West Asia-India dynamics

Hindu Temple in Abu Dhabi:
  • PM inaugurated a project for the construction of the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi, describing it as a “catalytic agent” of humanity and harmony that would become a medium of India’s identity.
  • The temple will come up on 55,000 square metres of land. The structure will be hand-carved by Indian artisans and assembled in the UAE. It will be completed by 2020 and open to people of all religious backgrounds.
  • It will be the first traditional Hindu stone temple in West Asia.
  • Sanstha, a socio-spiritual Hindu organisation set up in 1907. It runs over 1,100 temples and cultural centres around the world.
Recent Visits:
  • PM Modi’s fifth visit to West Asia in the last three and a half years and sustained high-level engagements have ensured that India’s voice is becoming an important one in a region that is witnessing major power rivalries playing out.
  • Modi’s Palestine visit is the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister, coming just weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s high profile visit to India
India-UAE Relations
  • Trade and economic ties are becoming central to the India-UAE relationship.
  • A landmark pact awarding a consortium of Indian oil companies a 10% stake in offshore oil concession will be the first Indian investment in the UAE’s upstream oil sector, transforming a traditional buyer-seller relationship into a long-term investor relationship with stakes in each other’s strategic sectors.
  • There was also an MoU aimed at institutionalising the collaborative administration of contractual employment of Indian workers.
  • There is also growing convergence between the two countries on tackling terrorism.
Containing China
  • Oman has been a long-standing partner of India in West Asia, where Indians constitute the largest expatriate community.
  • China’s expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean Region has alerted India to the possibility of strengthening security ties with littoral states.
  • India is likely to step up its military presence in Oman. Naval cooperation has already been gaining momentum with Muscat giving berthing rights to Indian naval vessels to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
  • Regular naval exercises have now become the norm.
  • India and Oman have not only made military cooperation more expansive during the Modi visit but also made an attempt to take the relationship to other domains: by enhancing cooperation in the field of health, tourism and peaceful uses of outer space.
Issues and way forward:
  • Bureaucratic inertia in New Delhi continues to hamper India’s outreach.
  • India’s engagement with West Asia should now focus on delivering on its commitments and strengthening its presence as an economic and security partner.
  • This will be crucial as traditional powers such as the U.S. and Russia are jostling militarily, even as America’s stakes in the region decline by the day.
  • China and India, as two emerging powers, are yet to articulate a clear road map for the region.
  • While India is still stuck in the age-old debates of Israel-Arab rivalry, West Asia has moved on.
  • Growing rivalry between the Sunni Arabs and Shia Iran is reshaping old relationships and India will have to be more pragmatic in its approach towards the region.
  • The Prime Minister’s visit has underlined this new reality for India.
Despite being a major player in the region, it is said that India’s foreign policy in West Asia lacks vision and is nearly moribund. Critically examine why. (200 Words)
India’s policy towards West Asia seems to follow no definite approach despite the civilizational links, economic relations (dependence on crude oil supply) and presence of thousands of Indian emigrants in the region. The reasons for this lack of vision may be attributed to the following reasons: –
  1. Piggybacking on Big Powers’ stance:-Post 9/11 India has given up its own say in the matters relating to the region and instead has taken sides with Russia and China at the UN or allowed itself to be influenced by the US. With no stance of its own India’s voice has lost its timbre. For example: -in case of Syria after voting against the Assad regime in the UN along with US it turned around against the West on the issue. India voted against Iran on the nuke issue presumably under the US pressure, despite the engagements like Chabahar port and Delaram Highway.
  2. Wanting to play it safe in the region:-Instead of taking a stand on any conflict in the region India has always chosen to keep a distance and this distance keeps increasing with increasing conflicts in the region. The Palestine issue seems to be another area where India is facing problems due to increased trade in defence with Israel and silence is construed as endorsement of human rights violation. India’s role seems to have been limited to evacuating its citizens form war torn areas.
  3. Dialogues with ‘influencers’ in the region instead of regional powers: -India has wrongly believed in engaging with the powers like Russia and US for the problems of the region instead of effectively engaging with regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran through platforms like GCC.
The most glaring evidence is lack of diplomatic and high level visits.
The region is torn with ISIS, political turmoil, mutual bickering and Shia-Sunni sectarian divide. West Asia accounts for 70% of all our oil imports. Also bulk of the trade is carried through this region via Suez Canal. Not only this-thousands of Indians are working in the region and sending in huge amounts of remittances back home here in India. It is time that the Indian govt realizes the importance this region holds for the country. And any such policy should be independent of others and not influenced by them.
In the light of ongoing regional conflicts in the West Asia, critically analyse the relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and its implications for India. (200 Words)
The Sunni-Shia dynamic finds a more political expression in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran that are backing competing groups in the various civil wars. If Tehran has lent support to the Bashar al Assad regime in Syria, Riyadh is arming various rebel groups trying to overthrow the government in Damascus.
Interdependence between the two: The Saudis want Pakistan to act as a counterweight to Iran, and have long cultivated a close relationship with its military
For Pakistan; Saudi Arabia is not only a long-standing source of aid but a principal source of foreign exchange through much-needed remittances.
The problem for Pakistan: Being drawn into the Middle East’s sectarian battles carries a greater domestic and regional risk for Pakistan than it does for most of the Saudis’ other partners due to need to develop a favourable relationship with Iran to solve its own Taliban problem
Implications for India: Though strain in the relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is definitely in India’s favour, India’s needs to balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two adversaries who happen to be New Delhi’s allies. India needs a multi-vector policy and maximising every bilateral tie irrespective of the size and  political weight of the country.
India’s benign image and non-interventionist policy puts it at an advantage compared to other West Asian powers.

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