Prior to 1991 India’s engagement with the West Asia was one of political distance. This is on account of the dynamics of Cold War politics. India’s engagement with the region began to increase the post cold war period due to a multitude of factors like the end of the Cold War, the disintegration of Soviet Union etc. India hence shed its ‘political distance’ approach and move closer to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Israel. Although, India has adopted a balancing approach to West Asia, it is viewed by some as neutrality and that of non-alignment.
West Asia and its importance
- For India, the energy resources of the West Asian region are extremely significant.
- West Asian countries are India’s largest trade partner.
- Culture and Religion aspects are shared between India and West Asia.
- Ensuring the stability and security of the Persian Gulf region and Gulf of Aden is important as piracy is rampant.
- In Iran, India invested in its large natural gas fields and develop the Chabahar port, which is expected to be a bridge of trade between India, Iran and central Asia along with Afghanistan.
- Protection of the large Indian expatriate community in the context of persistent conflict and violence across the region is important as we have a huge Indian Diaspora residing there.
- Pakistan continues to have a strong political constituency across Muslim West Asia.
- China has already made rapid inroads in the West Asian region.
- India remains hyphenated with Pakistan and Arab cause which is revolted by many and hence they don’t find India as dependanble.
- Although US has shifted its focus from middle east to Pacific Ocean region but US presence and dominance is still felt in many west Asian countries.
- The decline of oil and gas prices, along with the rising cost of war conditions has led to the slowing of Arab Gulf economies
The historical ties as well as the hard facts of present-day politics and economy point to a future of growing interdependence and co-operation between India and West Asia. Amid competing demands from West Asian powers for India to take sides, India might find it difficult to maintain a “balancing” approach even if it wanted to. India must continue to pursue close military relationships with Persian Gulf and Gulf of Aden countries contributing to maritime security in the Arabian Sea.