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EDITORIAL: 1-15 May 2001

India warms up to the Muslim World

After decades of self-imposed aloofness and looking through the Pakistani prism, India is now clearly warming up to the World of Islam. The old-time wisdom in New Delhi’s power corridors, that the world of Islam is per se pro-Islamabad, received a jolt during the Kargil treachery when even Saudi Arabia stood by India and employed its secret and wise diplomacy to bear upon Nawaz Sharif in order to secure the withdrawal of his troops from the Kargil summits where they had gone in utter violation of the letter and spirit of the Lahore declaration which the two sides had inked only months earlier. Pakistani adventurism was a clear breach of Islamic international law which does not allow treachery and clandestine war against a friendly or neighbouring country bound by treaty. As a result, the Muslim World did not rise to support Pakistan. This seems to have exercised some lethargic minds in our foreign ministry who, since the 1969 fiasco, had seen no hope of a rapprochement with Muslim countries when a myopic Yahya Khan had prevailed upon the nascent Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to deny membership to India despite the fact that Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad and Sardar Swaran Singh had rushed to Morocco with a hope to get a seat in the new organization.

We have no way of reading the minds of those who formulated the India foreign policy ever since, but we can safely infer that this rebuff by the World of Islam, which failed to stand up against the bullying of the Pakistani general and denied representation to the world’s second largest Muslim concentration, must have played its part to convince India that it should come close to the arch-enemy of Islam and Arabs, Israel, the usurper of Palestine.

In any case, despite trying to constantly improve relations with Tel Aviv, the thrust of the Indian foreign policy formulators is to focus on the World of Islam as the natural area of friendship, cooperation and trade. Thus we see during the past year or so that most official tours abroad of the Indian prime minister and foreign minister are to Muslim countries like Turkey, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Gulf, and Iran. A number of Muslim heads of state have paid official visits to India like the heads of State of Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia and Algeria.

Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh’s Saudi visit was most important taking into account Saudi Arabia’s unique position not only in the Arab World but also in the World of Islam. It is now home to nearly 1.5 million Indian expatriates and accounts for about 30 percent of the Indian trade with the Gulf countries. The current economic content of the Indo-Saudi trade and expatriate remittances is around US$ 6 billion annually. There are around three million Indians working in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia alone provides around 25 percent of the Indian imports of petroleum products. Despite Riyadh’s traditionally close relations with Islamabad, Saudi Arabia and India share many common interests and are eager to cooperate closely to achieve the peace, security and prosperity of the Gulf region in which India is taking greater interest. India is now one of the five top fuel consumers and has long-term relationships with Oman, Qatar and Iran in addition to Saudi Arabia. ‘Energy security’ is on the top of Indian foreign policy agenda and good relations with the Gulf countries are imperative to achieve this goal.

It is high time that this positive and mutually beneficial process is followed up in earnest. We must never allow our foreign policy to be hostage to our relations with any third country, be it the US, Israel or Pakistan. It is also imperative that our PMO and foreign ministry realize in earnest that the Indian Muslim can play a great role in strengthening this mutually beneficial relationship with the World of Islam. There are many Indian Muslim names respected around the World of Islam and the Arab World, in particular. It is a shame that New Delhi is blissfully ignorant of this aspect of our national wealth. Our leaders are at best surrounded by self-serving ‘Muslim leaders’ and ‘intellectuals’ who are unknown even in the national capital and ready to change loyalties at the drop of a hat.

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