Egypt on boil,but India won’t rush in

The Obama Administration has been criticised at home for being too timid in its response.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | New Delhi | Published: January 30, 2011 2:06:33 am

As India watches with concern the gathering political storm in Egypt and other Arab states,the government will not rush into commenting on the unprecedented and the unpredictable revolt against the ossified order in the Middle East,official sources here say.

The government’s current silence on the confrontation between the Arab nation and the ruling regimes in the Middle East does not mean it is unaware of the implications of the tumult for India’s growing interests in the region.

India’s trade with the 22 countries of the Arab League is currently at the level of about $120 billion and is expected to double within the next five years. Prospects for regional instability have already begun to push oil prices up and close to $100 a barrel.

Both principle and pragmatism,however,have tended to reinforce the current Indian reluctance to inject itself verbally into an explosive situation on the Arab street.

With the exception of its own immediate neighbours whose internal developments directly affect India’s national security interests,India has scrupulously respected the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other developing nations.

Conscious of its own strong sensitivities against the meddling by great powers,India would rather avoid the impression of taking sides in the Arab world’s internal conflicts.

From the practical perspective too,officials here point out,any Indian comment at this stage — even a banal call for ‘restraint from all sides’ — is unlikely to make much difference to the situation on the ground.

Washington,which has strong influence in Egypt,is finding it hard to balance its massive political investment in Cairo’s ‘ancien regime’ and its proclaimed preference for democratic change in the Middle East.

Unlike the Bush Administration that embraced the notion of promoting democracy in the Middle East,the Obama Administration has drastically toned down its policy ambitions in the region.

The Obama Administration has been criticised at home for being too timid in its response to the massive street protests against an adversarial regime in Tehran during 2009 and the current unrest against a long-standing ally in Egypt.

South Block is aware of the deep popular empathy for India in the Arab street. At the intellectual level,too,there is considerable admiration in the region for the Indian struggle to sustain a secular and democratic political system under difficult conditions and its recent high economic growth rates.

Unlike the West,which propped up unpopular and authoritarian regimes in the region and is eager to reach out to the Arab street,India is under no pressure to prove its abundant goodwill to the peoples of the Middle East.

Yet,India may no longer have the luxury of an overly cautious diplomatic posture as the political crisis of rare magnitude inflames the Arab world.

As the Arabs turn away from the old ideological slogans and against their own authoritarian governments,India will soon have to recalibrate its diplomacy in the Middle East,where its interests have become deeper and more widespread.

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