The View from India | Two West Asias

Understand international affairs from the Indian perspective with View from India

Updated - April 11, 2023 07:39 am IST

Published - April 10, 2023 06:24 pm IST

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang shake hands during a meeting in Beijing

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang shake hands during a meeting in Beijing | Photo Credit: Reuters

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West Asia, a region which, with its immense hydrocarbon resources, remains critical for the economic security of several powers, including India and China, is witnessing rapid changes in recent weeks. After China brokered a reconciliation agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the former bitter rivals have moved fast to consolidate their ties. The Foreign Ministers of both the Sunni Kingdom and the Shia Islamic Republic met in China last week to discuss “the official resumption of bilateral relations and the executive steps towards the reopening of the embassies and consulates of the two countries”. Saudi Arabia, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler, is making quick moves to build a strategic equilibrium with Iran and its allies, while also balancing between great powers such as the U.S., China and Russia.  

Besides its rapprochement with Iran, Saudi Arabia has also sought to mend its hostile policy towards Syria (where the Saudis had backed anti-regime rebels until a few years ago) and sent a delegation to Yemen for a permanent ceasefire with the Houthis. If Syria rejoins the Arab League, which is expected to happen soon, and the war in Yemen comes to an end, it would further strengthen the Saudi-Iran détente, strengthening stability in the region. West Asia has seen dramatic geopolitical changes – both through war and talks -- in the past. But what makes the present different is that the U.S., the traditional great power in the region, is staying as a spectator while major changes are unfolding.

But diplomatic breakthroughs are only a part of the West Asian story. While Iran and Saudi Arabia are making peace under Saudi mediation and Saudi Arabia and Syria are making amends under Russian mediation, the several crises around Israel go on unchanged. Last week, dozens of rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza and southern Lebanon after Israeli raids at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest place of worship. In retaliation, Israel carried out airstrikes in Lebanon and Gaza (targeting Palestinian militants). Two Israelis were killed in the occupied West Bank in a shooting incident. The situation remains tense as both Israel’s high-handedness and Palestinian violence in the occupied lands continue. With rockets coming in from Gaza and Lebanon, Israel faces the risks of escalation from two fronts. While one side of West Asia is trying to stabilise itself through talks, another side is continuing the old ways of attacks and counter-attacks.

Invented names

The Chinese government last week announced it would “standardise” the names of 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh. Releasing a list of the 11 places along with a map that shows parts of Arunachal Pradesh instead as inside the southern Tibetan region, that China refers to as Zangnan, the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs even included a town close to the Arunachal Pradesh capital of Itanagar. This is Beijing’s third such list on Arunachal Pradesh. India on April 4 rejected China’s renaming, saying “invented names” will not affect the status of Indian sovereignty over the region. In this editorial, The Hindu, writes that in light of China’s latest act of belligerence, the Indian government should show “more clarity on the nature of its conversations [with China] thus far. Until the government probes the reasons behind China’s moves and the motivation for its persistent aggressions, it will be hard to prepare for a future course of action, even as it counters China’s false narrative and a renaming of areas that are firmly within India’s boundaries.”

What is behind China’s move? Ananth Krishnan explains in The Hindu FAQ.

The Top Five

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A long view of the South Asian drama: In the polarised discourse of today, a paper by K. Subrahmanyam, India’s strategic affairs veteran, titled ‘India’s Relations with her Neighbours’, assumes greater relevance than before, writes Ramanathan Kumar.

Macron, Sunak and an appetite for risk-taking: The two European leaders are hardly averse to staking their political capital to pursue strong policy programmes, writes Krishnan Srinivasan.

Is the India-Bhutan relationship intact?: In a discussion moderated by Suhasini Haidar, Pavan K. Varma and Phunchok Stobdan take stock of the India-Bhutan relationship. Also see this profile of the Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck by Suhasini Haidar.

The demand for Scottish independence: How has the demand for independence progressed over the years? What has been the role of the Scottish National Party? Why has it been demanding an independent Scotland? What does the new party leadership mean for Scotland’s prospects? — explains Diksha Munjal.

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