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India-Kuwait Bilateral Relationship

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Mahatma Gandhi, India’s anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist once remarked, “Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundations of love between individuals.” In the present era when modern diplomacy seems to blur the component of ‘love’ and pays special homage to ‘power’ as a tool to determine a country’s potential; the friendship of India and Kuwait traditionally standsas an exception. The paper showcases that the primordial foundations of mutual trust and beneficial cooperation continue to weave the two Asian nations together; set aside prodigious enmity in the global arena.

India, once a part of the British colonies has been one of the earliest countries to recognize Kuwaiti independence. Prior to the discovery of oil, Indo-Kuwait trade revolved around dates and pedigreed horses, taken over by pearls and teak-wooda bit later.Kuwait’s exports and choice of Indian Rupee as its legal tender until 1961re-iterates that India has been the natural trading partner of Kuwait ever since.

The diplomatic relations on the other hand, began in June 1962 with the appointment of Yacoub Abdulaziz al-Rasheed, the first Kuwaiti Ambassador to India. Kuwait has been one of the first countries to extend support to India during 1962 Indo-China war, got furious with India’s pro-Iraq stance and the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992-conflicts, that they managed to normalise in the following years. From ideological enemies to close allies, the two withstood the test of time to a great extent. Perhaps, Kuwait’s democratic political structure, non-aligned foreign policy and the grant of freedom of speech at the present dayis a replica of Indian model that reflects much about the commonality between the political and social approaches of both the countries and their way forward.

Strengths

The book West Asia and the Region: Defining India’s Role says, “There is hardly any region in the world with which India has better, warmer and more cordial relations than the Arab World.”

The statement holds utmost significance given the geographical proximity that has always influenced the trade dimension between India and Kuwait. India has consistently been one of the top ten trading partners of Kuwait, with a bilateral trade of approximately $5 billion, reported a senior official from Kuwait investment Authority. Kuwait is the source of 10-11% of India’s annual crude oil requirements. With a 2.7% year over year growth, bilateral trade between India and Kuwait in 2018-19 stood at US $8.76 billion, having Indian exports worth US $1.33 billion and imports totaling US $7.43 billion.

The rise and expansion of trade has enabled international migration over the years. Migration further facilitated the relocation of Indians to Kuwait as the largest expatriate community, Kuwaiti Interior Ministry points out. The large rates of migration continue to render dual benefits. Kuwait has started opening up to economic development that demands manpower from abroad. India, with surplus labour force has become one of the main suppliers toKuwait and other West Asian regions. In this sense, migration of Indian families to Kuwait provides them employment while Kuwait’steam of skilled engineers, doctors, scientists, technicians, architects, management consultants and unskilled labour completes.

At the same time, migration has fostered good cultural relations. When people move from one place to another they carry their customs, traditions, rituals, philosophy and religion. Islam and Hinduism, as a result became more compatible. Today, the socio-cultural influences have led to the introduction of Indian cuisine, musical instruments, costumes and jewellery into the Gulf culture.

Weaknesses

Indo-Kuwait relationship, like every other alliance has some stumbling blocks. U.S. military and defence support to Kuwait is one. U.S. assists Kuwaiti military with education and training, also provides assistance to the country’s English language and developmental exchange programs. Thus, Kuwait’s relative dependence on U.S. restricts a faster engagement with third world socialist countries like India.

The line of bilateral trade curtail further includes the lack of publicity of Indian goods in Kuwaiti market, the book ‘Persian Gulf 2013: India’s Relations with the Region’ states.Indian goods, especially machinery and appliances are high-quality. While India remains ready to export goods involving modern technology, Kuwaiti buyers are ignorant of India’s technological progress. Apart from thestiff competition from European and Asian countries, inability of the Indian exporters to advertise policies and organize sales promotion is the root cause which briefly calls out for action if the two aim to broader their trade chains in the future.

The conflicting national interest is perhaps another factor. In 2004, agreements were made to initiate a three-fold increase in India’s exports to Kuwait in return of double the value of Kuwait’s crude oil to India. For a country with adverse balance of payments, impositions in relation to the crude oil led to massive domestic production in India. The dilemma however, began for Kuwait whose entire economy is based on petroleum products, cannot afford to increase the imports at the cost of oil.

Finally, Corruption in Kuwait impedes much of Indo-Kuwaiti trade. Transparency International, an international anti-corruption watchdog 2017 Corruption Perception Index ranks the country 85th out of 180. Such rampant corruption dominated by the public officials and civil servants implicates the practices of hoodwinking, retards much of Kuwait’s good-will in the mind of Indian investors in many cases.

Opportunities

The countries have enormous potential to shape the geo-political world order, are working relentlessly towards it. Most importantly, there are better prospects of Indian products in Kuwait’s retail and Mall culture. As Indian products are more cost-effective in comparison to the Western counterparts, Kuwaiti merchandisers from super markets prefer them. Outlets such as Lulu hyper-market or Max India that have multiple outlets across Middle East, should be kept into close vigilance for that matter.

India’s experience in the fields of economic development can provide sound basis for expansion and advancement to both the countries. It is a hard reality that Kuwait will be a major oil exporting country even in the coming years, so economic developments in some fields might open new array of opportunities. Several efforts have been initiated on the part of Kuwait’s government to execute such development schemes, if executed will open up a range of new job vacancies.

Developments in the sector of Information and Communication Technology would also be commendable. While Kuwait has well-trained and specialized manpower for the sector, India has come across a long way in the advancement of ICT’s. Adding up to the joint ventures, establishing an India-Kuwait Information Technology Park would be a great move.

Education sector, specifically Student Exchange Programs offer limited choices to both Indian students and Kuwaiti’s as of now. Student exchange programs helps budding workforce to famaliarize themselves with another country’s culture, lifestyle, language etc. Although both the countries expressed consent to practice the same, there is limited evidence that the same is being applicable at the university level. The suggestion comes in line to the recent invalidation of IIT degree by Kuwaiti authorities. It’s high time to consider the matter and explore opportunities in a way that benefits the youth of both the nations.

Threats

Hitherto, most of them aroused from terrorism. Kuwait, perhaps not the direct victim faces severe repercussions as a result of Sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shi’ite. The conflict constantly threatens to transform the mapping of Middle East, widen fissures and poses threat of transnational jihadi networks, which hampers much of Kuwait’s day to day balance. The storm, accompanied with the onset of global pandemic COVID-19becomes a matter of urgent concern for India.

Subsequently, the biggest challenge for India is to bring back its migrants given the inadequate protection from COVID-19 in Kuwait. Indian migrants are kept in labour camps with poor sanitary conditions. While most of the sectors have implemented remote working policies, a large number of workers stand exempted from these benefits.

World-wide lockdowns has also led to a decline in the demand of oil and its prices. Reduction in oil prices means that Kuwait will have to manage its public expenditure by reducing foreign labourers and reserving job positions for the locals. Because Kuwait has the largest Indian diaspora, cases of unemployment for Indians is likely to shoot up.

A third implication would be stiff competition for oil between Gulf nations. Since all the Gulf nations will be hit hard, cut-throat competition is to spring up by the end of this pandemic where every GCC will aim to increase its exports further hampering the functioning of existing trade chains.

Given the current constraints, India will have to assure full cooperation with Kuwait to halt the spread of corona virus. This is a tedious process and requires the use of diplomatic channels and safety nets, India and Kuwait put forth their will to travel the extra miles.

To sum up, Indo-Kuwait bilateral relationship has been decent since time immemorial. Though there continues to be a room for economic expansion, the two never fail to back each other in time of crisis. Their understanding and rationale in dealing with the global pandemic is worth appreciating. The possibility of increasing competition amongst GCC besides approaching unemployment raises an uncertainty regarding how the relationship will unfold in the nearing future; India and Kuwait should be able to work out a future roadmap well in time.

Ms. Shubhangi is pursuing B.A. (Hons) Global Affairs from O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India. She can be reached at 18jsia-shubhangi.k[at]jgu.edu.in

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Middle East

Turkey signals sweeping regional ambitions

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A nationalist Turkish television station with close ties to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dug up a 12-year-old map that projects Turkey’s sphere of influence in 2050 as stretching from South-eastern Europe on the northern coast of the Mediterranean and Libya on its southern shore across North Africa, the Gulf and the Levant into the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Buoyed by last year’s Azerbaijani defeat of Armenia, TGRT, a subsidiary of Ihlas Holding, a media and construction conglomerate that has won major government tenders, used the map to advance a policy that has long constituted the agenda of some of Mr. Erdogan’s closest advisors.

The broadcasting of the map, first published in a book authored by George Freidman, the founder of Stratfor, an influential American corporate intelligence group, followed calls by pan-Turkic daily Turkiye, Ihlas’ daily newspaper that has the fourth-largest circulation in Turkey, to leverage the Azerbaijani victory to create a military alliance of Turkic states.

In a country that ranks only second to China as the world’s foremost jailer of journalists, Ihlas Holding media would not be pushing a pan-Turkic, Islam-laced Turkish regional policy without tacit government approval at the very least.

The media group’s push reflects Turkish efforts to capitalize on the fact that Turkey’s latest geopolitical triumph with Azerbaijan’s Turkish-backed victory is already producing tangible results. The military victory has positioned Azerbaijan, and by extension Turkey, as an alternative transportation route westwards that would allow Central Asian nations to bypass corridors dominated by either Russia or Iran.

Turkmenistan, recognizing the changing geopolitical map, rushed in January to end a long-standing dispute with Azerbaijan and agree on the joint exploitation of Caspian Sea oil deposits. The agreement came on the heels of a deal in December for the purchase from ENI Turkmenistan of up to 40,000 tonnes of petroleum a month by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR).

The agreement could boost the completion of a Trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline (TPC) that would feed into the recently operational Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), bypass Russia and Iran, and supply Greece and Bulgaria via the former Soviet republic.

Last month, Azerbaijan agreed with Turkmenistan and Afghanistan to develop the Lapis Lazuli transport corridor that would link the war-ravaged country to Turkey. At about the same time, Kazakhstan began exporting copper cathodes to Turkey via Azerbaijan in a first step intended to capitalize on the Caucasian nation’s position as a transit hub.

Azerbaijan and Turkey’s newly found advantage has rung alarm bells among Russian and Iranian analysts with close ties to their respective governments even though the TGRT broadcast may have been primarily intended to whip up nationalist fervour at home and test regional responses.

Russian and Iranian politicians and analysts appeared to take the broadcast in that vein. Nonetheless, they were quick to note that Friedman’s projection includes Russia’s soft underbelly in the northern Caucasus as well as Crimea while Iranians took stock of the fact that the Turkish sphere of influence would border on Iran to the north, south and west.

Turkey and Ukraine have in recent months agreed to cooperate in the development of technologies with military applications related to engines, avionics, drones, anti-ship and cruise missiles, radar and surveillance systems, robotics, space, and satellites. Turkey has refused to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, home to Crimean Tartars, and criticized Russian support for Ukrainian rebels.

Most Russian commentators sought to downplay the significance of the map, leaving Andrei Krasov, deputy chairman of the defence committee of the Russian parliament’s lower house to warn that “if they (the Turks) want to test the strength of the Russian spirit and our weapons, let them try.”

With Iran excluded from TGRT and Stratfor’s projection of Turkey’s emerging sphere of influence, Iranian officials and analysts have largely not responded to the revival of the map.

Yet, Iran’s actions on the ground suggest that the Islamic republic has long anticipated Turkish moves even though it was caught off guard by last year’s Azerbaijani-Armenian war.

For one, Iran has in the past year sought to bolster its military presence in the Caspian Sea and forge close naval ties with the basin’s other littoral states – Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.

Viewed from Tehran, TGRT’s broadcasting of the Stratfor map was the latest in a series of provocative Turkish moves.

They include Mr. Erdogan’s recital of a nationalist poem while attending a military parade in Azerbaijan that calls for reuniting two Iranian ethnic Azeri provinces with the former Soviet republic and publication by state-run Turkish Radio and Television’s Arabic service of a map on Instagram, depicting Iran’s oil-rich province of Khuzestan with its large population of ethnic Arabs as separate from Iran.

The Instagram posting came days after the disclosure that Habib Chaab, a leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz, or ASMLA, had been kidnapped in Istanbul by an Iraqi Kurdish drug baron in cooperation with Iranian intelligence and transported to Iran.

While senior Iranian officials talked down the Turkish provocations, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency left little doubt about what Iran’s true sentiments were.

“Those who have greedy eyes on the territories this side of the Aras River had better study history and see that Azerbaijan, specifically the people of Tabriz, have always pioneered in defending Iran. If Iran had not helped you on the night of the coup, you would have had a fate like that of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi,’ protesters chanted in front of the Turkish consulate in Tabriz, the capital of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

The protesters were responding to Mr. Erdogan’s poem recital and referring to the failed military coup against him in 2016 as well as the toppling of Mr. Morsi in 2013 in a takeover by the Egyptian armed forces.

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Middle East

Notes on Turkish Politics (5): The Need for a Vibrant Civil Society

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This is the last piece of my “Turkish politics” article series. In this piece, I will try to address the role of civil society in Turkish political life and democracy in a brief way.

The role of civil society is very important in shaping the democratic institutions and processes in a polity. Turkish political culture has long been characterized by having a weak civil society and strong state mechanism. As noted in my earlier piece titled “Notes On Turkish Politics (I): Strong State Tradition”Turkey has a “strong state tradition” as first stressed by distinguished Turkish academic Metin Heper. The non-state units and grass-roots movements have been weak in Turkish political life due to a number of reasons which also lead to democratic erosion.

Civil society is related with autonomous social units and organizations like voluntary associations, private companies, private associations etc. These social units or organizations that make up civil society are based on the principle of recognition of basic human and civil rights. It is known that civil society is seen as one of the basic social bases of  liberal democracy.

The historical background of Turkey from the very beginning of the Republic experienced an evident antagonism between the state and the society. The military, the high bureaucracy and some academics along with some particular media actors used to show a certain amount of distrust towards the society until the multi-party politics.

In the post-1980 period, a revival of civil society was witnessed. Turkey went through important changes in the 1980s as the free market economy policies were accepted. One of the most important consequences of this change was the development of the systems of communication and information and this development empowered civil society actors as well. Turgut Özal has been one of the influential political elites paving the way for the strengthening of Turkish civil society. Özal challenged Kemalist state tradition to some degree. As an extension of Özal’s liberal policies, a free market economy was formed and legal obstacles to political freedom were also removed by abolishing Articles 141, 142, and 163 of the 1982 Constitution, which prohibited the free expression of thought (Çaha, 2001).

The 1990s witnessed a military intervention and this “post-modern” coup narrowed the arena for civil society associations and certain identities like that of Islamic identity were vilified by the state elites.

In the early years of the AK Party rule (up until 2010 referendum) Turkey saw positive developments in terms of democratization and this played a positive role for civil society as well. However, in the last years, Turkish civil society has begun to weaken once again. A recent example of this is Turkey’s NGO bill that was introduced in late 2020. In a news article published by Duvar English, the warnings of Human Right Watch were addressed. According to HRW, the bill introduces “annual inspections of nongovernmental groups, which will severely affect their activities since the inspections frequently last months and reduce the group’s capacity to operate. It introduces severe fines if the Interior Ministry deems a group’s online fundraising unlawful.”

In one of my articles titled “Turkish Political Culture and Civil Society: An Unsettling Coupling?” published in 2011, I wrote the following about the relationship between civil society and political culture for Turkish context:

“The Turkish case indicates that the advancement of civil society is closely related to the function of and the role of state. The governance of state in accordance with the rule of law and its neutrality is necessary for the advancement of a competitive social environment where social groups can freely compete. Also, it is important to note that there is almost a direct relationship between civil society and democracy.”

Turkey needs a vibrant civil society to have a working democracy and of course civil society is only one piece of the prerequisites for democracy!

Cited resources

  • Burak Begüm, 2011, “Turkish Political Culture and Civil Society: An Unsettling Coupling?”  19264 (dergipark.org.tr) (Access Date: 20.02.2021)
  • Çaha Ömer, 2001, “The Inevitable Coexistence of Civil Society and Liberalism: The Case of Turkey”, Journal of Economic and Social Research 3, 2.
  • Duvar English, (Dec. 24, 2020), “Turkey’s NGO bill threatens civil society, says HRW” Turkey’s NGO bill threatens civil society, says HRW (duvarenglish.com) (Access Date: 20.02.2021)

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Middle East

The Influence of Persian Racism on Status of Azerbaijani Turks in Iran

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Language is the carrier of the people’s culture and is one of the fundamental national identity elements.  Therefore, the culture and identity of the nation can strengthen by the powerful and widespread language. Reinforcing the language needs official and systematic support. Otherwise, in the age of informational technology and communication, the languages spoken by a small group of people may disappear under the influence of powerful languages and cultures widely used by influential ethnics and nations worldwide. Indeed, the fade or thrive of native languages depends on the government, socio-economic development, and cultural context. Deliberately, racist states fulfill the assimilation policy to decay the other native languages to reinforce imposed language. They mobilize all their resources to implement this policy by resorting to military and security forces. Iran is a diverse society with several ethnicities, languages, and cultures. In order to Persianization of the other non-Persian people like Turk, Arab, Kurd, Baloch, Lor, Persian-centered government performs the racist politics against them across the country. Turk ethnicity is the largest ethnic group in Iran that has been subjected to Persian racism and internal colonization since 1925.

There are no accurate statistics about the number of Turkish ethnicity members in Iran because the authoritarian racist Iranian state has not allowed independent censuses, and statistics are mostly based on estimates. According to the Ethnologue, more than 38 percent of Iran’s population are Turks, mainly Azerbaijani Turks who live in the northwest of Iran, and that region is known as South Azerbaijan. Since 1925, with the beginning of the Pahlavi regime, people with Turkish identity and other non-Persian ethnic groups have been deprived of primary rights like education to the mother language. This racist process has aimed to indicate and impose the language, history, culture, and identity of the Persian ethnic group as the only authentic and superior for all Iranians. Since establishing the Pahlavi regime in Iran, assimilation and alienation of Turkish ethnic groups have been continuing, and widespread protests for racist policies have not succeeded, and Turk activists’ peaceful actions have not sustained the Iranian regime from its inhumane racist behavior. Turks do not have any right to promote their culture and language. Turkish children must educate in Farsi, and all official correspondences have to be in the inflicted language. Since the formation of the Pahlavi monarchy, approximately the name of more than 500 areas like village, city, river, lake, and forest has been changed from Turkish to Persian terms. Furthermore, depriving Turk children of learning and education in their mother language is one of the main reasons for high illiteracy rates, the decline in academic performance, and a sense of humiliation of those children compared with Persian children. That racist ideology has accompanied most scholars, academicians, writers, journalists, poets, thinkers, teachers, and intellectuals’ support, and it has reached the Persian society sphere. They humiliate Turks in their writing, interviews, newspapers, and particularly in state media. For example, they analogized the Turkish people to cockroaches with feeding on toilets in the state-run Iran newspaper in May 2006 that sparked extensive protests in various Turkish cities, especially Tehran; dozens of protestors were killed and injured, hundreds of demonstrators detained and sentenced to long prison terms. Consequently, the policies that have been implemented against the Turks in Iran since the commencing of Pahlavi monarchy have been a linguistic and identity genocide for the benefit of strengthening the Persian language culture and identity. Because in their thought, Turkish language, culture, and identity are significant threats to the existence and expansion of the Persian language and culture and could jeopardize the territorial integrity.

Simultaneously, with linguistic assimilation and identity alienation policies, Persian-oriented colonial plans against the Turks have been plotted after the Raza Khan coup. Based on colonial policies, every year the bulk of the country’s budget flowed to the Persian regions to create prosperity and establish manufacturing companies and industrial centers. For instance, the comparison of Ardakan located on the desert in central Iran and Varzegan surrounded with copper and gold mines and forest represents that Ardakan is provided with many factories, but Varzegan is deprived. Overall, most Persian regions are in a good situation regarding welfare amenities, prosperity, and workplaces compared with non-Persian areas. Besides, the Turkish regions’ colonialization causes severe desperation and migration of Azerbaijani Turks to the Persian regions who confront with humiliation by racist society with a high level of supremacy. Under such conditions, they become more assimilated into the Persian language and culture and alienated from their original identity. Indeed, economic colonialization, assimilation, and alienation policies are positively correlated in Iran and reinforce each other against non-Persian ethnic groups.

Despite the repression atmosphere and oppressive politics of governing apparatuses in Iran, South Azerbaijan National Movement activists continue their peaceful struggle against the racist Iranian government’s colonial policies. In contrast, the Islamic Republic security forces raid demonstrations and activists’ homes, detain them, and sentence them to long prison terms by holding arbitrary trials on baseless and false accusations like “Propaganda against the regime”, “acting against national security” and separatism.  For instance, Abbas Lesani is a famous Azerbaijani activist who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for his legal activities such as demanding education in the mother language at schools by the Ardabil appeal court. The supreme court of Iran rejected his objection and upheld the appeal court decision. Therefore, Azerbaijani Turk activists’ initial demands are establishing the schools in the Turkish language and ending the economic discrimination, which has hindered the equitable development of the Turkish-populated areas in Iran.

     Although the linguistic assimilation, alienation, and systematic racist activities of the government to eradicate the language, culture, and identity of the Turkish society in Iran have caused the Persianization of different generations during the last century, with the awakening and spontaneity of Turks, Turkish language and culture are a critical requirement to retrieve their ethnic identity. Moreover, their national values, beliefs, culture, and identity are embedded within the language. For this reason, education in the mother tongue can play vital role for the extrication of the Turks from the bondage of Persian colonialism. Also, it can neutralize the adverse effects of racist policies against these oppressed people. However, denial, repression, and government oppression have led to an increase in identity-seeking in the Turkic-speaking regions, especially in South Azerbaijan, and it intensifies exponentially over time. The Director-General of the Civil and Personal Status Registration office recently talked to the media that 40 percent of the people names in East Azerbaijan province are in Turkish. Despite official restrictions, it demonstrates that activities to revive the Turkish language, culture, and identity continue between Azerbaijani Turks and other tribes with Turkish identity throughout Iran. On the other hand, the Iranian government’s racist policies against the Turks have intensified ethnic divisions and divergence among the Turks, and the denial policy and repression cause a gradual reduction in their desire for territorial belonging to Iran.

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