Realigning process in the Middle East

By K.N. Pandita

A change in the Middle East mindset was triggered off first by the contagion of Arab Spring with its epicenter in North African States sweeping down to 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 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.  

Fiercest shockwaves swept over the Saudi monarchy. For too long, it went on basking in the sunshine of American patronage. But economic and political forces have made the US re-visit her Middle East policy albeit belatedly. 9/11 clue was lost in the humdrum of super power arrogance.

Riyadh’s focus now is not necessarily or primarily on political reforms but on realignment of relations in the region and on global level as well. Her angst against the US over Iranian nuclear deal is 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 Saudi monarchy with dubious role of leadership of Islamic world.

Iran will take its own time to digest the reality of downgraded status of monarchical Saudi Arabia. Teheran will closely watch the flow of events till the second stage of concluding final nuclear deal with the US shapes after six months.

One notable result of the changing strategic scenario in the Middle East should be that of Iran voluntarily imposing restraint on herself in regard to her rhetoric on Israel. Secondly, while more liberal and less committed elements going in the making of new strategies in the region will gradually gravitate towards the point of convergence, India, as the melting pot of regional acrimonies, becomes 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.”
One noticeable impact of Iran-US nuclear deal was that visits to New Dehi by high level dignitaries from both Iran and Israel within a short span of time did take place. India 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 high-level dignitary from Saudi Arabia was of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in 2006. Weak 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 Saudi search for reinforcement of her leadership of the Islamic world without the crutches provided by the Americans, Saudi looks to India, the home to second largest number of Muslims in the world. India would want to respond to the new strategy of the Saudis but only in positive and constructive manner. Understandably New Delhi would want plugging of Saudi clandestine funding of jihadi outfits in or outside India if designed to undermine the integrity and sovereignty of the Indian State. India’s focus would be on expansion of bilateral trade, oil transactions and regional stability.

But India’s role vis-à-vis Iran–Israel acrimonious relationship is both prickly and time consuming. The redeeming factor is optimism generated by the first stage of Iran-US nuclear deal that imperceptibly downgrades 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. She has to be very clear how to ensure that she 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.

The tripartite engagement is also crucial to changing the critically volatile situation on the domestic turf in Pakistan. After all the key of TTP rests in the hands of Riyadh. With the exit of the US-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?

Indo-Pak diehard political rivalry is doomed to become irrelevant in case India-Iran-Saudi Arabia triumvirate is forged and has takers. Israel is necessarily to be kept in the loop.

Lastly, Iran-US nuclear deal has taken the wind out of the sail of Kashmiri insurgency. With the Saudi monarchy mired in dilemma and drowned in political stupor that has unraveled some political reality on her most unexpectedly. Neither the dubious notion of “unfinished task of partition” nor the outmoded theory of theocratic fraternity has stood the test of time. After two and a half decade of wanderings through political wilderness, the saner elements among the Hurriyat separatists of Kashmir have, prudently decided not to give the boycott call to 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.

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