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Sun. June 23, 2024
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Realigning process in the Middle East
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By Kashi N Pandita

A change in the Middle East mindset was triggered by the contagion of Arab Spring, with its epicenter in North African States sweeping into the Arab Peninsula.  Islamic orthodoxy and forces of modern political arrangement got locked up in a game of somersaults, obscuring their contours as turmoil deepened. Two more factors have added to the spectrum of change across the Middle East: resistance with which the fringe orthodox revivalism got log jammed with benign modernity wave in Syria and the decade long skullduggery of a nuclear deal between Iran and the US churned new hope of healthy realignment in the frozen mindsets in the Middle East.

Fierce shockwaves have swept over the Saudi monarchy. Riyadh’s focus now is not necessarily or primarily on political reforms but on realigning relations regionally as well as globally. Saudi Arabia’s angst against the US over the Iranian nuclear deal is a mere reflection of frustration accruing from the notion of being sidelined in a major strategic about turn in the Middle East. The realization has dawned upon the US that hammering out relations with theocratic Iran is much less bothersome than dealing with the Saudi monarchy that has an increasingly dubious role of leadership with the Islamic world.

For Iran, it will take its own time to digest the reality of the downgraded status of monarchical Saudi Arabia and it will keep a close watch on regional events as it looks to the second stage of the nuclear deal with the US and its conclusion.  One notable result of the changing strategic scenario in the Middle East is Iran voluntarily imposing self-restraint regarding its rhetoric on Israel.

While various elements are forging new strategies in the region, they will gradually gravitate towards a point of convergence. India, as the melting pot of regional acrimonies, is becoming more and more prominent. In the words of a political analyst Aditi Bhaduri, “India’s cumulative bilateral trade with the Arab countries is more than $110 billion and the region is home to around 7 million Indians. India’s foreign remittances from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries were $29.7bn in 2011. The region also accounts for 70% of India’s energy imports.”

India’s increasing role has been witnessed in recent events.  The Iran-US nuclear deal included visits to New Delhi by high level dignitaries from both Iran and Israel. India also recently played host to Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the crown prince, deputy prime minister and defence minister of Saudi Arabia. Prince Salman is the highest in the Saudi hierarchy after the King, and the previous visit of a high-level dignitary from Saudi Arabia was King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in 2006. A week earlier, high-profile dignitaries from the Arab world including the King of Bahrain also visited New Delhi.

In the aftermath of Iranian nuclear deal with the US, and its search for reinforced leadership of the Islamic world without the crutches provided by the Americans, Saudi will look to India, the home to second largest number of Muslims in the world. India will want to respond to the new strategy of the Saudis in a positive and constructive manner. India’s focus would be on the expansion of bilateral trade, oil transactions and regional stability.
But India’s role vis-à-vis the acrimonious Iran–Israel relationship is both prickly and time consuming. A positive factor is optimism generated by the first stage of the Iran-US nuclear deal that imperceptibly downgrades the US-Saudi relationship. If the second stage of that nuclear deal proceeds satisfactorily, a new phase in Saudi-Iran and Iran-Israel relationship has to surface. It is here that India has to demonstrate her diplomatic skill and vision. It has to ensure that it becomes the terminus for convergence. Maybe the Indian foreign office would need to structure comprehensive but result oriented tripartite deliberations aiming at reducing tension and acrimony, and opening avenues for flow of trade relations.

A tripartite engagement is also crucial to changing the critically volatile situation on the domestic turf in Pakistan. After all, the key to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) rests in the hands of Riyadh. With the exit of the US and NATO from Afghanistan by the end of the year, Saudis should be able to bring the TTP and Taliban of Afghanistan on board for a long term agreement on Afghanistan. Pakistan and India both have stakes in Afghan peace process. Far removed from the public gaze, the US is talking peace to Afghan Taliban. Kabul is talking to the Taliban and Pakistan is also talking to the Taliban/TTP and its affiliates. What deters India from opening a channel for dialogue with the Afghan Taliban? In the event the India-Iran-Saudi Arabia triumvirate is forged and has takers, Indo-Pak diehard political rivalry is destined to become irrelevant.

Lastly, the Iran-US nuclear deal has taken the wind out of the sail of Kashmiri insurgency. After two and a half decades of wanderings through the political wilderness, saner elements among the Hurriyat separatists of Kashmir have prudently decided not to boycott the impending parliamentary and assembly elections in 2014. Swimming comes by jumping into stream of water. That is the only option left to them if at all the Hurriyat wants to make little or more constructive contribution to Kashmir’s march along the path of democratic secularism.


Dr. Kashi N Pandita is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, India.   E-mail:   knp627@gmail.com


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