West Asian Crises Analysis: Opportunities For India MODIfied
West Asian Crises
Middle East (ME), a term coined by the US Naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan in 1902 to denote the region between Arabia and India, comprises roughly about 15 oil rich countries that constitute India’s extended “strategic” neighbourhood. It is “Strategic” mainly because of the overwhelming influence that this energy rich region commands in the formulation of India’s “Look West” foreign policy in cultivating mutually beneficial ties towards the West Asia (WA). However, the region has witnessed turbulence for several decades mainly due to the relatively unchallengeable control that the ‘dynastic or one upmanship regimes’ exercised over their populations, otherwise, divided by bloody sectarian Shia-Sunni feuds.
Nonetheless, there happened an unprecedented popular upsurge against these ‘dynastic’ or ‘one man’ regimes in many WA countries in recent years, leading to regime changes in certain cases. This seemingly ‘revolutionary’ phenomenon that swept the turbulent region since 2011 onwards was termed as ‘great democratic awakening’ or ‘Arab Spring’ by many Western liberals. But some thinkers pointed it to being a mere short-lived “irrational exuberance” logically basing their presumptions on the inbuilt ‘anti-democratic’ nature of Quranic Islam itself. Verily it has turned out to be a ‘great nightmare’ as ‘Islamic Winter’ with Islamic Jihadists like Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Hezbollah et al aided by “Sunni” Al-Qaeda, and “Wahaabi” Saudi Arabia and “Shia” in Iran have virtually become the new ruling masters.
It’s a bitter fact that real democracy can neither be imposed nor can ever take place in WA/Islamic Arab world until these anti-democratic forces are totally uprooted by the people of WA nations; which, rationally speaking is a sheer impossibility. The bigger question still is, will the severely suppressed WA citizenry divided on blood spurting sectarian cleavages muster courage to stand united to oust these sworn enemies of democracy?
When these Islamists were being ‘un-powered’ in WA nations like Egypt and Syria by its Army strongman and Assad regime, many heaved sighs of great relief that at least basic human rights of non-Muslim minorities, immigrant working communities (mostly Indians) would be protected. As they said lesser evils have to be welcomed sometimes to save us from being devoured by greater evils.
In the present scenario, it is the ‘best worst option’ given the divisive nature of WA societies which only mirrors the reality of Islamic inter-sect intolerance, deep distrusts amongst them coupled with decades of corrupt ‘non-governance’ of only loot and squander.
Today, the WA region is exposed to a new set of challenges, threats and an uncertain future with ruling Saudi Wahhabi regime funded jihadi forces like Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Levant (ISIS/ISIL) – a predominantly Sunni Arab militia letting loose a reign of terror to overthrow ‘pro-Shia’ ‘un-Islamic’ regimes in Iraq and Syria, and are emerging as a threat to the regional stability of WA.
India cannot but be affected by these sudden turn of events with ‘Shia Iran’ rushing to aid the Shia majority Iraq and Syrian regimes, even by joining hands with its ‘Great Satan’ – the US. If ISIS/ISIL attack and control the oil refineries and oil wells, then the energy supplies from Iraq to Kuwait (It might be its next target) stretch will be stopped. India, being a net energy importer from WA region, thus, will be badly hit.
Currently, after Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Kuwait are the three biggest oil exporters to India. The current crises in the WA region can negatively affect India’s ‘geo-strategic’ energy interests. In fact, due to burgeoning current account deficit (CAD) in energy imports on which India spent $155 billion in 2012, Iran and Iraq were chosen as the two oil rich WA nations whom India has been paying in Rupees, instead of Dollars to tide over imminent Forex crunches.
If energy supplies from Iraq and Iran, as net exporters, get choked then global oil prices will shoot up which will ultimately have cascading effects on over all Fuelonomics of Indian economy. Domestic prices of petroleum products will also have to be increased which, in turn, will increase the food prices leading to more inflation – the biggest challenge facing the new Modi Government with a predicted weak monsoon this year. The promise of ‘acche din’ (good days) faces the risk of turning into ‘burrey din’ (bad days) as the outgoing scams ridden UPA regime has left the coffers almost empty. So, the need of the hour is to look for possible solutions to tide over the ‘strategic implications’ brought by the ongoing WA crises. Or more positively, India needs to ‘ ‘un-learn’ to be able to re-learn’ its traditional diplomacy with the volatile WA nations, turn to crises into opportunities. First and foremost priority must be to not just lessen but to completely negate India’s current energy heavy dependency on volatile WA nations, as long term goal. How? India must scout for other more reliable alternative sources of energy (like African or Latin American oil exporting ‘stabilized nations’) as well as tapping renewable energy sources like nuclear energy, solar energy, wind energy, geo-thermal energy, hydro electricity etc., to propel current sluggish economy to fast paced growth track.
The new government in Delhi can take the first step towards ‘zero dependence’ on fast oil depleting ‘WA/Gulf or Islamic Arab world’ region by building ‘Strategic Petroleum Reserves’ (SPRs), by taking cue from US which has built such SPRs in the aftermath of OPEC led oil embargo in ’73; these are capable of meeting India’s energy requirements for at least 3-6 months during contingencies like war or the ongoing WA crises. India should go for solar, wind power generation: Thorium generated nuclear power and hydro power and invest more on R&D to use hydrogen as ‘non-oil fuels’ for future automobiles.
Famous for his ‘out of box’ thinking, PM Modi must lead the nation he heads into right directions, as 125crore Indians have reposed their faith in the ‘Modi Sarkar’ in recent elections.
Meanwhile, India must not jump in the ‘troubled waters’ of ongoing WA crises but just wait and watch as both US and Iran will be jointly fighting to stop the onwards march of ISIS/ISIL forces into hearts of Iraq and Syria.
Crises like this one are good for India to re-think, re-learn and revamp its ‘straitjacketed’ foreign cum strategic policy formulations.
-Sourabh Jyoti Sharma(The writer is a pursuing PhD research scholar at Department of Political Science, DU)