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Approach:

  1. Introduction – about West Asia.
  2. Mention how India’s policy towards West Asia evolved.
  3. Conclusion – significance of W. Asia for India.

West Asia, or Southwest Asia, is the westernmost subregion of the larger geographical region of Asia. It is almost entirely a part of Middle East. It encompasses countries like Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, State of Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Evolution of India’s West Asia Policy:

  • India’s West Asia policy has transformed over the years from Non-Aligned Movement to greater pragmatism. Increasing multipolarity of world order has enabled India to pursue its policy of strategic autonomy.
  • During the Cold War, the 1955 NAM principles, founded by Jawaharlal Nehru, aimed to use Afro-Asian solidarity to shape international relations beyond US & USSR. The Non-aligned values were sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-interference in domestic politics.
  • In West Asia, the NAM axis was reflected in the Nehru-Nasser alliance by which India supported the Arabs against Western interference, especially in the Palestine case and 1956 Suez Crisis.
  • The formal end of Cold War in 1991, and rise of Unipolarity and neo-liberalism, gave India lesser flexibility in setting its West Asia policy. E.g., In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, amidst international opposition, New Delhi failed to align itself with either side.
  • Iraq was India’s natural ideological ally, which supported India’s claims on Kashmir. Thus India faced a serious policy dilemma, eventually failing to condemn the invasion.
  • This had costed India with a poor relation with the Gulf countries & their western allies. To reverse this, India supported UNSC Resolution 678 in 1990 to use force against Iraq if they refused to withdraw before 15th January 1991.
  • But India did not support continued use of force and abstained from voting the UNSC Resolution 686 in 1991.
  • The Gulf War 1991 had ushered in a New World order, questioning the relevance of NAM. Hence, India was forced to change its West Asia policy, which came with political costs.
  • Although India kept distance with Israel since 1980s, full diplomatic relation was established in 1992. Since then, bilateral relations have flourished in every sector from political levels to economic, military & agricultural domains.
  • India had unequivocally supported the Palestinian cause and even rallied behind the Palestine Liberal Organization (PLO)’s leader Yasser Arafat.
  • However a big shift came in 2017 when India dropped East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital from its statement.
  • India-UAE established diplomatic relations since 1972. It is a lynchpin in India’s strategic partnership in West Asia. This has been furthered by the recent signing of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
  • In the end of second decade of the 21st century, reduced American hegemony due to growing multipolarity has increased India’s ability to continue its balancing act in a tripolar West Asia, with less political manoeuvring. E.g. India’s response to the Persian Gulf crisis in 2018 when USA withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reinstating sanctions against Iran.
  • Despite US sanctions, India although decreased oil imports as a short-term measure, it did not suspend trade or infrastructure development in Iran.
  • Such assertion of Strategic Autonomy reflects India’s current foreign policy towards West Asia. It is actively pursuing its economic opportunities vis-à-vis energy security, greater connectivity & trade.

West Asia is significant to India for various reasons like gateway to central Asia, energy security (of the 80% oil imports, 55% is sourced from Persian Gulf), Indian diaspora & huge annual remittances, source of investments, key in defence technology cooperation, and geopolitics.

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