Geo-political and Strategic development in west Asia and impact on india
Geopolitically, West Asia is the most important region of the world. The strategic geographical location of the West Asia has made the region from ancient times the centre of world focus among nations and Empires as they tried to control over the trade route to the east. West Asia is an area which is strategically situated at the junction of the three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa. In this way it commands the approaches of these continents. This centrally located region extends from Atlantic coast of North Africa to the Western edges of Central Asia and lies between the southern littoral of the Mediterranean and the north-western shores of the Indian Ocean. Because of its tricontinental location and its central position in the world island, the region has historically been cross road of the world.
The ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011 brought in its wake widespread instability characterized by mass protests, civil wars, widening sectarian schisms, the rise of violent extremism and deep uncertainty about the future of West Asia. The region, with which India shares civilisation ties, has a special significance for India. It is a critical strategic and economic partner and hosts over 8 million Indians. Any instability in the region also impacts the global economy and geopolitics.
Since 1979, there has hardly been a day when West Asia has not found itself in the throes of serious political and/or economic crises. The year 1979 itself, marking the 1400th year of Islam in the Hijri calendar, witnessed the Islamic Revolution in Iran; the occupation of the Haram Sharif in Mecca; and then the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan at the end of the year. These events—cataclysmic in themselves—unleashed responses from regional and global players that continue to shape West Asian politics to this day.
Global Jihad: Al-Qaeda and ISIS
Here, the recruits were indoctrinated in jihad, trained in arms and subversion, given battle experience and, in some cases, also experienced martyrdom. More importantly, the jihad tasted victory against “godless communism”, marking the first major Muslim victory against a Western power. Thus, Afghanistan became the nursery of global jihad—ironically, under state sponsorship—and spawned the world’s first transnational jihadi organisation, Al-Qaeda.
In June 2014, ISIS forces captured the town of Mosul, and then large swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria. Al Baghdadi proclaimed this territory to be the Islamic State (IS), which would be a “caliphate”, with him as the anointed caliph. Over the next two years, the IS had a “state” the size of the UK, a population of about 6–8 million, a standing army of 100,000, a treasury with assets of about a trillion dollars, and most of the institutions of a proto-state.
The two transnational jihadi groups, Al-Qaeda and ISIS, draw their ideology and justifications for their world-view and conduct from Islamic sources, the Koran and the Hadith as well as the various commentaries of scholars over the centuries. Though the interpretations drawn by jihadi ideologues from these sources are disputed by mainstream Islamic scholars, many of whom question the scholarship of the jihadi intellectuals and their competence to represent the Muslim community at large, the fact remains that jihad does represent a major strand of contemporary political Islam.
The Oil Factor in West Asian Affairs
West Asian economics and politics are almost entirely dependent on oil revenues. These revenues provide not only the bulk of the resources of the oil-producing countries, but also financial support to non-producers in the shape of aid and development assistance, and employment for their citizens who then send money home as remittances.
Oil revenues have kept in place a “social contract” in the oil-producing monarchies in terms of which the ruling family provides the citizenry with security and welfare (for example, employment, educational and health support, subsidies on essential goods and services, etc.); and, in turn, the citizens owe their rulers loyalty and obedience. This social contract has worked well for over the last hundred years, and has remained in place despite serious political and economic crises, domestic and regional. In fact, oil revenues provided the Gulf Sheikhdoms with the resources to confront the challenges posed by the Arab Spring by giving their restive citizens doles and other economic benefits.
This comfortable arrangement could now be facing a serious threat. First, the global energy economy is experiencing some important changes. The demand for oil is going down in developed countries due to conservation, efficiency policies, and climate change sensitivities. Second, the USA, till recently the world’s largest oil importer, has itself become a major producer with shale oil. Third, the global economic slowdown, China’s economic policies focusing on the quality of life rather than manufacture, and lower growth rates have significantly reduced the demand for oil imports. Finally, some Gulf Sheikhdoms led by Saudi Arabia, are embroiled in military conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and are making expensive purchases of military equipment at a time of severely declining revenues, putting even greater strain on their national exchequers
Impact on india
Indian foreign policy engagement in West Asia can be divided into two distinct phases, pre- and post-1991. Prior to 1991 India’s engagement with the region was one of “political distance,” save the heydays of Nasserism, on account of the dynamics of Cold War politics and the fact that India purchased the bulk of its hydrocarbons needs (15-25 percent) from Russia and had nothing substantial to offer to the Arab world: trade, goods, services, technology, or economic assistance. India’s relationship with Israel was frozen due to its pro-Arab and pro-Palestine position.
India’s engagement with the region began to increase and solidify in the early 1990s due to a multitude of factors: the end of the Cold War, the disintegration of Soviet Union, and India’s growing demand for oil and gas due to its accelerated economic development and propensity to acquire great power status fuelled by aggressive economic and political nationalism. This set of objectives drew India closer to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Israel — the very same countries around which Indian foreign policy in the region revolves today. Gradually, these countries, along with the United States, have become crucial in realizing India’s great power aspirations, as evidenced by the increasing frequency of visits of Indian leaders to these destinations — visits reciprocated by their counterparts.
Thus, Saudi Arabia not only offset the loss of supply of hydrocarbon products from the erstwhile Soviet Union but also met the Indian market’s increasing demand. In fact, Saudi Arabia gradually emerged as India’s top supplier of crude oil (20%) until 2015, when it was marginally overtaken by Nigeria, as well as an important source of remittances ($8 billion). Israel quickly made inroads into the Indian defense sector, initially as a supplier of spare parts for the mostly Soviet-made Indian defense-related products and later as the third-largest arms supplier (after Russia and the U.S.) to the Indian defense industry. Furthermore, within the Indian strategic community, Israel is increasingly regarded not just as a “strategic defense partner” but as a “model of counter-terrorism” whose lessons and experiences could be applied to the fight against cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.
Iran, too, occupies an important position in India’s strategic thinking, and for several reasons. First, Iran is a significant source of crude oil, accounting for 6 percent of India’s oil imports in 2015. Second, Iran borders the Strait of Hormuz through which a fifth of the world’s seaborne oil passes. Third, Iran is poised to become India’s “gateway” to Central Asia, Europe and Russia as a result of the future construction of the ports at Chabahar and Bandar Abbas and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Fourth, Iran is a valuable ally in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Finally, Iran is an emerging regional power with wide-ranging influence in West Asia that could contribute to regional stability. It is for these reasons that India worked assiduously to sustain its relationship with Iran in the face of pressure by the U.S., Israel, and the G.C.C. countries regarding the Iranian nuclear program.
However, it is the G.C.C. countries, particularly in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which have come to occupy an increasingly important “political space” in Indian strategic thinking. The Gulf Arab states provide 50 percent of Indian crude oil and 85 percent of its natural gas requirements. Collectively, the G.C.C. countries have emerged as India’s largest trade partner. Bilateral trade with the G.C.C. countries reached $150 billion in 2016; trade with the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia accounted for $60 billion and $39 billion, respectively. In addition, the 7-8 million Indian expatriate workers in the G.C.C. countries generate more than $30 billion in remittances. India is also seeking to tap the G.C.C. countries’ sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) for its domestic investment and infrastructural development.
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