After successfully implementing a “Look East” policy to promote trade and investment with its Asian neighbors, India has adopted a similar policy toward West Asia. The UPA Government has launched the “Look West” policy, in recognition of the fact that:
- The Gulf region has become a major economic partner, is a home to over 4 million Indians and a major source of oil and gas.
This has resulted in increased interaction, enhanced trade and economic relations and launch of negotiations towards FTA with the Gulf Cooperation Countries Council (GCC) countries. The Government is keen to cooperate with the Gulf countries in the promotion of peace and stability in the region. It has appointed a Special Envoy for the Gulf and West Asia.
Indian stakes and interests in the Gulf region are as obvious as they are immense. Geographically, the Gulf is India’s extended neighborhood and the only link with the no less vital Central Asia, with Pakistan denying this country transit rights and Afghanistan having sunk into chaos. Historically, a relationship between the subcontinent and the Gulf goes back to ancient, pre-Islamic days. Britain controlled the Gulf littoral tightly because of its overwhelming strategic importance for the defense of India, the brightest jewel in the crown. The common minimum programme of the Congress led coalition talks about the importance of developing relations with west Asia. But the region is much more than an arena of confrontation between Israel and the Arabs. The geographical conception of West Asia has significantly expanded since the collapse of the Soviet Union and is now called the “Greater Middle East”. This region shares a long historical association with India. It is the source for India’s ever-expanding needs of energy. It is also huge markets for Indian goods, services and skilled manpower.
Advantages of ‘Look-West’ Policy:
There are a number of advantages outlined in the Look-West Policy-
- A constructive bold “look-west” policy from India would acknowledge the geopolitical significance of Pakistan.
- Instead of a perennial obstacle to the Greater Middle East, Pakistan could become a link connecting the subcontinent to the energy-rich Persian Gulf and Central Asia.
- Pakistan could become the transit route for the movement of goods, people and energy between India and the greater Middle East.
- There are good reasons to believe Pakistan has begun to move the self-perception of its location from geopolitics to geo-economics.
- Even more important, a quiet “look-East policy has developed in Pakistan in recent years. Its initial success is reflected in Pakistan’s incipient admissions latter this month into the security arm of the Association of South Asian Nations, the ASEAN regional forum.
- India will gain overland access to Afghanistan, Iran and central Asia.
- Pakistan in turn will be able to trade along with Indian highways with Nepal, Bangladesh, and South East Asia.
- India will develop access to Afghanistan and central Asia through Iran.
- Pakistan also similarly has to circumnavigate India to get to the east.
- The essence of this policy was that an India-Pakistan rapprochement would be meaningful.
- Unless the potential for both regional economic integration in the sub-continent as well as trans-regional cooperation involving South Asia, Central Asia, and the Gulf would be explored
- Pakistan could become the transit hub of commercial highways and energy pipeline
- Pakistan’s long-term economic interests coincide with India’s “look-west” policy.
- The resolution of the Kashmir question is the key to unleashing the geo-economic potential of the region. That attitude need not dampen the immediate prospects of substantiative cooperation between India and Pakistan more important, Pakistan itself has de-linked the construction of overland pipelines from Iran and central Asia to India from its emphasis that Kashmir is the core issue.
- The construction of pipelines across Pakistan’s territory would also make it easy to build highways linking India with Iran and Afghanistan.
- India could offer to negotiate trade and transit treaties involving all the four countries.
- India could also propose cooperation with Pakistan in promoting free trade between South Asia and the Gulf cooperation council. Any final settlement of the Kashmir question would inevitably involve innovative political cooperation across the divided state. It would also entail the complete normalisation of India-Pakistan relations and the transformation of the borders.
- Projects such as natural gas pipelines, interconnected electricity grids, and trans-national highways will unveil the new strategic conception of Pakistan as India’s gateway to the West. India, in turn, will be Pakistan’s bridge to the east.
9-point Agenda for India’s Look-West Policy:
India has been outdone by Beijing in the context of securing a tight and improved relation with West Asia in the wake of its inertia to develop a good economic integration with Pakistan and the Gulf countries. Fast-forwarding free trade negotiations with the six-nation Gulf Coordination Council (GCC), overcoming obstacles to economic cooperation with Pakistan, and raising India’s commercial profile in Africa must be at the top of the agenda for a ‘Look West’. India will have to go beyond makeshift response to individual crises. It has to focus on every single crisis and issues starting from energy-security to counter-terrorism in its western neighborhood.
Here are nine possible elements that could fit into what we might call a ‘pertinent look-West’ policy.
The first is an independent approach to the region. India’s interests in the region stand on their own. Too often an ‘independent foreign policy’ has been defined as simply opposing Washington. So long as the US remains the principal power shaping the region, New Delhi must find ways to maximize regional cooperation with the US, where our interests converge and minimize the negative consequences when they diverge.
The second is a commitment to omnidirectional engagement. The arc of crisis is beset by severe internal contradictions. Given their multiple interests in the Middle East, great powers do not take sides between Arabs and Israel, the Shia and Sunni, or even Kabul and Islamabad until it becomes absolutely unavoidable. India too must shed its past ideological approach and focus on pragmatic engagement of all sides.
The third is sustained diplomatic outreach. India must extend its bilateral visits to all these countries for greater cooperation. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has visited already to Afghanistan. The last time an Indian external affairs minister visited Saudi Arabia was in 2001. hence bilateral visits including Ministerial and secretary level talks could enrich the policy.
The fourth is about leveraging the Islamic. India’s links to its western neighbours are multifarious and include the cultural, political, economic and religious. If New Delhi has the political imagination, the Indian Muslim community, instead of being seen as a political entity, could easily become a potent force in India’s ‘Look West’ policy.
The fifth is the centrality of Pakistan. Whether we like it or not, normalisation of relations with Pakistan holds the key to a successful ‘Look West’ policy. Whether it is in gaining overland access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, ensuring India’s energy security, expanding ties with the Gulf, or limiting the threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism in the subcontinent, cooperation with Pakistan is essential.
The sixth is an enduring commitment to stability in Afghanistan. Preventing a destabilisation of Kabul by the Taliban has already emerged as one of the highest priorities for India’s national security strategy. As Pak-Afghan ties sink to lower depths, India faces a new tension between improving ties with Pakistan and strengthening the Karzai regime. The answer must necessarily lie in New Delhi taking the initiative for a triangular political and economic cooperation and encouraging Islamabad and Kabul to limit their conflict.
The seventh, is to accelerate economic integration between the India and the GCC, Pakistan etc. everybody knows that a large part of the success of the Look-East Policy resulted in the increased trade and economic reelations. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has authorized the Union Commerce and External Affairs Ministries to begin negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to conclude an India-GCC Free Trade Agreement. He has also approved negotiations with individual member countries of GCC, namely, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia for a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement covering services sector and investment.
The eighth element is defence diplomacy. As conflicts deepen in our western neighbourhood, many nations would look towards increased security cooperation with New Delhi. India, in turn, needs an active engagement with the armed forces of the region, which should include arms transfers. India also needs new guidelines on when it would deploy its armies in the region. India has a long tradition of sending troops to the Middle East and Africa on peacekeeping missions.
- An independent approach to the region
- Is a commitment to omnidirectional engagement
- Sustained diplomatic outreach
- About leveraging the Islamic
- The centrality of Pakistan
- An enduring commitment to stability in Afghanistan
- Accelerate economic integration
- Defence diplomacy
- Coping with territorial changes in the Gulf