The West Asian region is in the process of profound transformation. Inthe wake of the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2010, the region has been marked bypolitical instability arising from the forceful articulation of popularaspirations, especially by its youth, violent civil strife in some countries,widening sectarian schisms, and the rise of extremist forces in others. Thereis growing distrust of the existing social contract, increased stress onregional fault-lines, and uncertainty about the future. Owing to itsgeographic location, its centrality in the Islamic world, and its hydrocarbonresources, West Asia plays a crucial role in global affairs, particularly inthe oil and gas markets and consequently the global economy. Instabilityin the region is of particular concern for Asia, which largely depends onoil and gas from West Asia, and will do so for the time to come.
India has civilizational ties with West Asia, a region located in India’sextended neighbourhood. It hosts over 8 million Indians, and is India’slargest economic and trade partner. A large number of Indians have anemotional engagement with the region, which hosts the two holy mosquesand a number of holy places associated with Christianity and Islam. TheGulf’s abundant hydrocarbon resources are critical for India’s energysecurity, and the region is a major source of remittances from Indianworkers employed there. India has wide-ranging institutional relationswith every country in West Asia, encompassing cooperation in variousfields, including counter-terrorism. India’s security and wellbeing aredeeply intertwined with that of West Asia.
Its ongoing transformation is,therefore, of special interest for India. It is in this context that the Delhi Policy Group (DPG) launched aproject in 2016 to study the rapidly changing socio-political and economic 2 West Asia in Transition structures as well as emerging trends in West Asia. The principal focuswas on the main drivers of this transformation and on the main players.Particular attention was paid to the evolution of Islamic thought andpractice in the region viz. Wahhabism, Velayat-i-Faqih, the MuslimBrotherhood, and Salafi-Jihadism, and their overarching influence in theregion. The project also looked at the main regional powers—Egypt, Iran,Israel, and Saudi Arabia and their interactions with each other, as well asthe areas engulfed by conflict—Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. The first sectionof this volume studies global Jihad, the changing energy scenario, and theconsequent geopolitical implications for West Asia.
It identifies the trendsand forces driving these developments. The essay on global Jihad examineshow the failure of West Asian states to address the aspirations of theiryouth, the lack of avenues for political participation, combined withgovernance which is both non-transparent and unaccountable, hasincreased the allure of Jihad. It analyses how Jihad has become global,attracting youth in their thousands from different parts of the world,including the West, with many of them converting to Islam and beingindoctrinated into extremist ideas and fundamentalist world views. It alsoexplores how the states from the region have themselves occasionallyextended support to Jihadi groups, with disastrous consequences. Thesecond essay examines the dependence of the region’s economy and polityon the oil and gas industry which has led directly to the creation of apaternalistic social contract, which underpins regional social and politicalstability.
This now faces major threat from the decline in importance ofhydrocarbons as a result of changes in the patterns of production andenergy use as well as related technological developments. The second section contains essays on Saudi Arabia’s role in the region,and Wahabbism. The first essay describes the salient features of theKingdom, its foreign policy, and its relations with other regional powers.It analyses how the Kingdom views and addresses changes in the region,the challenges it faces, and the strengths and limitations of its approach.In particular, it focuses on Saudi-Iranian rivalry, and examines the Saudiinvolvement in conflicts in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen.
The second essaytraces the history of the relationship between Wahhabism and the Saudistate since their birth in the early 18th century and its status today. Ithighlights the dynamics of the relationship, the inherent tensions and thechallenges posed in the context of the ideas unleashed by the Arab Springin the region, and the requirement for a new security architecture. The third section comprises essays on Yemen. The first is on thedomestic and regional aspects of the civil conflict in the country, and the Introduction 3 second on its effect on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Thefirst describes how Yemenis demanded political and economic reforms in2011 in line with the protests carried out in many other Arab countries atthee time. This led to the overthrow of the 33-year long rule of PresidentAli Abdullah Saleh.
The essay examines how even though most of theexisting problems were attributed to the authoritarian leader at that time,the underlying factors have proven to be far more complex and intractable.The uprisings, which sought to promote popular participation in thepolitical process, activated a number of fault-lines along tribal and regionalaffiliations, and gave succour to secessionist endeavours from the southas well as to the Houthi rebels in the north. This in turn provided thejustification for external armed intervention, with disastrous consequences.The second essay describes how AQAP, an amalgam of Yemeni fightersand those driven out of Saudi Arabia, regrouped in Yemen, and managedto capitalize on the chaos prevalent there, carving out a much larger rolefor themselves in the process. The section on Iran has three essays. The first, on ‘The Concept ofWilayat al-Faqih 37 Years after the Iranian Revolution’, explains how thisconcept continues to underpin the politics in the country, and how itsappeal extends beyond Iran’s borders.
The essay compares the differentnarratives of this phenomenon, including the debates within the religiousestablishment. It enumerates the multiple arguments from the clergy, bothinside and outside Iran, to provide perspective on a seminal politicaldevelopment that has had a profound effect on regional developments.The second essay explores how the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action(JCPOA) was the result of an exercise in the diplomacy of exploring theart of the possible. It studies the key areas that have evolved in the postJCPOA period, including the effect on Iran-United States ties, sanctionsrelief, and Iran’s economic situation, and how these have impacted thestrategic landscape. The third essay examines how Iran is perceived inthe region, and its activities there. It also studies the changing US-Iranrelationship, which is a significant factor in regional politics. It looks athow growing Saudi-Iranian tensions could be problematic for India,especially at a time when New Delhi seeks closer political and strategicpartnerships with both Iran and the Gulf States.
The section on Israel explores India-Israel bilateral relations. Itexamines how the Indian policy of recognition-without-relations was aresult of domestic imperatives and India’s own ambitions within thisregion, and how, by 1992, the global and regional situation had evolvedto produce an enabling environment for India to establish full diplomatic 4 West Asia in Transition relations with Israel. Like much of the international community today, Indiasupports the two-state solution even while strengthening its relations withIsrael. The second essay takes a critical look at the trajectory of US-Israelties, the evolution of which has been non-linear and contradicts widelyheld perceptions about the relationship. It makes the point that thesebilateral ties have not always been as smooth and robust as they appearon the surface, and are a result of the interplay of complex forces.
It seeksto identify these forces and understand their effect on this relationship. The sixth section consists of two essays on Egypt. The first is on thegrowing power of the Armed Forces in Egypt and the deteriorating securitysituation. The second examines recent developments in state-society tiesin Egypt, and analyses the imperatives and choices before President AbdelFattah al-Sisi. These essays examine how the leadership has becomeauthoritarian, repressive, and intolerant of dissent, demanding absoluteand unquestioning loyalty.
They look at the alienation of different sectionsof society in Egypt as a result of the economic crisis, human rightsviolations, crackdowns on press freedoms, and the collapse of tourism inthe face of extremist terror attacks. The essays also study the role of theMuslim Brotherhood and its influence on Egyptian society. They examineEgypt’s limitations in playing a regional role—the weakening of itsinstitutions, the lack of an appealing economic model, and the power toextend aid. They point out that its diplomacy is constrained by internalproblems, instability, and corruption, and conclude that, apart from battlingterrorist groups, Egypt just does not possess the wherewithal’s to focuson regional affairs.
In the section on Iraq and Syria, the first essay examines thetragedy that has befallen Syria—the result of the incompetence of domesticgovernance combined with regional and international interference. Itexamines the legacy of the Sykes-Picot arrangement, and how Syria seemsto have become a failed project—a proxy battlefield for the Saudi-Iranrivalry to play out. The second essay carries on from the first to examinehow misgovernance in Syria and Iraq created opportunities for the IslamicState to emerge, and grow to the point that it now has a presence in over18 countries around the broader region. It goes on to study the waninginfluence of IS in Iraq and Syria, and its rapidly dwindling revenues as aresult of concerted attacks on its infrastructure. It also points out that, today,ISIS is finding it difficult to finance its operations on as large a scale as itdid before. It notes, however, that the digital and ideological moorings ofthe IS are still formidable, and that it has digitally enabled itself to expandits global outreach.
Introduction 5 This book has been made possible through collaboration between theDelhi Policy Group (DPG) and the Institute of Defence Studies andAnalysis (IDSA). It is the result of a project designed to provide anopportunity to young researchers to engage in a fruitful exchange of ideas,and contribute towards a better understanding of the current contexts WestAsia through their academic research. Thus, a key objective of this projectwas to form a network of young Indian researchers from think-tanks andacademia studying West Asia in order to build a cadre of area specialistsfor the future. The project has benefitted significantly from the involvementof senior diplomats and academicians who mentored the youngresearchers. It is hoped that this book, drawing upon the considerable expertise ofregional specialists, academics, and former civil servants will be a usefulresource for policymakers in helping them to calibrate an effective,informed, and balanced strategy towards the region.