Highlights of the Third West Asia Conference

Third West Asia Conference was inaugurated on September 5, 2018. The theme of this conference closely examined the developments, challenges and the rising powers of the West Asian and their neighbouring countries, several topics were widely discussed in this conference, which are as follows–

  • Changing security paradigm in West Asia and North Africa andthe developments in regional dynamics and its future implications.
  • The Challenges of Transnational Terrorism: Origin, Developments and Prognosis
  • Confrontation and Conflicts in West Asia: Role of Regional Powers
  • The roles of regional players including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and Egypt.
  • Role of Big Powers: United States, Russia and Europe
  • Emerging Socio-Economic Challenges
  • India and WANA: Building Partnerships and Managing Challenges
  • Panel Discussion: Security and Stability in WANA: The Way Forward

The West Asian and North African (WANA) region has been a victim of extra-regional involvement and global power dynamics. It continues to suffer from the problem as extra-regional players jostle to preserve and extend their spheres of influence, in the process worsening the security situation.

Countries of West Asia and North Africa (WANA) continue to grapple with dramatic changes taking place in the domestic and regional environment. Security has emerged as a significant concern. The political upheavals, civil strife, sectarian violence, and terrorism in the area have implications for the regional and global order. As the region grapples with myriad socio-economic problems, many extra-regional players and non-state actors, and a few regional ones, are attempting to carve out their own areas of influence.

These developments across WANA demand constant monitoring, careful analyses and more frequent exchanges among the members of the strategic community to chart a course towards enduring regional and global security.

The breakdown of the central authority in states such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya followed by tumultuous civil wars underscores the volatility that post-‘Arab Spring’ West Asian states suffer from. Further, the transnational nature of ‘third generation’ Islamist terrorism, its regional potency and global reach underline the fragility WANA endures.

The 2003 United States attack on Iraq and the security vacuum it created in the country were filled by sectarian militias that took advantage of the 2011 uprising in the neighbouring countries and expanded their activities, especially taking control of territories in Syria and Iraq. Islamist terrorism has become a potent and destructive regional threat that stands against all global, regional and local players. The terrorists, in their most gory manifestation, have regrouped as the Islamic State (IS) or Da’esh, which in 2014-15 threatened to reorient regional boundaries. Though militarily defeated, the ISIS remains a potent threat. Its ability to continue inspiring lone-wolf attacks and attract youth from across the globe continues to be a major security threat for all countries. More importantly, the ISIS has metamorphosed into a ‘cyber-Caliphate’ through which it inspired lone-wolf attacks in Europe, the United States and other parts of the world.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are locked in rivalry. Iran has significantly enhanced its footprints through allies and powerful non-state actors such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Ansarallah (Houthi militia in Yemen) and Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has been vocal in condemning Iran for regional turmoil. The formation of the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT), an intergovernmental counter-terrorist alliance of 41 Sunni countries led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a significant development with possibly far-reaching implications. Among some independent observers, this Sunni grouping of militaries is viewed to be as much a front against terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, as it is against the growing Shiite ascendance in the region, led by Iran. The mainly geopolitical rivalry has been punctuated by deeply entrenched sectarian animosity, through proxies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Discussion about Trump Administration –

Though the Trump administration is yet to unveil any comprehensive foreign policy, its focus on the Middle East peace process and the choice of Saudi Arabia and Israel for President Trump’s first foreign trip gives indications about its priorities. It would nevertheless require a significant effort to be able to deliver even a partial resolution. But the fact that the Trump administration is focusing on the issue underlines the significance it attaches to it. In the given circumstances, one does not see any breakthrough in the foreseeable future. However, global efforts towards resumption of the talks might yield some results. A lot will also depend on the Russian moves and its ability to sustain its current level of involvement in a complex region without getting drained and entangled in the convoluted regional conflicts.

Amidst these developments, the role of militaries and their relations with various regimes has been crucial in determining the stability and integrity of several states and is an important facet of regional security that necessitates deeper analyses and insight. Similarly, the role of international and regional organizations such as the United Nations, UNHCR, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Arab League, the International Red Cross, etc. goes largely unnoticed. The conflict-ridden areas of WANA from Syria, Iraq, and Libya to Yemen have put a strain on these organizations in working constructively for conflict resolution and crisis mitigating therein.

Reason for organizing this conference –

An important reason for organising this international conference is to get the views of experts, officials and researchers from the region, which is also a part of the Institute’s outreach activity with the think tanks based in the WANA region. The conference proposes to discuss, and analyse the emergent security dynamics in the region, the responses of the regional and international players, and its implication for global politics. The challenges likely to be faced by India due to the plausible political, economic, and security scenarios in the region, and India’s priorities and lessons for its foreign policy will be discussed during the conference along with the likely future trends and prospects for the region, security challenges, and their possible solutions.

Discussion about India in this conference –

India has expressed its concerns about recent developments taking place in the region. The spread of IS remains a major worry with some Indian youths having joined the IS. The execution of some Indian citizens by the ISIS in Iraq is also a matter of concern for India. It has huge stakes in the region because of its energy dependence, increasing trade and commerce, as also the safety of around 8.5 million Indian expatriates and workers. With the large Indian expatriate population in the GCC alone, deep human links exist between the two sides. The sovereign wealth funds of these countries are already investing in India’s infrastructure sector. Trade relations and security partnerships particularly in counter terrorism are other facets of cooperation between India and several states of the region. However, there is ample scope for strengthening ties and taking relations to higher levels, even as India walks a diplomatic tightrope in a highly fractious regional setting. Predominantly, India has links with the Gulf, but rising security concerns have created a situation where it cannot remain indifferent. Hence, India has intensified its engagements with the region and has kept a neutral stance on complex regional issues while being sensitive to threats emanating from terrorism.

India has significant stakes in the region. Despite maintaining a safe-distance from the crises, it has been directly affected because of the security threats emanating from the region. This has made it impossible for it to maintain a “hands-off” policy, reflected currently in New Delhi’s intensification of engagements with regional powers.

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