term.
  • The U.S. would like Iran to no longer be a spoiler power and instead play a stabilising role in West Asia, suited to its interests. On the other hand, before effecting any structural change in its foreign policy orientation, Iran would seek strategic assurance from Washington that it would not return to anti-Iranism.

Cooperation between US-Iran: Tehran and Washington are engaged in Syria and Iraq. They share common interests in Afghanistan.

Opposition to deal

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he and his Cabinet are united in “strongly opposing” an emerging framework agreement on curbing.
  • Powerful sections, including the Republicans in the U.S., hardliners in Iran, and the Israelis and Saudis, remain steadfastly opposed to a U.S.-Iran rapprochement.

India’s benefit

  • A peaceful, stable Iran is vital for its interests, particularly for energy security and connectivity.
  • India has tried hard to maintain its civilizational ties with Teheran in the face of international sanctions, and pressure from the US. However bilateral trade with Iran has suffered because of banking and insurance strictures. India and Iran have an annual bilateral trade of about $14 billion, with an extremely high balance of trade problem.
  • The big advantage for India could be a further reduction in the price of oil that India used to source at a much higher quantity pre-2012, when Iran was India’s second biggest supplier.
  • An important benefit of a peace agreement will also be a renewed push to complete the Chabahar port route to Afghanistan, which for India could mean the opening up of Iran-Afghanistan trade and also a route to Central Asia.
  • Many people in India perceive the Mausam Project and the Spice Route as rivals to the Maritime Silk Road.

YEMEN CRISIS

A United Nations-backed ceasefire between the Saudi-allied forces and Shia Houthi rebels took effect in Yemen.

Yemen Conflict time line

  • September 21, 2014: Houthi rebels seize government and military sites in Sana’a. Rival groups sign a U.N.- brokered peace deal stipulating a Houthi withdrawal from the capital and formation of a new government.
  • October 14, 2014: The Houthis seize the Red Sea port of Hodeida, 230 km west of Sana’a, then move toward the centre without opposition from government forces but face fierce resistance from AQAP and its tribal allies.
  • January 20, 2015: Houthis attack Mr. Hadi’s residence and seize the presidential palace, and the President and Prime Minister resign two days later.
  • February 6, 2015: The rebels announce they have dissolved Parliament and installed a presidential council to run the country. The United States and Gulf monarchies accuse Iran of backing the Houthis. In the south and southeast, authorities reject what they brand a coup attempt.
  • February 21, 2015: Mr. Hadi flees south to Aden after escaping from weeksunder house arrest and urges the international community to “reject the coup,” rescinding his resignation and subsequently declaring Aden the temporary capital.

Saudi Arabia led air strikes

  • The advance of the Houthis raised Saudi fears that the Shia minority rebels would seize control of the whole of its Sunni majority neighbour and take it into the orbit of Shia Iran.
  • Saudi Arabia, spearheaded a coalition of nine Arab states, began carrying out airstrikes in neighbouring Yemen on 25 March 2015, heralding the start of a military intervention in Yemen,codenamed Operation Decisive Storm.
  • The airstrikes that followed have transformed Yemen into another arena for the regional struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
  • But after a year of relentless bombing by Riyadh, the Houthis still hold the capital city and control much of western Yemen.
  • The stateless chaos amid a disastrous war has helped al-Qaeda expand its footprint steadily in the country and also country is facing serious humanitarian crisis.
  • Observers say the fighting in the strategic Mideast nation is taking on the appearance of a proxy war between Iran, the Shiite powerhouse backing the Houthis, and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia.
  • Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power, believes that the rebels are backed militarily, financially and politically by its Shia regional arch-rival.
  • The real reason for the conflict lies in the complex geopolitics of the region. Saudi Arabia sees the Houthis as a front for Iran and does not want a Shia-dominated government in its backyard.

Impact of conflict on Yemen

The conflict has ruined large parts of the country and raised tensions in West Asia, with Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies backing the government and Shia powerhouse Iran supporting the rebels.

Rise of extremist

  •  The stateless chaos amid a disastrous war has helped al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) expand its footprint steadily in the country, and it now runs a mini state from southeastern Yemen.

Humanitarian catastrophe

  • The war has turned Yemen into a humanitarian catastrophe.
  •  More than 6,000 people, half of them civilians, have been killed since the Saudi bombing started, and about two million have been displaced.
  •  An estimated 80 per cent of the population needs humanitarian assistance, while millions of children face malnutrition.

Way forward

Three previous attempts to reach a ceasefire had collapsed mainly due to difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

  • The ceasefire to succeed, the regional powers should set aside their geopolitical games and come together to address the humanitarian problem pragmatically.
  • Any practical solution will require an end to external military intervention and a cessation of violence, followed by the formation of a government of national unity. These cannot be achieved unless Iran and Saudi Arabia cooperate, and in a manner that puts their selfish interests aside.

Who are the Houthis?

  • The Houthis are followers of the Shia Zaidi sect, the faith of around a third of Yemen’s population. Officially known as Ansarallah (the partisans of God), the group began as a movement preaching tolerance and peace in the Zaidi stronghold of North Yemen in the early 1990s. The group takes its name from Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who launched an insurgency in 2004.
  • The group launched an insurgency in 2004 against the then ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh that lasted till 2010. They participated in the 2011 Arab Spring inspired revolution in Yemen that replaced Saleh with Abdrahbu Mansour Hadi.
  • They subsequently participated in a National Dialogue Conference (NDC), which led to President Hadi announcing plans in February 2014 for Yemen to become a federation of six regions.

 Syrian Crisis

Syrian Civil War map.svg

Current military situation: RedSyrian GovernmentGreenSyrian OppositionYellowFederation of Northern Syria (SDF), GreyIslamic State of Iraq and the LevantWhiteAl-Nusra Front

Background

2011 March – Security forces shoot dead protestors in southern city of Deraa demanding release of political prisoners, triggering violent unrest that steadily spread nationwide over the following months.

Anti-government protesters chant in the northern Syrian city of Idlib

2011 protests

Pro-democracy protests erupted in 2011; the government responded with violence

President Assad announces conciliatory measures, releasing dozens of political prisoners, dismissing government, lifting 48-year-old state of emergency.

2011 May – Army tanks enter Deraa, Banyas, Homs and suburbs of Damascus in an effort to crush anti-regime protests. US and European Union tighten sanctions. President Assad announces amnesty for political prisoners.

2011 June – The government says that 120 members of the security forces have been killed by “armed gangs” in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour. Troops besiege the town and more than 10,000 people flee to Turkey. President Assad pledges to start a “national dialogue” on reform.

2011 June – The IAEA nuclear watchdog decides to report Syria to the UN Security Council over its alleged covert nuclear programme reactor programme. The structure housing the alleged reactor was destroyed in an Israeli air raid in 2007.

Opposition organises

2011 July – President Assad sacks the governor of the northern province of Hama after mass demonstration there, eventually sending in troops to restore order at the cost of scores of lives.

2011 October – New Syrian National Council says it has forged a common front of internal and exiled opposition activists.

2011 November – Arab League votes to suspend Syria, accusing it of failing to implement an Arab peace plan, and imposes sanctions.

Civil war

The uprising against President Assad gradually turned into a full-scale civil war

2011 December – Twin suicide bombs outside security buildings in Damascus kill 44, the first in a series of large blasts in the the capital that continue into the following summer.

2012 February – Government steps up the bombardment of Homs and other cities.

International pressure:

2012 March – UN Security Council endorses non-binding peace plan drafted by UN envoy Kofi Annan. China and Russia agree to support the plan after an earlier, tougher draft is modified.

2012 May – France, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada and Australia expel senior Syrian diplomats in protest at killing of more than a hundred civilians in Houla, near Homs.

Opposition rifts

Divisions and concern about the role of Islamists have bedevilled the opposition

Guide to the Syrian opposition

2012 June – Turkey changes rules of engagement after Syria shoots down a Turkish plane, declaring that if Syrian troops approach Turkey’s borders they will be seen as a military threat.

2012 July – Free Syria Army blows up three security chiefs in Damascus and seizes Aleppo in the north.

2012 August – Prime Minister Riad Hijab defects, US President Obama warns that use of chemical weapons would tilt the US towards intervention.

2012 October – Syria-Turkish tension rises when Syrian mortar fire on a Turkish border town kills five civilians. Turkey returns fire and intercepts a Syrian plane allegedly carrying arms from Russia.

Fire in Aleppo destroys much of the historic market as fighting and bomb attacks continue in various cities.

2012 November – National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces formed in Qatar, excludes Islamist militias. Arab League stops short of full recognition.

Israeli military fire on Syrian artillery units after several months of occasional shelling from Syrian positions across the Golan Heights, the first such return of fire since the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

2012 December – US, Britain, France, Turkey and Gulf states formally recognise opposition National Coalition as “legitimate representative” of Syrian people.

2013 January – Syria accuses Israeli jets of attacking a military research centre near Damascus, but denies reports that lorries carrying weapons bound for Lebanon were hit. Unverified reports say Israel had targeted an Iranian commander charged with moving weapons of mass destruction to Lebanon.

International donors pledge more than $1.5bn (£950m) to help civilians affected by the conflict in Syria.

2013 March – Syrian warplanes bomb the northern city of Raqqa after rebels seize control. US and Britain pledge non-military aid to rebels.

Chemical arms claims

Government forces have faced – and denied – repeated allegations of chemical weapons use

Rise of Islamists

2013 June – Government and allied Lebanese Hezbollah forces recapture strategically-important town of Qusair between Homs and Lebanese border.

2013 July – Saudi-backed Ahmed Jarba becomes leader of opposition National Coalition, defeating Qatar-backed rival.

2013 September – UN weapons inspectors conclude that chemical weapons were used in an attack on the Ghouta area of Damascus in August that killed about 300 people, but do not explicitly allocate responsibility.

2013 October – President Assad allows international inspectors to begin destroying Syria’s chemical weapons on the basis of a US-Russian agreement.

2013 December – US and Britain suspend “non-lethal” support for rebels in northern Syria after reports that Islamist rebels seized bases of Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

2014 January-February – UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva fail, largely because Syrian authorities refuse to discuss a transitional government.

2014 March – Syrian Army and Hezbollah forces recapture Yabroud, the last rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border.

2014 May – Hundreds of rebels are evacuated from their last stronghold in the central city of Homs. The withdrawal marks the end of three years of resistance in the city.

‘Caliphate’ in east

2014 June – UN announces removal of Syria’s chemical weapons material complete.

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants declare “caliphate” in territory from Aleppo to eastern Iraqi province of Diyala.

2014 August – Tabqa airbase, near the northern city of Raqqa, falls to Islamic State militants, who now control all of Raqqa province.

2014 September – US and five Arab countries launch air strikes against Islamic State around Aleppo and Raqqa.

2015 January – Kurdish forces push Islamic State out of Kobane on Turkish border after four months of fighting.

2015 March -Opposition offensives push back government forces. New Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) Islamist rebel alliance, backed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, captures provincial capital of Idlib.

2015 May – Islamic State fighters seize the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria and proceed to destroy many monuments at pre-Islamic World Heritage site.

Jaish al-Fatah takes control of Idlib Province, putting pressure on government’s coastal stronghold of Latakia.

2015 June – Kurds take Ain Issa and border town of Tal Abyad, Islamic State attacks Kobane and seizes part of Hassakeh, the main city in north-eastern Syria.

Russian intervention

2015 September – Russia carries out its first air strikes in Syria, saying they target the Islamic State group, but the West and Syrian opposition say it overwhelmingly targets anti-Assad rebels.

2015 December – Britain joins US-led bombing raids against Islamic State in wake of Paris suicide bombing attacks.

Syrian Army allows rebels to evacuate remaining area of Homs, returning Syria’s third-largest city to government control after four years.

2016 February – A US-Russian-brokered partial ceasefire is agreed but fails to stick, as do repeated subsequent attempts.

2016 March – Syrian government forces retake Palmyra from Islamic State, with Russian air assistance.

2016 August – Turkish troops cross into Syria to help rebel groups push back so-called Islamic State militants and Kurdish-led rebels from a section of the two countries’ border.

2016 December – Government troops, backed by Russian air power and Iranian-sponsored militas, recaptures Aleppo, the country’s largest city, depriving the rebels of their last major urban stronghold.

Palestine-Israel issue

Introduction

Image result for israel palestine conflict

Few international disputes have generated as much emotion, passion, anguish, and diplomatic gridlock as∙ the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict. Rooted in decades of clashes over religion, borders, and territory, the dispute between Israelis and∙ Palestinians has engulfed scores of politicians, diplomats, and others in a peace process in which the ultimate goal has been tantalizingly close on numerous occasions only to be dismantled at the 11th hour. While the tortured history of the conflict dates back more than a century.

 Historical Background

  • In the aftermath of WWI, the Holocaust in which six million Jewish people were killed, more Jewish peoplewanted their own country.
  • The European powers awarded Britain the right to determine Palestine’s fate. In 1937, desperate to separate∙ the feuding Jewish and Arab communities, Britain recommended partition of Palestine into two sovereign states, Arab and Jewish.
  • The Arabs rejected this proposal, unwilling to cede what they felt was Arab land to yet another colonial∙ power.
  • Following the Holocaust, Jewish refugees from Europe and Arab lands streamed into Palestine, and Jewish‐∙ Arab conflicts intensified. When partition was suggested a second time in 1947, and Israeli statehood was declared in 1948 with the support of a United Nations vote, Palestinians and surrounding Arab nations were ready to go to war for complete control of the territory. Jews, by now almost a third of its population, were prepared to defend their embryonic state.
  • The ensuing∙ War of Independence saw more than 700,000 Arabs fleeing the territory, becoming refugees under Israeli, Egyptian, or Jordanian rule. In 1948, the two sides went to war.
  • When it ended, Gaza was controlled by Egypt and another area, the West Bank, by Jordan. They contained∙ thousands of Palestinians who fled what was now the new Jewish home, Israel.
  • While the traditional Zionist narrative asserted that Arab leaders encouraged their constituents to flee (with∙ the promise of eventual victory and return), recent scholarship has shown that Jewish fighters did, at times, forcefully evict Arabs.
  • Eventually, the area designated for Palestinian sovereignty was conquered by Jordan’s Arabian monarchy.∙ Jerusalem was left a war zone, and an independent Palestinian state never emerged.
  • During the 1948 and 1967 wars hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left, or were forced out of, their∙ homes and moved to neighboring countries to become refugees. More than 4.6 million Palestinians are refugees and their descendants, many living in camps in the West∙ Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
  • They get help from the United Nations. Though the Palestinians don’t have an army, rockets are regularly fired from Gaza into Israel. Israelis living in∙ border towns are used to having to take shelter and adapting their lives to deal with the rockets.

UN Partition Plan

Finally, in 1947 the United Nations decided to intervene. However, rather than adhering to the principle of “self‐determination of peoples,” in which the people themselves create their own state and system of government, the UN chose to revert to the medieval strategy whereby an outside power divides up other people’s land.

Under considerable Zionist pressure, the UN recommended giving away 55% of Palestine to a Jewish state‐ despite the fact that this group represented only about 30% of the total population, and owned fewer than 7% of the land

1947-1949 War

  • While it is widely reported that the resulting war eventually included five Arab armies, less well known is the∙ fact that throughout this war Zionist forces outnumbered all Arab and Palestinian combatants combined – often by a factor of two to three. Moreover, Arab armies did not invade Israel – virtually all battles were fought on land that was to have been the Palestinian state.
  • Finally, it is significant to note that Arab armies entered the conflict only after Zionist forces had committed∙ 16 massacres, including the grisly massacre of over 100 men, women, and children at Deir Yassin. Future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, head of one of the Jewish terrorist groups, described this as “splendid,” and stated: “As in Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God, Thou has chosen us for conquest.” Zionist forces committed 33 massacres altogether.
  • By the end of the war, Israel had conquered 78 percent of Palestine; three‐quarters of a million Palestinians had been made refugees; over 500 towns and villages had been obliterated; and a new map was drawn up, in which every city, river and hillock received a new, Hebrew name, as all vestiges of the Palestinian culture were to be erased. For decades Israel denied the existence of this population, former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once saying: “There was no such thing as Palestinians.

1967 War & USS Liberty

In 1967, Israel conquered still more land. Following the “Six Day War,” in which Israeli forces launched a highly successful surprise attack on Egypt, Israel occupied the final 22% of Palestine that had eluded it in 1948 – the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Since, according to international law it is inadmissible to acquire territory by war, these are occupied territories and do not belong to Israel. It also occupied parts of Egypt (since returned) and Syria (which remain under occupation).

Also during the Six Day War, Israel attacked a US Navy ship, the USS Liberty, killing and injuring over 200 American servicemen. President Lyndon Johnson recalled rescue flights, saying that he did not want to “embarrass an ally.” (In 2004 a high‐level commission chaired by Admiral Thomas Moorer, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, found this attack to be “an act of war against the United States,” a fact few news.

UN Security Council

The UN Security Council passed Resolution 242, which called for peace between Israel and its neighbors in exchange for Israel giving back the land it had acquired during the Six Day War. Negotiations about how to implement it went nowhere. The Sinai was returned to Egypt under a separate peace deal in 1979, but the Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories remain under occupation.

The Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza were not given citizenship in Israel or equal protection or benefits under the law. The Israeli government also violated the Geneva Conventions by confiscating Palestinian land and water resources and building settlements on the West Bank and Gaza. For twenty years, the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza were a traumatized, defeated, docile population, routinely humiliated by soldiers and used as cheap labor in the Israeli economy.

First Intifada

  • Then in 1987, the Palestinian population collectively rose up against Israel’s repressive policies. The uprising, which became known as the first Intifada, was characterized by mass civil disobedience, general strikes, boycotts, refusals to pay taxes, and Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli tanks and soldiers. The word intifada means ‘shaking off,’ and this was the Palestinians first attempt to assert their own national identity rather than waiting for Arab armies or the UN to do it for them.
  • More than 1,100 Palestinians and 150 Israelis were killed in the ensuing five years, and tens of thousands more Palestinians were injured or arrested. The conflict was a public relations disaster for Israel. Videos were shown around the world of Palestinians armed only with flags and slingshots facing down tanks, and of Israeli soldiers beating terrified Palestinian children.
  • Israel began to lose its cherished image as the David against the Arab Goliath. Instead it began to be seen as the Goliath against the Palestinian David. Israelis also began to realize that the occupation could not be maintained indefinitely without cost. Many on the Israeli left began to oppose the occupation.
  • The Intifada also worried Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a coalition of Palestinian nationalist resistance groups with Fatah at its center. Founded in 1964, it was admitted to the UN with observer status in 1974 and was regarded as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
  • It initially operated out of Jordan and Lebanon, engaging in guerrilla tactics in an attempt to regain Palestine by force of arms. It was expelled from Jordan in 1971 by King Hussein, then expelled from Lebanon in 1982 by Israel, at which point it fled to Tunisia.
  • By the time the Intifada broke out, the PLO was largely out of touch with life in the Palestinian territories. It had played no part in leading or organizing the Intifada. In 1988, in order to gain recognition for the PLO and save himself from irrelevance, Arafat agreed to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism. It was a historic compromise. He unilaterally surrendered Palestinian claims to 78% of historic Palestine and agreed to focus aspirations for Palestinian statehood solely on the remaining 22% ‐ the West Bank and Gaza. Five years later, in 1993, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords, hailed as a blueprint for peace between the two peoples.
  • It was the first time Israelis and Palestinians publicly recognized each other as partners for negotiations toward peace rather than enemies who might be defeated by force of arms. (In October 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan, leaving Syria and Lebanon the only countries bordering Israel still in a state of conflict with it.) After that, the ‘two‐state solution’ became the mantra of the mainstream.
  • The Accords created the Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Arafat and his associates and based in Ramallah. It had limited administrative and security duties in the West Bank and Gaza while Israel retained control of water, airspace, borders, imports, exports, residency, travel, taxation, currency, etc.
  • This arrangement was supposed to last for a five‐year period during which Israel and the PA would engage in trust‐building measures and negotiate final‐status issues such as East Jerusalem, refugees, borders, and settlements. It was hoped that an independent Palestinian state‐and peace‐would follow.

 Second Intifada

The explosive atmosphere reached a flashpoint in September of 2000, when the second Intifada erupted.Soon afterwards, Israelis voted in a new Prime Minister ‐‐ Ariel Sharon of the right‐wing Likud party. The unrest spiraled from Palestinian protests and deadly Israeli repression into riots, assassinations, suicide bombings, and massive Israeli military incursions. The conflict became known as the second Intifada.

 India’s balanced attitude since past

  • India’s balancing act between its Israeli and Palestinian friends is a relatively recent phenomenon. For most of its pre and post‐independence history, New Delhi viewed the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict through an ideological lens and in zero‐sum terms, pursuing a foreign policy antagonistic towards the Jewish state.
  • India was one of the first nations to recognise Palestine’s cause and it was the first non‐Arab state to∙ recognise the Palestinian Liberation Organisation as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974.
  • In fact, India refused to grant Israel full diplomatic recognition until 1992, the last major non‐Muslim country to do so. Such hostility towards Israel is surprising given the similarities the two countries share.
  • Both nations are former members of the British colonial system, are surrounded by traditionally hostile states, are islands of democracy in the middle of generally undemocratic regions, and are constant victims of Islamic extremism. Despite these similarities, New Delhi maintained an unsympathetic posture towards Israel from its earliest days.
  • Several factors, including a fear of alienating its large Muslim population, Cold War politics, a desire to counter Pakistan’s influence in the Muslim world, and a need to garner Arab support for its position over the Kashmir issue compelled New Delhi to pursue an exclusively pro‐Arab and thus pro‐Palestinian foreign policy for more than forty years. Such a policy translated into India reflexively condemning Jewish aspirations in Palestine and later the Jewish∙ state itself while instinctively supporting the Palestinian position.
  • After more than four decades of such policy imbalance, however, a host of developments, notably the end of Cold War, exposed the discredited and anachronistic assumptions underlying India’s Middle East policy, and forced New Delhi to recalibrate its approach towards the region to reflect new international realities. India’s cherished Non‐Aligned Movement (NAM) lost its validity following the end of the Cold War and with it, New Delhi’s ideological justification for its staunchly pro‐Palestinian and anti‐Israeli position.
  • Additionally, the 1991 Madrid Peace Process prompted India to conclude that if the Arab world and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) were now willing to negotiate with Israel, New Delhi had no reason to maintain the status quo. India also realized by this time that its longstanding and unqualified support for the Palestinians had reaped few, if any, dividends for New Delhi over the Kashmir issue or any other dispute involving Pakistan for that matter. New Delhi has continued to deepen its relations with Israel while simultaneously showcasing its ties to the Palestinians, deftly pursuing both bilateral relationships in tandem. That neither side sees any inconsistency in India doing so is a testament to New Delhi’s newfound diplomatic dexterity.
  • India’s skillful balancing act between its Israeli and Palestinian counterparts is an enlightening illustration of the transformation Indian foreign policy has experienced since the end of the Cold War.
  • Although India has not entirely jettisoned some of its outdated instincts that previously shaped its approach to the region, it is no longer guided by zero‐sum calculations or held hostage by outdated ideologies.

Present India-Israel relations

  • Abandoning ideology for pragmatism and zero‐sum calculations for a more fair balanced approach, India finally extended full diplomatic recognition to Israel in 1992. Ties between the two countries have flourished since then with India and Israel sharing a congruence of interests in several areas and embarking on a multidimensional “strategic partnership” as a result.
  • The two natural allies have made counter terrorism and military cooperation the center piece of their bilateral relations, which is unsurprising considering both countries share similar strategic outlooks and face constant assault from Islamic terrorism.
  • New Delhi has benefited from Israel’s expertise in counterterrorism training and border security, while Israel has emerged as one of India’s most important sources of sophisticated military equipment and weapons systems. Economic cooperation as well as collaboration in space research, trade, science and technology, and education is also thriving between India and Israel.
  • Although India’s dynamic relationship with Israel advances a series of critically important Indian interests, New Delhi has not allowed its robust ties with the Jewish state to dilute its historic bonds with the Palestinian people. Whether India can sustain the success it has achieved is yet to be seen, but so far, India’s new foreign policy calculus towards the Middle East is a welcome departure from decades past.

 India-Palestine relations

India’s solidarity with the Palestinian people and its attitude to the Palestinian question was given voice through our freedom struggle by Mahatma Gandhi. India’s empathy with the Palestinian cause and its friendship with the people of Palestine have become an integral part of its time‐tested foreign policy.

In 1947, India voted against the partition of Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly. India was the first Non‐Arab State to recognize PLO as sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974. India was one of the first countries to recognize the State of Palestine in 1988. In 1996, India opened its Representative Office to the Palestine Authority in Gaza, which later was shifted to Ramallah in 2003.

Apart from the strong political support to the Palestinian cause at international and bilateral levels, India has been contributing, since long time, material and technical assistance to the Palestinian people. With the Government of India’s aid, two projects were completed in the field of higher education i.e. Jawaharlal Nehru Library at the Al Azhar University in Gaza city and the Mahatma Gandhi Library‐cum‐Student Activity Centre at the Palestine Technical College at Deir Al Balah in the Gaza Strip.

Under India‐Brazil‐South Africa (IBSA) Forum’s assistance, an Indoor Multi‐purpose Sports Complex has been constructed in Ramallah Al Quds hospital in Gaza is in the process of reconstruction and the process of building a rehabilitation centre in Nablus has started. Trade between India and Palestine has shown steady improvement.

Products imported from India include fabrics, yarns, readymade garments, household appliances, stationery products, leather products, industrial tools and accessories, basmati rice, spices, vaccines and pharmaceutical products, sanitary wares, marble and granites.

India’s recent steps towards Israel and Palestine

Belief that is growing as India’s tilt towards the Israel is shown by following incidence:

  • Increase in burgeoning military relationship of India with Israel.
  • India refused to vote against Israel in a resolution related to strikes in Gaza over a period of two months in 2014 that left more than 2,200 dead, including 1,462 Palestinian civilians. The vote was on a report, submitted during the UNHRC’s summer session in Geneva a year later that blamed Israel for what it called “extensive use of weapons with a wide kill and injury radius.
  • India’s abstention from voting can be termed as a departure from India’s traditional position on Palestine∙ that has remained unwavering since the last seven decades.
  • India’s engagement with Israel has grown substantially in the last two decades on military, scientific, commercial and agricultural matters.
  • The affinity has been less ideological than pragmatic, each side understanding the other’s needs. Israel remains uncomfortable about India’s close ties with Iran, just as India looks warily at Israel’s relationship with China.
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