It is in India’s interest to forge a coherent West Asia policy

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by ejazr, Mar 9, 2011.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110305/jsp/opinion/story_13666780.jsp

    Muammar Gaddafi complains the West has deserted him. So have the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. So has India. The West’s desertion matters most, perhaps, not only because Gaddafi has been at such pains to surrender his nuclear options and reinvent himself as Uncle Sam’s pet but because of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. With British and German planes landing in Libya, talk of a no-fly zone and David Cameron accused of playing Tony Blair, a Western bid for regime change can be expected if the revolt fails to bring Gaddafi down.

    India’s position is enigmatic. A former ambassador to Libya once recalled admiringly that when he called on Gaddafi, the latter hugged his local driver because they had fought together in the resistance. He saw Libya’s leader as a man of the people. When Pranab Mukherjee visited Libya in 2007 — the first high-powered visit since Indira Gandhi’s in 1984 — Gaddafi waxed eloquent about the sky being “the limit for cooperation between the two countries.” Matching his exuberance, Mukherjee declared India’s “unlimited interest” in promoting “the historical friendship” and broadening ties “in the economic, commercial, cultural, and joint investment fields.” An Indian multi-product business delegation last March, followed in July by the eighth session of the Indo-Libyan Joint Commission, confirmed the promise of partnership in oil and petroleum, IT, education and human resource development.

    Has India’s evaluation changed because some of Gaddafi’s people have turned against him? Or because the United States of America has? Now we are told Seif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son and heir, pulled a fast one on New Delhi’s Islamic Centre. Now India, like the US, wants sanctions against Libya, and its leader tried for crimes against humanity. Fellow columnist K.P. Nayar may be able to throw light on the number of telephone calls and summonses from the Americans before Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations who was reportedly held at Texas airport not long ago in violation of his diplomatic immunity and his turban “searched forcefully”, agreed to suppress his own preference for a more calibrated approach and go the whole hog.

    Since Americans test friends and foes on the touchstone of UN votes, P.V. Narasimha Rao had to support revocation of Resolution 3379 (Zionism-is-racism), passed by the UN general assembly with great gusto in 1975, as part of the price of acceptance. As prime minister, I.K. Gujral did not rush to Kuwait’s defence when Saddam Hussein overran the emirate but realized — when the US cut off aid for impoverished Yemen because it voted against invading Iraq — that near-bankrupt India would have to toe the line. After that, India supported every American move at the UN.

    It’s ironical that the US, with India tagging along, should seek to commit Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court which neither country recognizes. It is also ironical that the world should suddenly have woken up to his dictatorship. Gaddafi has not been anything else since he overthrew the pro-Western monarchy in 1969 and set up the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Presumably, the Americans and Indians would have continued to befriend him if he had ruthlessly suppressed the revolt before it exploded. It’s ironic, too, that a pro-democracy movement is pitted against a jamahiriya or “state of the masses”.

    The strident American campaign is the biggest irony. The US has accommodated too many dictators in the past for Hillary Clinton’s human rights rhetoric to be taken at face value. Perhaps Gaddafi’s nuclear penitence was never believed and the US has been biding its time since the unfinished business of 1969 when Henry Kissinger tried to topple him or 1986 when the Reagan administration tried to have him killed. Perhaps Washington wants to demonstrate that the Central Intelligence Agency, which could not save a star protégé in Cairo and has been caught with its pants down in Lahore, isn’t such a nincompoop (if an organization can be called that) after all. This could also be a manifestation of the new plan — CIA 2015 — by the CIA director, Leon Panetta, to refurbish his agency’s image. Another explanation might be the intelligence assessment that despite bombast about “fighting to the last man and woman”, Gaddafi will not survive the storm, and the consequent American determination to win favour with the next ruler(s) of a major oil exporter with Africa’s largest proven oil deposits.

    The danger is that a superpower can foment trouble in a country and use it as an excuse for intervention. It was a tactic imperial Britain perfected, and the US might feel tempted to employ to avoid the mess that outright invasion created in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one should be surprised if Western arms and funds are channelled to the “Free Libya” insurgents, as they were to Osama bin Laden and the Afghan Mujahideen. Hugo Chávez, who has produced a peace plan, can save his breath to cool his porridge, as they say. The Americans can’t back out now.

    Unlike the British, Indians don’t instinctively protest when civil rights are infringed anywhere in the world. Outsiders have commented India is absorbed in India. The British writer, Taya Zinkin, who knew India well, explained indifference to global events by suggesting that Indians are psychologically incapable of seeing repression when both sides are the same colour. The traditional aversion to championing human rights and democratic freedoms, evident in Jawaharlal Nehru’s hesitation over Hungary in 1956, may also reflect a genuine reluctance to interfere in another country’s sovereign jurisdiction. It could be born, too, of a hard-pressed people’s pragmatic strategy for survival. An Indian Zimbabwean at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas strongly resented Western criticism of Robert Mugabe whose high-handedness he justified in the name of discipline, arguing that white farmers deserved to be expropriated. Typically, he was doing well and didn’t want the boat rocked.

    Not that Indian governments care much about emigrant sentiments. Nehru, who advised East African Indians to make the best of their circumstances, took up the cudgels against apartheid South Africa because of Mahatma Gandhi’s involvement. Playing to the Afro-Asian gallery and attacking Western colonialism were added incentives. Initiatives like the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and liberalized passport, visa and voting rules were prompted by China’s success in mobilizing funds from its diaspora.

    Normally, West Asian countries are barely mentioned in the Indian media. The orgy of reports about the upsurge there reflects (dare I say it?) media imitativeness rather than a response to keen domestic interest. Yet, West Asia should rank high in foreign policy priorities. India imports 75 per cent of its oil needs and nearly three-quarters of that comes from the region. The four million Indians there (only 18,000 in Libya) are a major source of foreign remittances. The United Arab Emirates overtook the US in 2008-09 as India’s biggest trading partner. If national interest justifies dealing with Myanmar’s ruling junta (despite Barack Obama’s chiding) or an array of Arab sheikhs and sultans, there need be no squeamishness about Libya’s “Leader and Guide of the Revolution”.

    Whether or not his days are numbered, India must forge a coherent West Asian strategy that places India’s fiscal stability, technological expertise and familiarity with democratic institutions at the disposal of the emerging order. Whatever the earlier record of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, its request for help in conducting elections merits a positive response. The unique instrument of soft power that is Bollywood can be deployed with aggressive creativity.

    While India cannot afford to ignore either US strategic interests or its ties with Israel, being seen to hang on to America’s coat-tails like Hosni Mubarak’s ousted regime will only invite ridicule. “A subedar owing allegiance to a global overlord”, as Syed Shahabuddin put it in another context, won’t serve even American global interests either. The US needs a credible ally in Asia with an independent foreign policy.
     
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  3. Nonynon

    Nonynon Regular Member

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    The way things are going, USA is falling in decline to hard to be able to have an 'American' foreign policy'. Here in Israel we also started improving relations with some of USA's rivals (Russia and China) while still keeping close relations with USA because like I said, an 'American' foreign policy' just isn't enough anymore.
     
  4. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

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    We should not follow yanks! We should look out for our own interests and tell the yanks to shove it where the sun doesn't shine if they dont like it and till they keep giving weapons to pakistan.
     
  5. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    West Asia is certainly important, and we have a pretty strong influence there. Just look at how many Indian expats work the oil rigs in the Gulf.

    But in the long-term, India's future lies in the East and South, not in the West.
     
  6. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    India's natural allies are closer home-The Economic Times

    Karthik Subbaraman

    In India's extended neighbourhood, epochal change is underway: the Arab people are beginning to rediscover their soul. India will be understandably nervous about the consequences of the tumult, but it must devoutly wish for the success of the Arab reawakening.

    But why should we wish for something that has no obvious benefit to us and is fraught with uncertainty? After all, we have cordial relationships with countries of the Arab world. Is not a bird in hand worth two in the bush? That is one way of looking at things.

    The other is that support of democratisation in the Arab world is both morally correct and strategically wise. This impulse led the Indian National Congress to forge close links with the nationalist Wafd party in Egypt and support nationalist movements in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Arab world. Jawaharlal Nehru and Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, flushed in the warm afterglow of independence, joined with other stalwarts of the developing world to form the Non-Aligned Movement. India, to this day, is a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause.

    Since Independence, there has been much official bonhomie between India and the rulers of Arab nations. But it has also been sterile and inhibited, missing the lively interaction that marks contacts between free peoples. Other than homilies, we have been forgetful of the effervescent relationship that flourished for millennia between India and the Arab world. The Arabs preserved, nourished and transmitted the learning of the Indian, Chinese and the Greeks, particularly during the Abbasid Caliphate, laying the groundwork for the European Renaissance. With Egypt, ironically, there was a real spark in the ties, but Hosni Mubarak had become unbearable for his people.

    The major preoccupations of the Indian government have been oil, our relationship with Pakistan and the large expatriate population - up to five million in the Gulf alone. Arab regimes, on the other hand, have looked to India for support on Palestine. But it is the Middle East Quartet that plays the mediator, with a looming American presence. India, at best, is a fringe player while the West is seen as a dishonest broker.

    The Arab revolution is not just a rejection of the post-colonial autocrats who drew sustenance from the former colonial powers and the US. Even so, the rallying cry has not been about America, the Palestinian cause, pan-Arabism or Islam. Kindred people in similar circumstances - whether in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia or elsewhere - are inspiring each other to achieve freedom and dignity.

    The uprisings are taking place when America's policies are widely despised in the region. So, when a rejuvenated Arab people look around for democratic examples, they look to India with comfort and optimism. Already, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is doing so. The best-organised opposition group in the country, the Brotherhood has asked India to help hold elections in Egypt whenever they happen, as was reported in The Times of India recently. Indian democracy is messy, can be cumbersome and sometimes downright frustrating. But it also an experiment on a grand scale, a laboratory for a contract with humanity. If democracy can be good enough for India, it is good enough for the Arabs, too.

    It can be safely said that democratic Arab nations will draw away from the western sphere of influence in setting their domestic and foreign policy priorities. Mutual national interest, not cynical power politics, should be the bedrock of relationships. This does not mean empty utopian rhetoric. Rather, we can form genuine friendships with the Arab people, with whom we have cultural affinity and a history of close contact.

    For India, boxed in by unstable or undemocratic regimes in a dangerous neighbourhood, a democratised and self-confident Arab world will relieve the claustrophobia and have a positive effect on its relationship with Pakistan. The US and India have been described by many as 'natural allies'. It's true that the closest thing to real friendship we have is with the US. Yet, if democracy comes to the Arab world, our natural allies will be closer home.

    There is no need to fear that extremist Islam will replace autocrats in the Arab world. Governing within a democratic system will automatically balance competing interests, and moderation will prevail. India has instinctively trusted democracy for itself and proven correct; it can trust democracy for everyone. Perhaps the time has come to revive some of the idealism that marked Nehru's foreign policy vision.
     
  7. Nonynon

    Nonynon Regular Member

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    I wouldn't plan on a democratic Arab country anytime soon, maybe half democratic at best.
     
  8. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

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    Im looking forward to democratic arab countries....sooner or later you will have to sit on the negotiating table.

    and sooner the better.
     

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