New Middle East
As the old order crumbles in the Middle East,the imperative of recalibrating Indias regional policy has been staring at Delhi for some time. The deepening political turmoil,regime instability and sectarian strife across the Middle East are all testing the established policies of major powers. India is no exception.
Delhis approach to the Middle East has been shaped by intimate historic links,the profound impact of the region on Indias domestic politics,its multiple internal conflicts and its relations with great powers. Indias economic interaction with the region has significantly expanded over the last two decades. But the challenge of adapting to the structural changes in the region is likely to endure. While the prospects for near-term stability in the Middle East look bleak,India needs to step up its engagement with key regional powers. There are interesting openings unfolding right now with three of them Ankara,Cairo and Tehran. All three,along with Saudi Arabia,have long shaped the regions destiny.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshids visit to Ankara this week ends the UPA governments prolonged neglect of Turkey. That this is the first trip by an Indian foreign minister in a decade precisely the period when Ankaras regional and international standing has rapidly risen under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan underlines this unfortunate fact. Khurshids visit should set the tone for President Pranab Mukherjees visit to Ankara later this year and lay the basis for sustainable political engagement with Turkey. Neither Erdogans new troubles at home nor Ankaras close ties to Pakistan should be allowed to come in the way of building strong institutional ties to Turkey.
If there ever was a moment for India to stick by the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations,this is it in the Middle East. The region is in the throes of a difficult political transition and Delhi must deal with the governments of the day,irrespective of their internal orientation. If India has managed to expand ties with Islamabads major partners,like China,the US and Saudi Arabia over the last decade,there is no reason to let Pakistan define Indias relations with Turkey.
Like Turkey,Iran has long been a major non-Arab regional power in the Middle East. Ankara and Tehran are not just at the two geographic extremities of the region. They are also widely perceived as contributing to the new sectarian dynamic between the Sunni and the Shia in the Middle East. As a neighbour,an important source of energy and a gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia,Iran has re-emerged at the centre of Indias strategic calculus. But Indias ability to build strong partnership with Iran has been constrained by Tehrans ongoing confrontation with the US on the nuclear issue.
As Hassan Rowhani takes charge as Irans president next month,hopes have risen for a productive dialogue between Tehran and Washington. Bringing an end to more than three decades of conflict between Iran and the US will not be easy. But Delhi must extend full support to the efforts to ease Iran-US tensions and reach out to the new Iranian leadership at the earliest.
If Turkey and Iran have seen themselves as different models of political Islam in the Middle East,recent developments in Egypt have put moderate secular forces back in control of Cairo and expand the possibilities for the regions future. India has no reason to agonise about whether the Egypt armys decision to end the brief rule of the Muslim Brotherhood is a political coup or not. The fact is that the army has laid out a bold plan for drafting a new constitution and holding parliamentary and presidential elections within six months.
Egypts internal situation is bound to remain murky for a while,but the luxury of debating Egypts internal developments should be left to the West and those regional powers that have partisan interests. Delhi,instead,must emphasise the principle of non-intervention and back Cairos current efforts at political reconciliation and the construction of an inclusive constitutional order. Delhi also cant afford to miss the opportunities to engage the new leaders of Egypt who are so well disposed towards India.
The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and a contributing editor for
The Indian Express
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