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Is it time for India to Look West?

India has been a major contender in world politics and has been involved in affairs all around the world. The prime minister of our country, Narendra Modi, has often been mocked on his absence from his own country and more often being involved in some foreign tour. But little it is realised that this is not done to enjoy some foreign trip rather to improve the relations of India with other foreign countries on strategic, political and economic grounds which recently has started to show its positive results. The link west policy has been on the incumbent government’s manifesto as one of the top priorities.

The Link West Policy is the multi-dimensional engagement of India with West Asia( Middle East ) which mainly includes Gulf countries like UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Iraq, and Israel. It has been launched as a successor to the Look East Policy of the government.

The look east policy was launched by prime minister Narsimha Rao in 1991. It was then presided over by prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then by Dr. Manmohan Singh. Currently, it is under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Today , it is popularly referred to as Act East Policy. This policy is a collaboration with the ASEAN ( Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries and has led to close economic ties, increasing strategic and security cooperation, expanding markets for trade and investments, increasing employment opportunities and so on.

The Look (act) East Policy of the government serves as a guiding light to the link west policy of the government. However, there are various differences between these two policies due to which implementation of the link west is far more difficult as compared to its eastern counterpart. In the western world, majority of the countries are authoritarian as compared to the eastern countries which majorly have a democratic form of government. This creates problems in the diplomatic stance which the home country has to take for different non-democracies thus, creating a tension like situation. Then, in the case of the eastern side, organisations like ASEAN are very stable in working and thus, act as a vehicle to drive India’s expanding partnership. In the case of western countries, organisations like GCC, Arab league are present but these are prone to conflicts and are weak structurally.

This raises a question that despite these difficulties, why is looking towards the west so important for India? The answer owes to the millions of Indians who have been working in these gulf countries and continuously being contributing to the development of these regions. Many of the Indians based there were important contributors to the country’s finances previously, accounting for a significant share of its global remittances, which climbed from $64 billion to $79 billion in the 2012-18 period. Yes, read those figures again. 79 billion dollars! On the other hand, Indians working in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) also generates remittances worth $40 million for our home country. Furthermore, India acts as an important market for oil, aviation and is a provider of technology. India, today is carrying out developments in Iraq and is sharing its intelligence with Saudi Arabia. This makes India all the more indispensable to these gulf countries.

Indian leaders, on the other hand, have also understood that these countries have much more to supply than oil and gas. Apart from getting two-thirds of oil and gas supplies from these regions, these regions are becoming more and more socially productive and stable which would increase Indian investment in these regions and their investments in India. For instance, in Iran, women are changing by taking off their headscarves, in Saudi Arabia they are getting the freedom to drive and in Riyadh, ban from the movie theatres has been lifted. This depicts the increasing societal progressiveness of these regions. Connections with these countries would promote trade and cultural handicrafts which would ultimately lead to the overall development of the country. ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) and Saudi Arabia’s Aramco have also decided to jointly invest a whopping amount of $44 billion in an oil refinery in India, which surely is a major leap forward towards the link west policy of India. Aramco signed the agreement to develop nearly 1.2 million barrels per day in the Ratnagiri refining and chemical complex. The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi with the king of Riyadh has also signed five key agreements ranging from anti-money laundering to drug trafficking.

India has also been investing in large natural gas and oil fields in Iran and is playing a pivotal role in developing the Chabahar port region which is believed to be a major turning point in the relations of India and Iran in the coming years. Coming to another partner Israel, it is the second-largest supplier of arms to India after Russia. India recently has also decided to buy Israeli Anti-tank Spike missile instead of javelin missile from the US which shows the depth of this relation. One of the biggest trading partner with India today is the country of UAE, a pivotal part of India’s link west policy strategy. Today, UAE is also a major investor in the infrastructure development of our home country.

Though there are security concerns but these shall surely be taken into consideration through this policy. The growth of organisations like ISIS and other terrorist organisations has been condemned by almost all these countries which supports India’s long stance against terrorism. Nevertheless, the sectarian-based conflicts and the proxy wars that constantly weaken the Middle East’s security and stability, make it extremely complex for India to stabilize its interests in the region and make it complicated to venture into new domains of engagement.

Pakistan- the all-time hurdle: The current political scenario in the middle east, and especially Pakistan is quite unstable due to the Muslim uprising against India after the abrogation of Article 370. Since, these western nations have a Muslim majority, their interests might change towards the incumbent governments and the country. This might create hurdles in the proper implementation of this policy. The maritime routes to various countries pass through Pakistan and since, Pakistan is always against the developments going on here, problems in the implementation of this policy are bound to occur. Pakistan has also been trying to influence these nations, not to engage in any deals with India. However, Pakistan must understand the reality that through this policy there would be the development of roads and building up of highways connecting various countries. This would ultimately benefit the Pakistanis as it would promote easy trade with other countries and would lead to their development too.

How can India keep a stand firm on these policies?: India needs to stand fair to its policies with regard to countries such as Israel and Palestine. It should not change its stance under the influence of hegemonic superpowers like Russia and the USA. For instance, when Palestine was against any mediation by the US for a two-state policy, India stood with Palestine committed for a single Palestine state but today India is one of the biggest allies of Israel. India should realise that various nations in the middle east count upon India to maintain peace in those regions. It should assert itself to get a fair deal and should contribute to the betterment of the middle eastern nations which have not been able to develop themselves through investments and other opportunities like employment. These Muslim nations are regularly infiltrated by terrorist organisations like ISIS but India, along with other nations should take steps towards security measures in order to curb terrorism. Political support can be provided so as to gain trust among those nations.

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1 Comment

  1. Very well written Sahib …keep it up !

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