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Guest Column

Indo-Arab ties have more challenges than preferences

Dr Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmed, New Delhi, March 2016 


The multi-faceted dynamics of Indo-Arab relationship have evolved over hundreds of years. Arab support in India’s freedom struggle is not a hidden fact, so is our support for the cause of Palestinians. 

With the establishment of the State of Israel and the refusal to create a Palestinian State in 1948, the politics of the region changed and new priorities took over the business of engagement. India supporting the demand for an independent Palestinian State existing side by side with Israel remained a constant position of New Delhi and the present Government too follows the same policy and adheres itself to that stand.
More than six million Indians are working in the Arab region and are contributing massively to our foreign exchange reserves. UAE Indians alone contribute 16 billion dollars which is much more that what we earn from America. All countries of the region have their presence in all the international forums and their support for India’s position matters a lot. That indeed broadens India’s global reach and influence. When India is contesting for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, Arab support for our claim means a lot. Arab positions also transform the policy the Muslim world pursues. A block of more than 50 Muslim countries in the United Nations offers a big support base to our positions on matters of regional and global significance. India has good relations with all the Muslim countries except Pakistan.
The Middle East has been having political instability for more than four decades. The Iran-Iraq war, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the unrest in Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen, the emergence of Al-Qaida, the non-resolution of a dispute with Israel and now the existence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria make this region quite volatile. The whole world is engaging in this region for obvious reasons. America, Russia, China, Japan, France and other industrialised nations have their own strategic reasons whereas India too has multiple stakes in this region. 
Internally what used to be the position of Egypt in the region in yesteryear, Saudi Arabia enjoys that now. In all the States of the region, democracy is somehow missing and most of the regimes lack a popular mass base. Iran, on the other hand, is also itching itself for a larger role and influence in the region. Turkey and Pakistan are also active players in this area. The fall in oil prices, the dwindling political and economic structures and above all the rise of the ISIS are creating more complications for the regional governments and the world.
In such a complicated scenario, the present Indian leadership and establishment have to see Indo-Arab relations in a much larger perspective. The recent formation of a defence bloc of 34 Muslim countries under the leadership of the Saudi Arabia King to fight the ISIS adds a new dimension to the understanding of regional politics. Teheran is not part of this bloc since it sees this formation as a Sunni resurgence against Shiite Iran. Even in Syria, it is more an Iran verses Saudi Arabia tussle. Both want a regime of their choice in Syria.
The military engagement of the global powers in the Syrian civil war and recurring killings of lakhs of innocent men, women and children are making the whole region more vulnerable for foreign interference and intervention. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are seeking refuge in Turkey and Europe. The refugee problem is turning into a major human crisis that again invites the conscience of the civilised world to this region.
Our leadership has to be highly conscious of India’s strategic considerations while dealing with the countries of the region. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel occupy a significant position in our foreign policy. Can India help bring sanity in the politics of this region? If so, that alone will establish India’s political and diplomatic credentials in this highly strategically significant region. Indo-Arab engagement has more challenges than preferences. 


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