- Major West Asian nations have recently embarked on new diplomatic engagements with erstwhile rivals.
- This could in time overturn existing regional alignments and possibly end ongoing conflicts that have wreaked havoc in several states.
CHANGING REGIONAL ALIGNMENTS
Qatar and Saudi’s block
- Again, since early this year, following the removal of the diplomatic and economic blockade on Qatar that was imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, Doha has made efforts to mend ties with both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in tandem with similar initiatives of its doctrinal and political ally, Turkey.
FORCE BEHIND RECENT ALIGNMENTS
The driving force behind these unprecedented engagements is the advent of the Biden administration at the helm of politics in the United States. Mr. Biden has signalled a fresh U.S. approach to West Asian affairs:
- He has taken a tough line on Saudi Arabia, indicating a closer scrutiny of its human rights record and strong opposition to the war in Yemen.
- It now seems the U.S. could re-enter the nuclear agreement, but Iran has concerns about the limitations to be imposed on its regional role.
- Turkey could also experience fresh winds from Washington. As Turkey has built close ties with Russia, while threatening U.S. allies in Syria, the Kurds, with military force.
- Besides other concerns about a new U.S. approach in west asia, the broader message from Washington is that the U.S. is now likely to be less engaged with the region’s quarrels.
- Rather the U.S has reiterated messages from its predecessors Barack Obama and Donald Trump that regional states should be responsible for regional security.
- Finally, one major factor that is encouraging these unprecedented interactions among rivals is the recognition that the ongoing regional conflicts, in Syria, Yemen and Libya, despite the massive death and destruction, have yielded no military outcome and now demand fresh diplomatic approaches.
Iran and Saudi Arabia
- Following the first meetings in Baghdad, both Iran and Saudi Arabia have made efforts to improve the atmosphere.
- Both sides have sought a new phase of cooperation and tolerance in the region.
- Saudi’s priority is to end the Yemen conflict: the lethal attacks from the precision missiles of the Houthis, which are said to have been provided by Iran, are a threat to national infrastructure and morale.
- The recent Houthi attack on oil-rich Marib is also a Saudi concern.
- while Iran would like the blockaded Hodeidah port which is partially open, to be used to rush humanitarian aid to the troubled Houthis.
- Both countries also share concerns relating to the political impasse in Lebanon and the security of the waters of the Gulf and the Red Sea.
Turkey, Egypt and Libya
- Despite differences with Egypt over Libya, the East Mediterranean waters and Turkey’s affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey now sees Egypt as a valuable partner to promote peace in Libya and pursue their interests jointly in the East Mediterranean by challenging Greece, Israel and Cyprus.
- Turkey has also made overtures to Saudi Arabia.
- It has indicated that it could work with the Saudis against the Houthis.
- Turkey has offered the kingdom its advanced drones to be used against Houthi missiles.
Qatar and Egypt
- Qatar’s outreach to Egypt by moderating its ties with the Brotherhood, toned down anti-Egypt broadcasts on Al Jazeera television, and is a major potential investor in Egypt’s flagging economy.
- To promote regional peace, Qatar’s Foreign Minister has called for a structured dialogue of the Gulf countries with Iran, affirming its view that Iran is a major presence in the regional security scenario.
- These are very early days and all sides concerned have a long way to go in resolving their differences.
- Still, this is truly a historic period for West Asian diplomacy, as the major states are displaying an unprecedented self-confidence in pursuing initiatives without the heavy hand of western powers that have dominated regional affairs for at least a couple of centuries, and, in pursuit of their own interests, have nurtured deep animosities between many of them. This has left a pervasive sense of insecurity across West Asia and made the countries dependent on western alliances to ensure their interests.
A ROLE FOR INDIA
- Today, states in West Asia appear poised to negotiate their strategic interests without outside intrusion.
- But, given that regional contentions are inter-connected, third-party facilitators will be needed to promote mutual confidence and prepare the ground for a comprehensive regional security arrangement which will bring together regional and external states with a stake in West Asia security.
- This arrangement will have provisions for participating states to uphold regional peace and promote mutually beneficial cooperation in energy, economic and logistical connectivity areas.
- Given its close ties with all the regional states, India is well-placed to build an association of like-minded states — Japan, Russia, South Korea — to shape and pursue such an initiative for West Asian peace.