*Highlighted parts are important from exam perspective,especially analysis portion of this editorial, historical and political details sets the background and gives holistic understanding but not be of much use in exam.Kindly bear that in mind while reading.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had the potential to be remembered like Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s visit to Singapore in September 1994. Through his famous Singapore Lecture, Narasimha Rao unveiled India’s “Look East” Policy. Through the joint statement that he signed with UAE’s leadership, Mr. Modi has unveiled India’ Look West Policy
Narasimha Rao’s “Look East” Policy succeeded because South-East Asia began to “look West” to India, seeking a balancer to China. Mr. Modi’s “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.
The foundation for Mr. Modi’s successful outreach to West Asia was in fact laid by his predecessor when India invited the King of Saudi Arabia to be the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade, in 2006.
This was followed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Riyadh and the India-Saudi defence cooperation agreement signed in 2014.
Growing India-Saudi cooperation in the field of terrorism may have also contributed to India’s relatively mild response to Saudi aggression in Yemen, but it did set the stage for wider engagement at a strategic level with the other states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Mr. Modi’s visit to the UAE was preceded by significant visits to other GCC states by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. That Ms. Swaraj made Bahrain her first stop in the region, last September, was welcomed by Bahrain’s India-friendly leadership and showed growing sophistication in Indian thinking about the region.
With a minority Sunni leadership and a majority Shia population, Bahrain has tried hard not to get drawn into the wider sectarian conflicts in West Asia.
Moreover, with half of the island kingdom’s working population hailing from India, mostly Kerala, and given the very cordial people-to-people relations between Bahrainis and Indians, the visit showed that India had a special relationship to the region that few other major powers can ever lay claim to.
Finally, over the last year, the Modi government has put forward a nuanced view of the region openly declaring friendship with Israel, seeking better relations with Iran and, at the same time, cementing a thriving relationship with the GCC states.
It is expected that Mr. Modi may follow up his successful visit to the UAE with a productive visit to Iran and a “historic” one to Israel, being the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Tel Aviv.
While all this fits into a pattern, one should not underestimate the transformational significance of the UAE visit and the Dubai declaration.
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. The statement is truly comprehensive and wide-ranging. 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. What is striking to an observer of India-West Asia relations is the assertion of not just a “shared” past but of shared challenges in the present and a shared future. It then proceeds to state: “A shared endeavour to address these challenges, based on common ideals and convergent interests, is vital for the future of the two countries and their region.” The statement expresses the hope that: “Proximity, history, cultural affinity, strong links between people, natural synergies, shared aspirations and common challenges create boundless potential for a natural strategic partnership between India and UAE.”
That these are not just words but the expression of new thinking in both capitals is demonstrated both by the visuals of the visit and the follow-up action both governments have committed themselves to. More to the point, it makes pointed reference to the growing congruence of thinking on vital security issues, especially cross-border terrorism.
GCC looks West
What is significant about the new strategic partnership outlined by the UAE and India is the fact that it is defined not just by India’s “Look West” policy, based on its energy and financial needs, but that it is equally defined by the GCC’s “Look East” policy, soliciting greater Indian engagement with West Asia. 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 to be a 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.
In the specific case of India-UAE relations, it appears the Emirati have come to appreciate India’s view that state-sponsored or supported cross-border terrorism poses a grave threat to regional security and so must be curtailed and stopped.
In short, it would seem, the India-UAE strategic engagement is the product of a mutual “look-at-each-other” policy.
If China’s rise offered the backdrop for South-East Asia’s “look at India” policy, the West’s failures and weaknesses, and a weakening of the strategic trust between the West and West Asia may have contributed to the GCC’s “look at India” policy.
A ‘Look West Policy’ (LWP) like India’s famed ‘Look East Policy’ has often been spoken about, but there has not been a formal institutionalisation of the same.
This will need a concentrated focus – like the LEP – for the region, to formulate effective policies.
While trade is a significant component of this relationship, the essence of the LWP will be the multi-dimensionality of its character.
As much as India trades with the region, also important are the issues of security, culture, people-to-people linkages, and those of a wider geopolitical and geostrategic nature.
Look West Policy: Primary Rationales for Induction
Diaspora & remittances: The West Asian region is home to millions of non-resident Indians; and they were responsible for approximately half of the US$69 billion worth of remittances that flowed into India in 2012.
However, the introduction of the Nitaqat laws in many Gulf countries has resulted in several thousands of these workers having to return to India.
While it is unfair to view the returnees as a liability, one cannot ignore the economic and social impact of this mass re-migration.
India is not prepared to assimilate all these people into its own economy just yet. Already, unemployment rates are high, and the economy is not doing well. Job creation will take a while, and until then, there will be some strain on the economy.
Energy: India, being a growing economy, is perpetually energy-hungry. West Asian nations are among the primary suppliers of oil and gas that keep the Indian economy running.
Stable and more improved relations between India and the region are key to securing and expanding on these sources.
Projects such as the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline lay suspended due to several other reasons. However, proposed projects such as the Oman-India Pipeline, an undersea gas pipeline – that Iran too has expressed interest in – look promising. India’s attempts at ensuring energy security therefore cannot bypass engagements with the region.
Maritime security: Be it trade or energy supply routes, or even national security, the significance of an effective maritime security infrastructure in the Indian Ocean – the maritime link connecting India with several of its key West Asian partners – is pivotal to ensuring safety, stability, and disaster-management for the region.
The Indian Ocean Region is a major geographical stretch through which a large chunk of the world’s business is conducted.
Already, there is a constant threat of piracy in the western Indian Ocean. A concentrated policy will be needed to identify specific issues and areas of cooperation between India and West Asia, in order to ensure smooth and secure movement.
Furthermore, in recent times, there have been many debates on the concept of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ to boost connectivities between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The two regions already have robust connectivities, but more can be done.
However, if this concept of the Indo-Pacific has to become a reality, there is a need for enhanced cooperation in various areas among the key players in each region, before connecting the regions.
Eventually, the LWP and the LEP can lay the foundations for the realisation of the ‘Indo-Pacific’.
National and regional security: Any form of tumult in the West Asian region invariably has an impact on India and South Asia as a whole.
For strategic reasons, India seeks peace and political stability and security in the West Asian region – sentiments reciprocated by the countries of the region in their assessments towards West Asia as well as South Asia.
So far, India has been pragmatic in its policies towards the West Asian region –excellent examples of which are balancing its relationships with Palestine and Israel; and Saudi Arabia and Iran, among others.
However, there is more that needs to be done, and for that, there needs to be better, more polished and astute understanding of the region in our country – especially in the light of the impending US withdrawal from Afghanistan; the thawing in the US-Iran bilateral; the ongoing civil war in Syria and its implications; implementation of the Nitaqat policies in the Gulf countries; and the rising fundamentalism, especially in the franchisee-ing nature of terror networks, among others.