After her meeting with Syrian Deputy Premier and Foreign Affairs Minister Walid Al Moualem in New Delhi earlier this week, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj indicated a change in New Delhi’s policy towards West Asia.
Swaraj mainly discussed crucial bilateral issues with the visiting Syrian minister and sought his help in getting the latest update on 39 Indians believed to be under the captivity of Islamic State (IS) militants in Mosul since June 2014. The main focus of their discussion was largely on the current situation in the war-torn country and the UN-backed peace process aimed at ending of strife that has claimed lives of more than two million people in the last five years.
Later, the Indian minister told the media that as New Delhi would receive some high-profile West Asian visitors in the coming months, the Narendra Modi government has started concentrating on the region. She also confirmed Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Palestine and (most probably) Iran in near future. According to Swaraj, leaders from these countries may also visit India as well.
Meanwhile, Indian foreign policy experts have welcomed New Delhi’s renewed interest in West Asia, as they believe that the region can help the South Asian country maintain a steady economic growth. Moreover, India’s “healthy” ties with West Asian nations may allow it to get a permanent membership of the UN Security Council. However, experts have admitted that the recent explosive discord between Iran and Saudi Arabia, despite Tehran’s landmark agreement with the P5+1 countries, is a cause of concern because the region could not afford a conflict between the two regional powers in current geopolitical scenario.
Earlier, the Modi government urged both Riyadh and Tehran to show restraint, saying that it would be important to stop the spread of IS with the help of the US and Russia. With the Israel-Palestine conflict having the potential to spark more tensions in the region, Iran and Saudi Arabia should show political maturity and try to resolve outstanding issues through peaceful negotiation, said the External Affairs Ministry in a statement. As the current political situation in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Palestine have destabilised the region, India wants neighbouring West Asian countries to make serious efforts to restore peace.
New Delhi has made it clear that it will never adopt a “hands-off approach” while dealing with West Asian countries. Swaraj stressed that India decided not to concentrate only on its bilateral interests in the region, but to take every necessary step to become a partner of the WANA (West Asia, North Africa) region that is home to more than seven million Indians who account for more than half of all remittances to India (or around USD 70 billion). India’s energy dependence on the region is another reason for deeper engagement. As India is in no situation to ignore this hazard, it takes a deeper interest in resolving the regional conflicts.
Swaraj explained that India would not send troops to West Asia, but play the role of a negotiator on the basis of its reputation of neutrality, if the West Asian countries agree. If necessary, Prime Minister Modi will use his outreach in the region as an interlocutor for dialogue. We can see India playing a greater role in West Asia in the coming years.