The West Asia is one of the most volatile and conflict-ridden regions in the world today. Given the significance of the region as centre for the global energy production and supplies, it has emerged as a major global concern. There are numerous factors for the conflicts and turmoil prevailing in the region, including internal ethnic and sectarian division, geopolitical competitions among regional powers and interventions by external powers namely the US, Russia and China.
The regional turmoil has unarguably intensified over the last decade in the wake of Arab Spring; the tide of unrest engulfed the whole region since 2010-11. The recent protests in Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and Algeria underline the continued problems facing the region, and raised the questions whether the region is heading towards Arab Spring 2.0?
For India, the region is significant for a variety of reasons but most importantly for its economic growth and security. As far as the economic linkage between India and the region is concerned, it largely revolves around the Persian Gulf. First, the Gulf region is significant for India’s energy security needs as it imports nearly 60 per cent of its energy needs from the region. Secondly, India has strong non-oil trade and business links with the regional countries, especially the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Thirdly, over nine million Indians reside and earn livelihood in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, and they contribute nearly 50 per cent of the annual remittances coming to India. Fourthly, the region is crucial to India’s maritime trade route with the West. Finally, the wealthy oil-Gulf countries are an attractive source for the much needed investments in India while the dynamic GCC market is an equally attractive destination for Indian businesses and entrepreneurs to widen their horizons.
From the security perspective, the region plays a crucial role in prevention and combating of organised crimes, drug trade, coastal security, illegal financial transactions, terrorism and terror funding. It is important for India’s maritime security and for countering radicalism. This is precisely the reason that India in the past five years has significantly increased its security engagement with the Gulf countries.
Amb Sujan R Chinoy, DG, MPIDSA
Moreover, there is growing defence partnership with the region and it is in India’s interest that the security and stability of the region is ensured. While India does not follow a policy of military interventions in its foreign policy, it has been gradually developing defence ties with the GCC countries towards capacity building, training and exploring the possibilities of joint manufacturing of defence equipment.
In the light of these, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MPIDSA) organised 4th West Asia Conference on the theme “Ten Years of Political and Economic Transformation in West Asia: Challenges, Lessons and Future Trends” on February 26-27, 2020. The conference witnessed the participation of over 25 experts, academics, practitioners and diplomats from across West Asia as well as India.
Some of the important names who participated in the conference include Fouad Siniora, former Prime Minister of Lebanon; Nabil Fahmy, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt and Professor Delawer Ala’ Aldeen, President of Erbil-based Middle East Research Institute (MERI).
Minister of State for Road, Transport and Highways, Government of India, General Vijay Kumar Singh, PVSM, AVSM, YSM (Retd.) gave the keynote address highlighting the upheavals the region has faced in the last decade. He underlined the importance India attaches to the region and how the regional turmoil might affect not only the regional security but also have negatives impacts on India and the world.
Director General, Manohar Parrikar IDSA, Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, in his welcome remarks underlined that the region is undergoing profound transformation, whose contours and shape are yet to become clear and that for India this is a major foreign policy concern. He further highlighted that “India has deepened strategic engagements with several countries of the region, anchored in robust security, trade and investment partnerships.”
Over the two-day deliberations, various participants from West Asian countries argued that the turmoil facing the region over the last decade has its roots in the history of divisions, violence and a lack of democratic ethos in the region. They argued that the people and the leaders of the regional countries have failed to evolve a democratic and inclusive political system and have not focused on finding solutions to the problems and challenges of poverty, unemployment and lack of economic progress facing the region.
Instead they continued to blame the external actors, who undoubtedly have used the regional turmoil to advance their interests, for all the ills afflicting the region. The scholars and experts underlined that the time has come for the people and leaders in the region to focus inward and find solutions for their problems from within.
The themes discussed over the two days of discussions included an overview of the regional turmoil, the role of regional and external actors, the changing nature of the Conflict in the Gulf, the importance of energy security and economic development and India’s growing engagement with the region.
The conference concluded with a round table to discuss prognosis for the future where the speakers suggested the need for evolving collective mechanisms for ensuring security and promoting economic development, without which they argued that all efforts in the direction of peace and stability will remain futile.
The writer is Associate Fellow, Manohar Parrikar IDSA. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or Government of India.