India walking tightrope in intra-Islam cold war in West Asia

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by pmaitra, Aug 27, 2012.

  1. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

    Mar 10, 2009
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    EST, USA
    India walking tightrope in intra-Islam cold war in West Asia

    Indrani Bagchi, TNN | Aug 24, 2012, 10.42PM IST
    Times of India

    NEW DELHI: India is trying hard not to take sides in what seems to be heading towards an intra-Islam cold war in West Asia.

    As Manmohan Singh heads to Iran later this month to participate in the NAM summit he is likely to be pressed to take the Tehran line on Syria, certainly in his meetings with both Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The NAM summit too will probably devote a lot of time to the crisis in West Asia.

    Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, where India has high stakes; have been trying to get New Delhi to see the evolving crisis from their point of view. For some time, GCC countries have been telling India to try to influence Iran's behaviour, which they see as destabilizing. From Saudi Arabia's Shia unrest in its eastern city of Qatif, to the continuing agitations in Bahrain, the Sunni Arabs blame Iran for stoking the flames of sectarian conflict.

    The strong sectarian overtones to the conflict are too obvious to be ignored. Saudi Arabia supports the Syrian rebels, as does Turkey and Qatar. Iran is the regime's greatest backer. The US is pushing for Bashar-al Assad to be removed because that would be a huge blow to Iran, which is now the sole object of US ire for its nuclear ambitions. India believes there is a lot of external involvement in Syria, and this, coupled with extremist groups like al Qaeda, add that extra lethality in the violence. The Assad regime is weakened but not weak enough to fall soon, the rebels are lethal but not organized enough to be a credible alternative. And, the stalemate could continue, giving ample opportunity for outside powers to influence the crisis, which they are.

    Vali Nasr, Middle East expert with Johns Hopkins University, told TOI, "Syria has already descended into a civil war that reflects the broader sectarian division in the region. The longer the conflict in Syria festers the more it will feed on growing Shia-Sunni tensions in the region, and the more likely it will be that Syria will in turn inflame those tensions."

    India's interests — energy and diaspora — lie in the Sunni Arab world. Saudi Arabia is India's biggest oil supplier, and Qatar is the largest supplier of gas. India's six million expatriates in the Gulf are mainly in the Arab countries. Riyadh and New Delhi are working on a bilateral relationship that could be crucial going forward. Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and UAE are all ramping up ties with India in various ways — investment, energy, infrastructure, technology etc. Besides, the overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims are Sunni. There are connections between radical extremists that target India and countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

    India is working to develop a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia separately, the two countries cooperating quietly on areas that matter to both — like defence and counter-terrorism. Saudi Arabia, in an unprecedented move; deported a Lashkar terrorist, Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal to India, in the teeth of opposition from its ally, Pakistan. India is developing defence ties with Saudi Arabia, another first.

    India has equally strong interests in Iran. As the best route to Afghanistan and central Asia, Iran is invaluable, quite apart from its unique position as a neighbour's neighbour. India also believes that after the Iraq war, the ascendance of the Shias makes Iran powerful in the Islamic world. On Syria, India doesn't have much of a relationship with Assad, but there is a deep distaste back home to allow external intervention leading to regime change. That remains a key feature in India's approach to the unrest.

    After the second Gulf war, the power balance in West Asia shifted decisively towards Shia Iran. Hezbollah was Iran's proxy warriors, and in the 2006 conflict with Israel, many felt Hezbollah was bloodied but unbeaten. Hamas, Israel's primary bugbear, may be Sunni, but threw in its lot with Iran as well. Iran's nuclear ambitions seemed like a natural progression to Iran's march to regional power status.

    All this has changed with the Arab Spring and the ensuing unrest of the past year. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has triumphed after all. With Assad under fire in Syria, Iran will lose its biggest ally, putting even Lebanon out of reach. Iraq is stuck in its own sectarian quagmire. Saudi Arabia has re-established control over the Sunni Arab world, trying to quiet both Yemen and Bahrain.

    Saudi Arabia and Iran are now two polar points for the sectarian conflict. Ed Husain, West Asia expert in Council for Foreign Relations, Washington, said in a recent interview to CFR: "[T]here's been a regional cold war that's been playing out in terms of who leads the Muslim streets, hearts, and minds; and Iran's claim is being challenged," he says. "Saudi Arabia is saying, 'Look, we still lead the vast majority of the world's Sunni nations."

    India's choices just became all the more difficult.

    Source: India walking tightrope in intra-Islam cold war in West Asia - The Times of India
  3. KS

    KS Bye bye DFI Veteran Member

    Aug 3, 2010
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    As wishful as it may seem, the demise of KSA as a nation is good for the entire humankind.
    parijataka likes this.
  4. Rahul92

    Rahul92 Senior Member Senior Member

    Sep 4, 2010
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    Just stay of it is what we can do
  5. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Apr 17, 2009
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    India realises in the not too distant future Iran will be an essential ally to counterbalance Pakistan as also open up trade with Central Asia.

    On the other hand, Arabia is where life sustaining oil is obtained.

    Further, it is in the interest of Saudi Arabia and its mentor, the West, to cleanse the neighbourhood of quirky Shi'ite regimes like Iran and Syria, Lebanon being already in the pocket.

    So, India is in a bind.
  6. sob

    sob Moderator Moderator

    May 4, 2009
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    New Delhi
    Mods. could you make it sticky thread, because this is going to have a long term impact on not just our foreign relations, but also our energy security, and not to mention the enormous remittances that come from this region.

    Would have loved to get some input from ejazR, he seems to be taking a sabbatical from DFI.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2012

    SATISH DFI Technocrat Stars and Ambassadors

    Mar 7, 2009
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    Not a big deal as we have been doing the same with Israel-Arab relations since the 1950s. So this is something nit new to the Indian diplomacy as our interests comes first and the remaining issues can take a hike.

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