In the October 2011 issue of Pragati, I make the case for greater Indian awareness and engagement with a rapidly changing Middle East. India has historically walked the tightrope, balancing its relations with often warring actors in the Middle East; but India’s growing stature in the world will attract more vocal criticism of what some might see as New Delhi’s duplicitous positions.
While India must no doubt protect and promote its national interests in this turbulent region, it must also use its goodwill to promote ideals that it holds dear. The recent killing of Col. Qaddafi, the brutality of the al-Assad regime in Syria and troubling actions of the Egyptian army post-Mubarak all indicate that “popular” uprisings are not a sufficient condition for the emergence of democracy in the Middle East.
Real democracy can only come in the Middle East through the slow, and sometimes frustrating process of legislative reform that allows greater participation of citizenry in deciding their future with the support (and urging) of democracies in the West, and indeed, India. India must learn to embrace this role as its global visibility grows.
India’s growing ties with Middle Eastern countries are a reflection of its growing stature on the world stage. How India chooses to engage with these and other countries will help define what sort of power India will be. In the past, India avoided criticism of Middle Eastern countries for a myriad of reasons. While this has proven to be a successful strategy, an emerging India will increasingly be challenged on what some might perceive as duplicitous positions.
For example, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh criticized the West for using force to bring about regime change in his speech at the UN General Assembly, he chose not to draw attention to the brutal suppression of human rights by regimes in the Middle East. While he steadfastly supported the right of the Palestinians to statehood, he refrained from drawing attention to the sub-conventional war imposed on Israel by state and non-state actors.
Worse, while India chose to abstain from a UNSC vote condemning Syria’s human rights record, its ambassador, in an interview with CNN-IBN, virtually endorsed the al-Assad regime’s brutality by dismissing reports of the number of Syrians killed during the protests as “exaggerated.” India has an interest in ensuring not only a stable Middle East, but also one where citizens have a stake in deciding their own future.
As India emerges as an important actor on the world stage, it must use its goodwill and growing power to influence its friends in the Middle East, and must work with other countries in promoting shared ideals in the region. In this regard, the India-U.S. “West Asia Dialogue” launched in July
2011 is a welcome sign.