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Saturday, February 4, 2023

India’s “Act West” policy: Warning signs for Pakistan?

India's "Act West" policy has enabled it to increase its influence in West Asian countries who are now reconsidering their ideological tilt towards Pakistan.

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India and Pakistan are two rival states and have fought three and a half wars for political influence in the region. The international community is worried about the two South Asian nuclear giants, as their power maximization pushes the whole globe into a security dilemma.

Both states have struggled to counter each other in international forums specifically on the Kashmir issue. From the very inception, India and Pakistan have been indulged in the regional politics of West Asia. Ideologically, West Asian countries were more tilted towards Pakistan, but the interest never leads them to effectively do so.

Read more: India And Pakistan Must Remain Engaged On Nuclear Issues

Pakistan has promulgated the pan-Islamic concept to fetch the bastion from West Asia, politically, economically, and socially. Kashmir issue acquires huge temptation from both Pakistan and India to be prompted biased, internationally.

India like its ‘Look East Policy’ in the 1990s also thought to initiate the ‘Look West Policy’ because of domestic, regional as well as international concerns.

Read more: India’s foreign policy having trouble handling Kashmir & China

Shifts in India’s foreign policy

There are three shifts observed in India’s foreign policy towards West Asia. First, after the Soviet demise when India liberalized its economic relations and expanded its nerves considerably in West Asia.

The second shift came after 9/11. During this shift Manmohan Singh in 2005 initiated ‘Look West’ policy appreciating the importance of West Asian countries for India.

Read more: India doesn’t need a working relationship with US Central Command

In 2006 Saudi King Abdullah visited India and assured robust bilateral cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia.

The third shift came in Indian foreign policy after the Arab Spring. Because India was criticized by the international community and West Asian countries for its ‘Hands Off’ approach Modi was expected sufficiently to resolve this conundrum.

Read more: Did Arab spring revolutions achieve anything except discontent?

The Act West Policy of India

Modi when extremist inside, found in the carnage of the Muslim community, maneuvered diplomatically towards the West Asian countries especially with the Gulf states.

Looking at the neo-classical approach in understanding India’s ‘Act West Policy’, there are domestic and systematic factors contributing to this effective change. West Asia is the region in which India can hit many birds with one stone.

Read more: Troubles Aplenty: Foreign policy challenges for Indian government

As India is growing rapidly, its energy needs are surging. West Asia provides the best energy partners to fulfill India’s energy demands. Under the influence of the ‘Act West policy,’ India imported 25% petroleum product from West Asia of its all imports.

Saudi Arabia has been the largest crude oil exporter to India and Qatar for gas. But in 2017-18, Iraq replaced Saudi Arabia as India’s largest oil trade partner.

Read more: India’s outgunned Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the world’s fourth-largest defense spender

Besides energy cooperation, West Asia also hosts 9 million Indian diasporas sending $8 billion in remittances. In 2015, the trade with the GCC reached $100 billion. Oman has allowed India to use its Duqm Port to maintain its presence in the Gulf.

Using the port, India will be able to keep an eye on Chinese vessels, which is going to be its competitor in the region.

Read more: India woos Iran to keep China away from Chabahar port

West Asia is reconsidering Pakistan

Besides all this aforementioned cooperation between India and Gulf countries, the most important high political area is the Kashmir issue.

Pakistan has struggled enough to fetch political support of West Asian countries at international forums for their arguments about Kashmir. But, due to the rising Indian influence, West Asian countries are now reconsidering their ideological tilt towards Pakistan.

Read more: US’s contradicting stance on Kashmir issue despite UN resolutions

When Saudi Kings visited India in 2006 and 2019, what they blatantly assured was their relations with India will no more be affected by any third party referring to Pakistan. In 2019, besides Pakistan’s severe opposition, UAE invited Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to join the OIC meeting as Guest of Honor.

Recently in the COVID pandemics, instead of forging cooperation with its Muslim brother state, Saudi Arabia pushed Pakistan to return its loan.

Read more: The Muslim world’s changing dynamics: Pakistan struggles to retain its footing

On the revocation of Article 370 by India which maintained the right of self-determination for Kashmir, there was not a single coherent statement from Islamic platforms like OIC.

India’s ‘Act West Policy’ has pushed the pan-Islamic brotherhood into behind a dark wall from which sometimes Pakistan will face only the flashes of despair and nothing more. And somehow Pakistan has seen it when it was not other than Saudi Arabia to pressurize Pakistan to recognize Israel.

Read more: Recognizing Israel, what will it mean for Pakistan?

What Pakistan should do?

The recent era has seen a very blatant shift in the foreign policy of Middle Eastern countries. UAE has also established diplomatic relations with Israel, confirming a sure win of interests over ideology.

Pakistan should also get out of this ideological construct of pan-Islamism and should expand its influence where its interest lies.

Read more: Pakistan’s foreign policy front in the next decade – Dr. Zafar Jaspal

Kashmir issue though holds greater importance for Pakistan, but it’s a political issue and will not be resolved by any espouse from West Asian countries, but through power maximization and though the promulgation of its soft power.

It must find new allies, some real ones. Pakistan should focus more on its economic well-being, and political influence diplomatically, not ideologically.

Read more: Pakistan on-track to become 23rd biggest economy, US intelligence

Pakistan must learn how to balance Iran and Saudi Arabia and must not deteriorate its relations with any country on ideological discordance. That’s how Pakistan can get some relevancy in the international arena, by acting realistically.

The author is a Junior Research Associate at the Maritime Study Forum and sub-editor of Strategic Times magazine. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.