India's focus in West Asia is vital for Great Power status


Super Mod
Mar 24, 2009
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An article by Ejaz on Indian Defence and Strategic Analyis

Recently there has been a high number of visits with W. Asia by India after the London conference on 30th January on Afghanistan. I wanted this thread to highlight a few aspects on India-W. Asia affairs. This includes the mainly Muslim neighborhood of GCC, Iran and Turkey. This bloc is very important for India's future growth and has four main strategic imperatives

(1) India's Energy security – More than 80%of India's oil and gas supplies are imported from W. Asia

(2) Trade ties, the GCC and Arab world alone accounts for about $US 100+B making in the single biggest trading bloc for India in the world. This is set to grow even further with huge investments coming in from the Gulf and Turkey in Indian infrastructure. As well as Indian investments in Iran. The GCC is also home to the largest expat community of about 4.5-5 million Indians that remit about $30B US annually. A Turkey-India and GCC-India FTA are close to finalization.

(3) Security in the Indian Ocean Region – Oman, Qatar, Yemen and Iran are important countries whose co-operation is needed to extend naval outreach and co-operate for security in the IOC region

(4) Counter-terrorism and diplomacy in Af-Pak. Most of these countries have strong influence in one way or another in Pakistan. Iran has considerable influence among the shias, Saudi Arabia and UAE among the business men and more conservative sunni elements and Turkey has general good will. Just as India has been using US to put pressure on Pakistan to reign in terror groups. India can share intelligence and evidence with countries to put pressure on Pakistan and ask for reciprocal arrangements. There are already shared counter-terror mechanisms and extradition treaties with some countries in the GCC such as Kuwait Saudi Arabia and UAE.

Also note that the UPAII administration has a dedicated Envoy to W. Asia C. Ghare khan as their point man.

Now take a list of the visits that have been completed till since January 30, when the London Conference concluded. Interestingly, Iran had boycotted this event.
Visit of Hon'ble Minister of External Affairs Shri S.M. Krishna to Kuwait (3-4 Feb)
Foreign Secretary's visit to Iran (2-3 February 2010)
Visit of Minister of State for External Affairs Dr. Shashi Tharoor to Oman (5-7 February 2010)
State Visit of H.E. Mr. Abdullah Gul, President of the Republic of Turkey to India (7-11 Feb)

Moreover, we have a possible PM visit to Saudi Arabia on the cards that would be a significant game changer in GCC as well as diplomatic efforts with Pakistan. PM to visit Saudi Arabia
There is also an expected PM visit to Iran soon after. PM visit to Iran possible in March

This is on top of last years diplomatic meets which included
visit of Vice President Mr. M. Hamid Ansari to Kuwait
Visit of MOS Dr. Shashi Tharoor to Yemen

Visit of Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs to Bahrain and UAE from October 4-8, 2009

India is fortunate as compared to China to have geographical, historical, civilizational and religious ties to West Asia. How India engages with West Asia and uses its influence to counter any anti-Indian activities from China or Pakistan will decide if India will be able to leapfrog its growth trajectory over China.

India's support to the Palestinians have always kept most Arab countries like Egypt, Iran and Syria favorable to India. With the end of the cold war, countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia are coming out of the anti-Soviet view of India and seeing it independently in a favourable light. The state visit of King Abdullah in 2006 (who stated India as his second home-a far reaching statement for the King) and the current state visit by the president of Turkey highlight this fact.

At present, the Mumbai attacks have generated unprecedented sympathy throughout the arab world, Iran and Turkey and India should use this good will to extract important counter-terrorism co-operation. Many countries are more than willing to help India and have signed extradition treaties as well as agreed to setup counter-terrorism co-operation mechanisms.

A broad based engagement on energy security and trade will allow mutual growth as the EU and American economies enter a slow growth stage. By actively engaging with the W. Asia, Indian influence throw good will and economic ties is set to grow. Moreover any anti-Indian propaganda by Pakistan can be effectively countered and further these countries can be used to put further pressure on GoP to reign in terror groups.

Finally, a logical addition would an increase in joint military exercises particularly naval with Indian Ocean countries which will be necessary to maintain and enhance Indian Navy's role in the Indian Ocean region


Oct 8, 2009
^^^I just realised that this article was written in 2010 and should be updated

However, Shahsi Tharoor also had a good overview on India-West Asia ties in India Today writing on a similar theme.

Tap ties with West Asia to fullest : Shashi Tharoor, News - India Today
Shashi Tharoor

During my brief stint as minister of state for external affairs, I had the privilege of being responsible in the ministry for India-Arab relations. It was a welcome challenge. The Arab world constitutes an integral part of India's extended neighbourhood and is a region of critical importance to India in political, strategic, security and economic terms.

It accounts for 63 per cent of our crude oil imports, trades with India to the tune of $93 billion, and plays host to 6 million Indian expatriate workers who remit over 65 per cent of the $57 billion that India receives every year in inward remittances. Yet, for all its significance, it cannot be said that the full potential of our relationship with the Arab world has yet been fulfilled.


For India the basic considerations remain that the Arab world is an important, indeed indispensable, source of our energy security and is home to such a large population of Indians who in turn contribute significantly to our economy. As one of the few regions of the planet with an investible surplus, the Arab world is also an important potential source of investment for our growing economy. The geo-strategic significance of the Gulf region for our own national security also calls for attention, though it is one area that is relatively unexplored. We must do more, since we cannot afford to cede these vital countries to the blandishments of their fellow-Islamic state, Pakistan.

The Arabian Sea, which washes the shores of both our regions, and whose trade winds have carried vessels across since the days of antiquity, has played a crucial role in the cultivation of our relations. India's cultural links with West Asia can be traced to the early years of recorded history and continued well into the modern era. The idea of India has long flourished in the Arab imagination: it is no accident that so many distinguished Arab families in many different Arab countries bear the surname al-Hindi, or that 'Hind', as a term connoting beauty and desirability, is still a name given to many Arab women.

Partition and the creation of a 'Muslim Indian' state called Pakistan certainly confused some Arab Muslims, who felt their religious affinity should imply a transfer of their traditional Indian allegiance to Pakistan. Though this sentiment is mainly aroused only in times of war or conflict on the subcontinent, and the positive image of India has survived above and beyond the idea of Pakistan - especially since Indian expatriate workers of all faiths have a far better reputation for hard work and integrity than their Pakistani counterparts, whether merited or not -it complicates perceptions of the country in some Arab minds.

To be fair, the Arab world has enjoyed important strategic and security relationships with Pakistan. A contingent of Pakistani troops long protected the Saudi royal family, and the UAE was, in the 1990s, the only state persuaded by Islamabad to grant full diplomatic recognition to the Taliban regime in Kabul.


Yet the Arab countries are by no means totally or exclusively in Islamabad's orbit. They are conscious of the dangers to them of the militant Islamist extremism encouraged by Pakistan, and are watching that country's politics warily. They also have a healthy respect for India's place in the region and the contribution that India, with its size, resources and military strength, can make to the security and stability of the Gulf.

Though the bedrock of goodwill between our two regions allows us to build a strong edifice of substantial contemporary relations, it is difficult to argue that these have fully been built. Even though India considers the Arab region very important in shaping our political, economic, defence and security policies at both the regional and global level, it is far from establishing the kind of strategic partnerships essential to give these relations true geopolitical heft. Though New Delhi declares often enough that the Arab world is a key part of its strategic neighbourhood and both sides speak desultorily of the importance of strategic cooperation, there have been few, if any, meaningful consultations at high level to this end.

There have been evident positives: India's approach on issues affecting the Arab world has been consistent, and New Delhi has been able to demonstrate that its policies towards the region are based on principles, not expediency. They are also backed up with tangible action: India is a major troop contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations in Arab lands, from UNIFIL in Lebanon to UNDOF on the Golan Heights. Indian peacekeepers have also served more recently with the UN Mission in Sudan, UNMIS, and UN operations in Western Sahara.


India has also been a strong supporter of the UN agency working with Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, and a significant aid donor to the Palestinian Authority. India is among the very few countries to station a diplomat in the Palestinian government's seat, Ramallah. I visited there in January and was struck by how wellconnected the Indian mission is and the very high respect in which our country is held by the Palestinian establishment.

The principles animating New Delhi's positions on such issues as the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people, the Suez crisis or the Algerian independence movement have stood the test of time. The overt support of many Arab countries for Pakistan at times of conflict with India has not swayed New Delhi from this course. India has never failed to bear in mind its fundamental interests in the region. The result has been to promote a pattern of contact, especially at the people-to-people level, that has few parallels. It is not surprising, for instance, to note that the number of flights from Indian airports to the Gulf region far exceeds the total number of flights from India to the rest of the world.

Whereas the world has heard of our 'Look East' policy in Southeast Asia, we should be proud to have a 'Look West' policy too, in which the word 'West', for once, does not refer to Europe or America. It refers to West Asia, home of the Arab world, a region which deserves our sustained attention.

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