India’s major think-tank, the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses organised the 4th West Asia Conference on the theme “Ten Years of Political and Economic Transformation in West Asia: Challenges, Lessons and Future Trends” in New Delhi. The conference witnessed the participation of over several Indian and international experts, including Mr. Fouad Siniora, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon and Mr. Nabil Fahmy, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, who deliberated on various important issues pertaining to the region. The two-day discussions were divided into six sessions focussed themes such as regional security scenario, role of external powers, economy, the changing nature of conflict an India’s growing engagement with West Asia.
India’s Minister of State for Road, Transport and Highways, Government of India, General Vijay Kumar Singh (Retd.) gave the keynote address highlighting the upheavals the region has faced in the last decade and underlining the importance India attaches to the region. Director General, Manohar Parrikar IDSA, Amb. Sujan R. Chenoy, underlined that amidst the ongoing uncertainties, the economic progress in the region has been seriously undermined. He further highlighted that “India has deepened strategic engagements with several countries of the region, anchored in robust security, trade and investment partnerships.”
Various speakers emphasised on the upheavals the region has undergone over the last decade, and the need for the regional countries, its leaders and the people to find a solution from within. It was argued that since the Arab unrest started in Tunisia in December 2010, the security situation in the region has worsened; it has affected the economy, while also intensifying the geo-political competition.
It was also argued that the Arab unrest began with the slogan of transition from authoritarianism to democratization for inclusive and accountable governance; but even after a decade a majority of the countries continue to suffer from the same problems. The process of transition to participatory politics has been painful and inconclusive with many countries facing serious internal conflicts with countries, such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya, facing unprecedented humanitarian crisis and displacement of the population.
This has led to a situation that in the past year a new wave of popular unrest has been witnessed in countries such as Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iran. This is reflective of the fact that the basic political and economic aspirations of the youths remain unaddressed. The ongoing uncertainty has undermined economic progress. Today, West Asia has one of the world’s highest unemployment rates as well as the slowest GDP per capita growth, while a majority of the population is young. The economic projections of this region continue to remain grim.
Amidst the continuing instability and violence, and rising tensions in the Gulf region, the issue of energy security has assumed enormous significance for the oil importing countries of India, Japan, South Korea and China.
From India’s perspective, the region is of great importance. India’s bilateral trade with the region has reached US$ 200 billion and India imports more than 60 percent of its energy requirements from the region. There are about nine million Indians living in the Gulf whose safety and security is of concern for New Delhi. Any challenge to regional security situation or weakening of the economies in West Asia has a direct impact on the economy and security of India. To secure its economic and strategic interests, India has pursued an active diplomacy since 2014.
One of the most significant foreign policy initiatives of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the importance accorded to strengthening India’s relationship with this region. India’s policy has transformed from “Look West” to “Link and Act West”, and this is visible in the frequency of India’s political engagements with the region. There have been substantive improvements in political, economic, security and defence relations. India has deepened engagements with the regional countries, and has been engaging at various levels.
The participants expressed hope that the lesions from the past ten years will help the regional countries to device policies keeping in mind the aspirations of the youthful population. India will continue to partner with West Asia for the progress and development of both the peoples.
Script: Dr. Mohd. Muddassir Quamar, Strategic Analyst On West Asia