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  • Digvijay Singh asked: What are the implications of the Syrian civil war on the Middle East and particularly for India?

    Gulshan Dietl replies: The Syrian Civil War can be traced back to the Arab Spring that has led to popular uprisings in most of the Arab countries. What began as protests in March 2011 has now become an armed rebellion. About 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the conflagration; half of them civilians. Four million people are internally displaced and a million and a half have sought refuge in neighbouring states, mainly Turkey and Jordan.

    The civil war has not remained confined to Syria alone. The entire region has been actively involved in varying degrees. There have been military encounters on the Syrian borders with Israel, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. The presence of Kurds and Palestinians inside the country has had obvious linkages to the Kurds and Palestinians outside.

    Turkey has given asylum to roughly 400,000 Syrians, provided the rebels among them with weapons and a safe zone to launch offensive operations against the Syrian Government. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have poured in financial, humanitarian and military assistance. In recent months, a second front has been opened in Jordan. The Syrian armed groups can now take the southern route which is closer to the Syrian capital Damascus. In this turbulence, foreign fighters have entered in a big way. Some five thousand foreign fighters are said to have come from countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Australia, Britain, Spain, Denmark, the United States, and so on. Some analysts have called the situation in Syria a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The facts on the ground are much more complicated involving many state and non-state actors.

    Beyond the West Asian region, the Russians and Chinese have been supporting the Syrian regime whereas the West has been with the rebels. In February last year, a group of 11 states – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates - formed the “Friends of Syria” with an explicit aim of regime change in Syria. In June this year, they resolved to provide all necessary material and equipment to the opposition. Thus, the Syrian civil war has grave implication at the regional and global levels.

    India has deep concerns about the worsening situation in Syria itself, its spill over effect in the neighbourhood and the consequent instability in the wider West Asian region. India has already assured the UN that it has no plans to pull out its 190 strong troops monitoring demilitarised zone between Syria and the Golan Heights. If the conflict spills over, India would be directly affected in several ways. Some nine million Indians working in the Gulf States would be in harm’s way and many may need to be evacuated from the zones of active conflict. Their remittances would be severely curtailed in the circumstances. The sectarian aspects of the conflict may also find an unhealthy resonance in our country.

    FOREIGN POLICY AFTER TAHRIR REVOLUTION: (Re)-Defining the Role of Egypt in the Middle East

    Recently, we have witnessed an unprecedented series of political events in the Middle East and North Africa after a young man from Tunisia had his vegetables confiscated by the police. In retaliation, the young man set himself on fire, which initiated inextinguishable flames of protests and demonstrations demanding a more humane world for everyone. Protests and strikes driven by everyday people continued to sweep across the tightly controlled North African states. However, not everybody treated these unrests as a deep, socially rooted problem in society.

    September 2012

    Sectarian Strife Looms In The Middle-East

    By bringing the Syrian question to the UN Security Council on the basis of proposals formulated by the Arab League, led principally by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the western powers ran the risk of not only facing a combined Russia-China veto but of inflaming sectarian opinion.

    February 11, 2012

    The US Pivots to the East: Implications for India

    While India’s policy elite have surely not been ‘oblivious’ of the tectonic changes occurring in the region, they have been rather ‘impervious’ to the rapidly emerging equations.

    January 16, 2012

    Maneesh Aggarwal asked: What will be the effect of Unrest in Middle East over Chinese investments in that region and over Indian interests?

    Prasanta K. Pradhan replies: Chinese investments in the West Asian and North African (WANA) region would certainly be hampered because of the continuing protests. China is also worried like any other countries who have invested in the region as the situation is undoubtedly discouraging for the investments. China is a major investor in the region where its companies have invested in big petroleum and construction projects. But, the protests have forced them to temporarily cease their operations in some places. For instance, China has evacuated over 35,000 of its nationals working in various projects in Libya and has decided to halt all its investments activities in the country. It has also decided not to make new investments until the situation stabilises. Similarly, China has investments of over US$ 600 million in Egypt, and there are more than a thousand Chinese companies operating in the country. There were reports that the Chinese companies faced some difficulties in their operation during the protests in Egypt. But as the political instability in the region subsides, the investment scenario should improve. Thus, the present obstruction is temporary in nature and it would gather momentum as the protests settle down.

    India is heavily dependent on the Gulf region for energy supplies. Any major political crisis in the region would disrupt the oil production and supplies thus leading to an increase in oil prices. It would be more serious if disruption in the oil supply were to take place in the strategically important Strait of Hormuz. Apart from oil, India shares huge non-oil trade relations with these countries. India’s non-oil trade with the WANA region amounted to $120.75 billion in 2009-10. The total non-oil trade with the six GCC countries alone amounts to $84 billion. Any prolonged political crisis would certainly hinder trade between India and the region. Similarly, it would also be detrimental to the interest of Indian companies which have invested in the region. The safety and security of the five million strong Diaspora in the Gulf would be a major challenge for India. Problems would aggravate in the event of a need to evacuate nationals.

    Akash asked: Why the revolution in Middle East is called as Jasmine Revolution? What is its impact on India?

    Sonia Roy replies: The association of Jasmine with the Tunisian Revolution, is media-termed, and a debated concept in Tunisia. One explanation is that Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the second president who had came to in 1987, preferred the term ‘Jasmine Revolution’ to describe his bloodless coup. This revolution ended with him fleeing the country in January 2011. Another explanation is that is it named after Tunisia’s national flower, the Jasmine. The overthrow of President Ben Ali was described within the Tunisian tradition of naming regime change after plants. And a third explanation is that the street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, who lit himself up and started a chain reaction of political riots in Tunisia, sold incense (jasmine).

    Strategically speaking, India has by and large remained unaffected by the whole situation in the Middle East. It has adopted the usual ‘wait and watch’ attitude, and continuing relations with these states. India has been careful in its diplomacy in not trying to ‘promote democracy’ but at the same time supporting the aspirations of the people.

    There is a large Indian expatriate community in West Asia, especially in the Persian Gulf region and is estimated at 5to 5.5 million. Their safety and well-being are vital for India. In the economic arena, Indian industries have suffered from the general unrest in the region and there are indications of slump in economic activities. The spiralling oil prices and fears over supply disruptions are intrinsically linked to the political stability of the West Asian region.

    Sonia Roy is pursuing research at the Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Email: soniaroy03@gmail.com

    Uprisings in the Arab World: Options for GOI

    While erstwhile authoritarianism and absolutist rule may no longer be possible, it would be naïve to expect that the Middle East will undergo a metamorphosis.

    March 30, 2011

    China’s Worried Response to the Uprisings in the Middle East

    The success of popular movements in the Middle East has raised the apprehensions of the Chinese Communist Party, which has been reminded of its own weakness.

    February 25, 2011