by Ali Khan Bangash 30 April 2023
Debate in the policy sphere about Indian foreign policy is regnant whether the country is still pursuing non-alignment or has shifted to multi-alignment. Supporters of India’s multi-allignemnt present strategic autonomy as the leading factor that India is pursuing. Strategic autonomy means the foreign policy of any state is independent of any foreign pressure. Since inception, India has maintained a very pragmatic outlook toward the external world. And this multi-allignemnt is also applicable to India’s outlook towards West Asian countries, especially the Gulf countries. Here in this article west does not imply to the typical definition of the connotation, but rather the countries of GCC.
India’s foreign policy towards West Asia has undergone three significant shifts over the years. The first shift was observed after the collapse of the Soviet Union when India liberalized its economic relations and expanded its ties considerably in West Asia. The second shift came in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister of India, initiated the ‘Look West’ policy, recognizing the growing importance of West Asian countries for India. In 2006, during this phase, Saudi King Abdullah’s visit to India further strengthened the bilateral cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia. The third shift in India’s foreign policy towards West Asia was observed after the Arab Spring. India’s “Hands Off” approach during the Arab Spring was criticized by the international community and West Asian countries. To address this issue, the Modi government was expected to take a more proactive role in resolving the conundrum.
In addition to the economic and political cooperation between India and Gulf countries, the issue of Kashmir holds significant importance in the region. Pakistan has been trying to garner political support from West Asian countries for their stance on the Kashmir issue at international forums. However, due to the growing influence of India in the region, West Asian countries are reevaluating their ideological tilt toward Pakistan. During the visits of Saudi Kings to India in 2006 and 2019, they assured that their relations with India would not be affected by any third party, including Pakistan.
In 2019, despite Pakistan’s strong opposition, the United Arab Emirates invited Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to attend the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting as a Guest of Honor. This move by the UAE was significant as India is not a member of the OIC and Pakistan had been advocating against India’s participation in the forum. This development showcased the growing bonhomie between India and Gulf countries, and their willingness to work together on important issues.
Recently Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha laid the foundation stone of Mall of Srinagar with a Rs 250 crore investment by Dubai’s Emaar Group at Sempora. Kashmir is a disputed territory and the world has recognized it. Any Indian attempt to fetch foreign investment will be a breach of international law. Moreover, India is also planning to organize G20 meetings in IIOJK. There India will be able to portray to the world that Kashmir is a peaceful region and the Indian government is trying hard to bring prosperity to it. But that is not what actual reality is. Various human rights organizations including Amnesty International have highlighted human rights abuses by Indian forces there in the valley. Instead of appreciating these investment efforts, Muslim countries must have the courage to ask India to resolve the matter first. If India is so interested in bringing foreign investment to the valley, it must abide by international principles first. Any unilateral action to change the status quo of disputed territory is against international law and United Nations Security Council Resolution. Pakistan holds its opposition to such Indian actions and raises the issue at international forums. But Pakistan must reach out to individual countries and must ask them to show adopt an approach based on principles. Otherwise, no respect for international norms and values would stay here in the political sphere.