India and the Middle East Crises
NIAS Strategic Forecast No. 2 | Author: Ranjit Gupta | February 17, 2016
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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 http://isssp.in/india-and-the-middle-east-crises/
The 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