India’s strategy for the near west

January 12, 2016 01:15 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:57 pm IST

>With a series of high-profile visitors and visits planned , New Delhi is indicating its focus on West Asia in the coming year, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected to travel to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Palestine and possibly Iran. Leaders from those countries and more are expected to come to Delhi as well, beginning with the Syrian Foreign Minister >who is in Delhi now . The renewed interest from India is welcome, and indicates the importance this region holds for it. In addition, it is important that the government begins to explore options beyond bilateral relations with countries of this region, as India bids for a place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. This is not a region India can afford to take its eyes off. The >explosive discord between >Iran and Saudi Arabia despite Iran’s >landmark agreement with >the P5+1 countries does not augur well for the future of the region as a whole, given that each country has specific areas of influence in it. The >devastation of Yemen caused by Saudi Arabian strikes and fighting on the ground hint where that conflict could lead. The spread of Islamic State may have been stopped due to bombing raids by the U.S. coalition in Iraq and the Russian support to Syrian troops in Syria, but this is by no means a solution. The Israel-Palestine conflict has the potential to spark more tensions in this region at any given time, and the >burgeoning numbers of refugees fleeing the violence from Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and neighbouring areas > pose another potential threat to stability in the region and in countries where these hapless communities are forced to take shelter.

Given the powder keg that the region now stands on, can India have a hands-off approach, and focus only on its bilateral interests in the region? To begin with, the >WANA (West Asia, North Africa) region is home to more than seven million Indians who account for more than half of all remittances to India, adding up to $70 billion. India’s energy dependence on the region is another reason for deeper engagement. The turmoil of the past few years in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen has unleashed untold sufferings on Indians working there. India cannot afford to ignore this peril, or simply issue advisories for citizens not to go there. It will have to take a deeper interest in resolving the regional conflicts. Sending troops to these areas is not an option. Given the goodwill it enjoys, and India’s reputation of neutrality, it would be desirable for Prime Minister Modi to use his outreach in West Asia as an interlocutor for dialogue instead. When signing the landmark joint strategic vision document with the U.S. to monitor the South China Sea region, officials had pointed to India’s mandate for a role in upholding international rule of law. Much the same logic would apply for India’s role in West Asia, one that is commensurate with its own ambitions on the world stage.

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