India and the Middle East Crises

India and the Middle East Crises

NIAS Strategic Forecast No. 2 | Author: Ranjit Gupta | February 17, 2016

To read the complete report click here

To cite: Ranjit Gupta. India and the Middle East Crises. NIAS Strategic Forecast No. 2. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, February 2016, available at

NSF2The current situation in West Asia should be a matter of very deep concern for India because the policies of the GCC countries and Iran have enormous potential for impacting positively or negatively on India’s future well-being and security. India’s relations with GCC countries are today India’s best external relationship globally. Over the last four decades the GCC countries have become India’s preeminent oil and gas supplier, leading trade partner, 8,000,000 Indians live and work there and send annual remittances of $40 billion back home. The largest numbers of Indian passport holders abroad are in Saudi Arabia, a little over three million, and in the UAE, a little under three million, more than Pakistanis in both countries despite these two countries having a long standing particularly special relationship with Pakistan.

Significantly, the number of Indians living and working in GCC countries has continued to rise notwithstanding tightening of their policies to curtail the influx of expatriate manpower and despite the ongoing conflict in West Asia from February-March 2011 onwards. GCC countries are predominantly Muslim countries where internal security is now an even greater concern than earlier and therefore these facts represent an enormous vote of confidence in Indians and India. Furthermore, it is particularly noteworthy and gratifying that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have provided excellent and expanding anti-terrorism cooperation – the best that India has received from any country in the world – by repatriating people India wanted for terrorist activity within India despite intensive efforts by Pakistan to prevent such repatriations. It also merits mention that India is amongst very few countries in the world that simultaneously has excellent relations with Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Despite India having a Muslim community of 180 million, the third largest in the world, it is the world’s least affected by dangerous radicalism emanating from West Asia.

The GCC countries and Iran are the only part of West Asia where some kind of a bloody conflict is not raging; as long as there are no internal conflicts within GCC countries it is unlikely that there will be any major substantive adverse impact for India beyond India having had to bring home about 40000 nationals cumulatively from Libya, Yemen and Iraq; 39 Indians remain in captivity of the Islamic State in Iraq.

Many in India’s strategic community advocate India exercising a ‘leadership role’ in West Asia, without suggesting any specific actions to be taken. Such an approach would almost certainly be completely counter-productive and potentially even disastrous. The indisputable reality is that anything that India says or does will not even marginally influence the actions of any individual player or outcomes on the ground in the context of the highly complicated politico-military situation in West Asia. India does not have the institutional capacity and lacks national political consensus for the huge strategic leap that would be needed for such a role.

Policy should always be consciously tempered by a mature recognition of the limits of one’s capabilities and influence at any given point of time. India has not faced any criticism from any of the countries of the region for its current policies in the context of the ongoing conflicts in the region. Given the proliferation of violent, irresponsible and irrational non state actors, India’s becoming intrusively involved could provoke them to attack the very large Indian community in the region; India has to be very careful about potential blowbacks.

Reticence or so called policy passivity in a particularly unpredictably changing and volatile environment in war zones does not reflect an absence of decision making, an abdication of ‘leadership’, or of being a ‘freeloader’. It is simply being sensibly prudent. India’s non-intrusive, non-interventionist, non-judgmental, non-prescriptive, not taking sides in regional disputes, low key, low profile pragmatic approach based on mutual benefit and advantage has yielded very satisfying results and there is absolutely no need whatsoever to change the broad contours of this policy. This is the best way to preserve India’s excellent relationships and protect its interests in the Gulf region in particular and West Asia in general

To read the complete report click here

About the Author: Ambassador Ranjit Gupta retired from the Indian Foreign Service and served extensively in the Middle East.

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One thought on “India and the Middle East Crises

  • Ambassador Gupta has described recent developments and growing tensions rather well. They are indeed complex and call for new thinking and initiatives.

    There was a time when the Gulf had the protection, if undeclared, of the US. Navy. It was a time when the US itself was heavily dependent on oil from those countries. No longer. There is evidence that it has shifted its global strategy and has tilted towards Asia. It was also the period when India was also heavily dependent on oil from the Gulf. During discussions, MEA used to take the view that there was no threat to supplies from the Gulf, but the issue was price. This assumption is no longer valid. It is dangerous. Perhaps, Amb Gupta reflects the past mindset in concluding that India should remain a ‘non-state’, i.e. non-intrusive, non-interventionist, non-judgemental, etc.

    The first train carrying goods from China reached Iran this week. When US-Iran sanctions were at their peak, we reduced oil import from Iran despite our heavy (20%) dependence. This was under pressure from the US with the hope of giving the civil-nuclear deal a safe passage. At hat point, there was no hope whatsoever that the US would enter into an agreement with Iran or lift the sanctions. China, on the contrary, defied the US and entered into bilateral arrangements such as exports of manufactures, consumer goods, etc. to pay for oil. Reliance withdrew from an oil concession in Iran to safeguard its sshale oil concession in the U.S. Many Iranian diplomats have expressed resentment over India’s behaviour during that period. They have openly invited China to deepen its economic relations. China has a head start compared to India, hence the first train to Tehran. China entered Iran within hours after sanctions were lifted!

    In the past, we could isolate Pakistan to improve (or hold on) to our relations with the Gul region even if, in the GCC Council, Pakistan wielded influence. Now, there is a sea change. Partly, it is terrorism and partly, its half-brother, Afghanistan. Pakistan has its close links with the US. despite its role in promoting or supporting terrorism globally. Pakistan has deepened its relations with China as was witnessed by the offer of $41 billions and projects which are limbs of China’s ambitious Silk Road projects. Unless we resolve our disputes with Pakistan on Kashmir and terrorism, it will continue to act as a spoiler. It should not be assumed that it will be “business as usual.” India will have to take new initiatives and seek alternatives to grapple wit the newer power structure in the region. It would be a test of our political leadership and diplomacy.

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