Look West Policy

Foreign policy is an important part of the international relations segment of the UPSC syllabus. In this article, you can read about India’s Look West Policy, which has significantly changed the way in which India deals with the West Asian countries.

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 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 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, the 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 region has more to it than just being a centre of Israel-Arab confrontation. The geographical extent of what was West Asia has greatly expanded since the collapse of the USSR 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 the ‘Look-West’ Policy

  • A constructive and dauntless “look-west” policy from India would acknowledge the geopolitical significance of Pakistan.
  • Rather than being an obstacle, Pakistan could become a link between the Indian subcontinent and the energy-rich region.
  • Pakistan could also act as a transit route for the movement of people, goods and energy between India and the West Asian region.
  • Pakistan has begun to move the self-perception of its location from geopolitics to geo-economics.
  • More importantly, Pakistan’s ‘Look East’ Policy had developed considerably as evident from its admission into the security arm of the ASEAN.
  • India will gain overland access to Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Currently, India has to circumnavigate Pakistan and get access to Afghanistan through Iran.
  • The essence of this policy was that an India-Pakistan reconciliation would be meaningful because it would increase the potential for regional economic integration in the subcontinent and also trans-regional cooperation between countries in Central Asia, South Asia and the Gulf.
  • Resolving the Kashmir issue is vital for unleashing the geoeconomic potential of the region. Pakistan itself has delinked its Kashmir issue with India and the construction of pipelines overland from Iran and Central Asia to India.
  • The building of pipelines across Pakistan’s territory would also make it easy to construct highways linking India with Afghanistan and Iran.
  • India could offer to negotiate trade and transit treaties involving all the 4 nations.
  • India could also suggest cooperation with Pakistan in encouraging free trade between South Asia and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Any permanent resolution of the Kashmir issue would inevitably involve creative political cooperation across the divided state. It would also necessitate the complete normalization of Indo-Pak relations.
  • Projects like interconnected electricity grids, natural gas pipelines, and transnational highway roads will realise the new strategic conception of Pakistan as India’s gateway to the West. India, in turn, will be Pakistan’s gateway 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.
  • The fourth is about leveraging the Islamic link. 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 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 relations. 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.
  • Coping with territorial changes in the Gulf.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel in July 2017 was historic in that it was the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister. The visit did not entail a visit to Palestine, marking a departure from tradition. India has resolved to dehyphenate its relations between Palestine and Israel. The relationship with Israel is significant as India can benefit a lot from the latter’s advanced technologies, particularly in the military domain.

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