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Middle East

India, Saudi Arabia and the Riyal 20: The Intent and the Repercussions

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Adding fuel to the South Asian boiling waters Saudi Arabia has quite recently, released a 20 Riyal banknote to commemorate its presidency of organizing the G-20 Summit. What is interesting for the world and irks India, Pakistan and China is that on the world map shown on the banknote Ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir have been removed from Pakistan and India. The Saudi move has roused angst amongst the three and has serious repercussions if not mended soon. Saudi Arabia opened new vistas of strategic relations with India as it slices a significant chunk away from the Muslim world in favour of Indian position on Kashmir. In view of the US, Israel and UAE understanding and Nagorno-Karabakh alignments India and Saudi Arabia have peddled forth towards a new era of relations where they pose a serious threat to Sino-Pakistan vision of South Asia and OBOR expansion in the Middle-East. The Riyal 20 banknote has some intent behind and the repercussions on their bilateral relations as also on the politics of South Asia and Middle East.

The Backdrop

India and Saudi Arabia, the two regional giants have shared historical cultural relations since past but in the post-World War II scenario they developed distances on Kashmir and OIC politics. Kashmir determined the Indo-US, Indo-Pak and Indo-Saudi Arabia relations till the collapse of USSR and continues to influence the strategic shifts in the post-cold war era. Saudi Arabia, till recently, supported Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir. It also provided frequent economic packages to Pakistan to bail it out of critical situations like conflict with India, internal turbulences and jihadi operations. The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and India’s proximity with the former also irked it. However, after the economic depression of 2008 Saudi Arabia has changed its policy towards Indian subcontinent as it can’t rely on a weak partner at the cost of rising India, the world’s largest prospective market.

It was in the nineties that the two sides took serious steps over improvisation of relations when Saudi Arabia helped India (home to second largest Muslim population in the world) attain the observer status in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). It also became critical of Pak sponsored terrorism in India in the following years.   King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia became the first state head to have visited India after a period of 52 years in 2006, thus finally breaking the ice. The move was coincided with a shift in India’s strategic relations with United States when India signed a nuclear deal with US in the same year.  The Saudi king and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also signed an agreement forging a strategic energy partnership that was termed the “Delhi Declaration”. The pact provides for a “reliable, stable and increased volume of crude oil supplies to India through long-term contracts” (CNN January 27, 2006). Both nations also agreed on joint ventures and the development of oil and natural gas in public and private sectors. An Indo-Saudi joint declaration in the Indian capital New Delhi described the king’s visit as “heralding a new era in India-Saudi Arabia relations” (BBC, January 27, 2006).

Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trade partner (after China, USA and Japan) and is a major source of energy as India imports around 18% of its crude oil requirement from the Kingdom. In 2018-19 (as per DGFT), India-Saudi bilateral trade has increased by 23.83 % to US$ 34.03 billion. Indo-Saudi bilateral trade reached US$36 billion in the financial year 2019-20. The Indian investments in the Kingdom have grown significantly, especially after the signing of Bilateral Investment Promotion Agreement (BIPA) and Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) in 2006. However, the trade surplus is in favour of Saudi Arabia and recently it has focused on exploring more fields except oil in India. During the visit of Saudi Prince to India in February 2019, the declaration of a mammoth investment of US $100 billion in the next few years in different sectors like energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture, minerals and mining, manufacturing, education and health have paved a way for further consolidation of their mutual relations. The Ministry of Finance also signed an MoU with the Saudi Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources in February 2019 to invest in India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund Limited (NIIF). The NITI Aayog-Saudi Centre for International Strategic Partnership workshop in Riyadh on 17-18 February, 2019 identified 40 potential projects for investments. Subsequent to the Framework Agreement signed between Invest India and SAGIA in February 2019, the Invest India Team visited the Kingdom multiple times and held wide interactions with the major players in the Kingdom in diversified sectors (Embassy of India, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).

The Middle East

After the US move of withdrawing from active role in the region the new aspirants for dominance like Iran and Saudi Arabia are looking for diversification and intensification of relations with the prospective prolific partners. PM Modi’s visits to Middle East have also given significant energy to India’s policy objectives. India is a strategic partner of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel and has a tremendous scope of playing crucial role with its highly demanded soft power resources. In the meantime the increased Chinese presence and its ambitious OBOR project have triggered a new wave of strategic thinking in the region with the debilitated US and rejuvenating Israel.

In response to abrogation of special status under article 370 by India to Jammu & Kashmir  Pakistan government had released a new political maps in September that claimed the Indian territories of Junagadh, Sir Creek, and Manavadar in Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and a part of Ladakh.  Pakistan also proposed November 15, 2020 as the date for elections in disputed Gilgit-Baltisatn area which receives strong Indian protests. The revocation of Article 370 had the backing both of Saudi Arabia and UAE for whom India has emerged as a significant trade and strategic partner. The Saudi Arabian step of showing Kashmir as an independent state is just to disgrace the stakeholders especially Pakistan which had challenged its leadership recently over its Kashmir policy among the members of OIC. This led to the revocation of huge loans to Pakistan by Saudi government and the retaliation doesn’t end here. It also seems to be adapting to the new developments and alignments, the emergence of which takes shape in view of Turkish-Iranian dream of leading the Muslim world.

With the announcement in August of the U.S.-brokered Israel-UAE ‘normalization deal’ it appears that a new corridor of co-operation is being developed from the U.S. (and Israel), through the UAE (and Kuwait, Bahrain, and in part Saudi Arabia) through to India, as a regional counterbalance to China’s growing sphere of influence (Simson Watkins). India is likely to leave China behind as the top driver of growth in oil demand by 2024. India has also shored up its energy investments in the region. India’s ONGC Videsh has acquired a 10% stake in an offshore oil concession in Abu Dhabi, UAE, for $600 million (Economic Times).  The August deal of ‘Israel-UAE thaw’ appears to have crafted a new zone of collaboration among US, Israel, UAE, Saudi Arabia and India in order to deal with the OBOR challenge from China. In the meantime the Saudi move highlights Kashmir as a major issue yet to be settled keeping the stakeholders away and pleading for the voices looking for a space in the highly volatile region. The move may have further ramifications for the region as it might have worked on behest of a clandestine director looking for ‘another Kuwait’ and entrench a strong foothold as part of a larger geostrategic plan. After receiving Indian protests to the move it would be wise for Saudi Arabia to mend the flaw and negotiate furtherance of bilateralism.

References

BBC. “New era for Saudi-Indian ties”.  27 January 2006. Retrieved on 14 Aug. 2020.

CNN. “India, Saudi Arabia in energy deal”. 27 January 2006. Retrieved on 4 June 2020.

Economic Times. November 3, 2019.

Embassy of India, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “India-Saudi Arabia Economic and Commercial Relations”.  Retrieved on November 10, 2020. https://www.eoiriyadh.gov.in/page/india-saudi-business-relations/.

Watkins, Simson. “Two Major Power Blocs Are Vying For Power In The Middle East.” Oilprice.com.  Retrieved on November 8, 2020. https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Two-Major-Power-Blocs-Are-Vying-For-Power-In-The-Middle-East.html

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Middle East

Breaking The Line of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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The conflict between Israel-Palestine is a prolonged conflict and has become a major problem, especially in the Middle East region.

A series of ceasefires and peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine that occurred repeatedly did not really “normalize” the relationship between the two parties.

In order to end the conflict, a number of parties consider that the two-state solution is the best approach to create two independent and coexistent states. Although a number of other parties disagreed with the proposal, and instead proposed a one-state solution, combining Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip into one big state.

Throughout the period of stalemate reaching an ideal solution, the construction and expansion of settlements carried out illegally by Israel in the Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank and East Jerusalem, also continued without stopping and actually made the prospect of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis increasingly eroded, and this could jeopardize any solutions.

The attempted forced eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah district, which became one of the sources of the conflict in May 2021, for example, is an example of how Israel has designed a system to be able to change the demographics of its territory by continuing to annex or “occupy” extensively in the East Jerusalem area. This is also done in other areas, including the West Bank.

In fact, Israel’s “occupation” of the eastern part of Jerusalem which began at the end of the 1967 war, is an act that has never received international recognition.

This is also confirmed in a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council Numbers 242, 252, 267, 298, 476, 478, 672, 681, 692, 726, 799, 2334 and also United Nations General Assembly Resolutions Number 2253, 55/130, 60/104, 70/89, 71/96, A/72/L.11 and A/ES-10/L.22 and supported by the Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004 on Legal Consequences of The Construction of A Wall in The Occupied Palestine Territory which states that East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli “occupation”.

1 or 2 country solution

Back to the issue of the two-state solution or the one-state solution that the author mentioned earlier. The author considers that the one-state solution does not seem to be the right choice.

Facts on the ground show how Israel has implemented a policy of “apartheid” that is so harsh against Palestinians. so that the one-state solution will further legitimize the policy and make Israel more dominant. In addition, there is another consideration that cannot be ignored that Israel and Palestine are 2 parties with very different and conflicting political and cultural identities that are difficult to reconcile.

Meanwhile, the idea of ​​a two-state solution is an idea that is also difficult to implement. Because the idea still seems too abstract, especially on one thing that is very fundamental and becomes the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict, namely the “division” of territory between Israel and Palestine.

This is also what makes it difficult for Israel-Palestine to be able to break the line of conflict between them and repeatedly put them back into the status quo which is not a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The status quo, is in fact a way for Israel to continue to “annex” more Palestinian territories by establishing widespread and systematic illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, more than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In fact, a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council have explicitly and explicitly called for Israel to end the expansion of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territory and require recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the region.

Thus, all efforts and actions of Israel both legislatively and administratively that can cause changes in the status and demographic composition in East Jerusalem and the West Bank must continue to be condemned. Because this is a violation of the provisions of international law.

Fundamental thing

To find a solution to the conflict, it is necessary to look back at the core of the conflict that the author has mentioned earlier, and the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to encourage Israel to immediately end the “occupation” that it began in 1967, and return the settlements to the pre-Islamic borders 1967 In accordance with UN Security Council resolution No. 242.

But the question is, who can stop the illegal Israeli settlements in the East Jerusalem and West Bank areas that violate the Palestinian territories?

In this condition, international political will is needed from countries in the world, to continue to urge Israel to comply with the provisions of international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and also the UN Security Council Resolutions.

At the same time, the international community must be able to encourage the United Nations, especially the United Nations Security Council, as the organ that has the main responsibility for maintaining and creating world peace and security based on Article 24 of the United Nations Charter to take constructive and effective steps in order to enforce all United Nations Resolutions, and dare to sanction violations committed by Israel, and also ensure that Palestinian rights are important to protect.

So, do not let this weak enforcement of international law become an external factor that also “perpetuates” the cycle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It will demonstrate that John Austin was correct when he stated that international law is only positive morality and not real law.

And in the end, the most fundamental thing is that the blockade, illegal development, violence, and violations of international law must end. Because the ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict is only a temporary solution to the conflict.

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Iran unveils new negotiation strategy

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Image source: Tehran Times

While the West is pressuring Iran for a return to the Vienna nuclear talks, the top Iranian diplomat unveiled a new strategy on the talks that could reset the whole negotiation process. 

The Iranian parliament held a closed meeting on Sunday at which Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian briefed the lawmakers on a variety of pressing issues including the situation around the stalled nuclear talks between Iran and world powers over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The Iranian foreign ministry didn’t give any details about the session, but some lawmakers offered an important glimpse into the assessment Abdollahian gave to the parliament.

According to these lawmakers, the Iranian foreign ministry addressed many issues ranging from tensions with Azerbaijan to the latest developments in Iranian-Western relations especially with regard to the JCPOA. 

On Azerbaijan, Abdollahian has warned Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev against falling into the trap set by Israel, according to Alireza Salimi, a member of the Iranian Parliament’s presiding board who attended the meeting. Salimi also said that the Iranian foreign minister urged Aliyev to not implicate himself in the “Americans’ complexed scheme.”

In addition to Azerbaijan, Abdollahian also addressed the current state of play between Iran and the West regarding the JCPOA.

“Regarding the nuclear talks, the foreign minister explicitly stated that the policy of the Islamic Republic is action for action, and that the Americans must show goodwill and honesty,” Salimi told Fars News on Sunday.

The remarks were in line with Iran’s oft-repeated stance on the JCPOA negotiations. What’s new is that the foreign minister determined Iran’s agenda for talks after they resume. 

Salimi quoted Abdollahian as underlining that the United States “must certainly take serious action before the negotiations.”

In addition, the Iranian foreign minister said that Tehran intends to negotiate over what happened since former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA, not other issues. 

By expanding the scope of negotiations, Abdollahian is highly likely to strike a raw nerve in the West. His emphasis on the need to address the developments ensuing the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018 could signal that the new government of President Ayatollah Seyed Ebrahim Raisi is not going to pick up where the previous government left. 

This has been a major concern in European diplomatic circles in the wake of the change of administrations in Iran. In fact, the Europeans and the Biden administration have been, and continue to be, worried about two things in the aftermath of Ayatollah Raisi taking the reins in Tehran; one is he refusing to accept the progress made during six rounds of talks under his predecessor Hassan Rouhani. Second, the possibility that the new government of Ayatollah Raisi would refuse to return to Vienna within a certain period of time. 

With Abdollahian speaking of negotiation over developments since Trump’s withdrawal, it seems that the Europeans will have to pray that their concerns would not come true. 

Of course, the Iranian foreign ministry has not yet announced that how it would deal with a resumed negotiation. But the European are obviously concerned. Before his recent visit to Tehran to encourage it into returning to Vienna, Deputy Director of the EU Action Service Enrique Mora underlined the need to prick up talks where they left in June, when the last round of nuclear talks was concluded with no agreement. 

“Travelling to Tehran where I will meet my counterpart at a critical point in time. As coordinator of the JCPOA, I will raise the urgency to resume #JCPOA negotiations in Vienna. Crucial to pick up talks from where we left last June to continue diplomatic work,” Mora said on Twitter. 

Mora failed to obtain a solid commitment from his interlocutors in Tehran on a specific date to resume the Vienna talk, though Iran told him that it will continue talks with the European Union in the next two weeks. 

Source: Tehran Times

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Shaping US Middle East policy amidst failing states, failed democratization and increased activism

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The future of US engagement in the Middle East hangs in the balance.

Two decades of forever war in Afghanistan and continued military engagement in Iraq and elsewhere in the region have prompted debate about what constitutes a US interest in the Middle East. China, and to a lesser degree Russia, loom large in the debate as America’s foremost strategic and geopolitical challenges.

Questions about US interests have also sparked discussion about whether the United States can best achieve its objectives by continued focus on security and military options or whether a greater emphasis on political, diplomatic, economic, and civil society tools may be a more productive approach.

The debate is coloured by a pendulum that swings from one extreme to the other. President Joe Biden has disavowed the notion of nation-building that increasingly framed the United States’ post-9/11 intervention in Afghanistan.

There is no doubt that the top-down nation-building approach in Afghanistan was not the way to go about things. It rested on policymaking that was informed by misleading and deceitful reporting by US military and political authorities and enabled a corrupt environment for both Afghans and Americans.

The lesson from Afghanistan may be that nation-building (to use a term that has become tainted for lack of a better word) has to be a process that is owned by the beneficiaries themselves while supported by external players from afar.

Potentially adopting that posture could help the Biden administration narrow the gap between its human rights rhetoric and its hard-nosed, less values-driven definition of US interests and foreign policy.

A cursory glance at recent headlines tells a tale of failed governance and policies, hollowed-out democracies that were fragile to begin with, legitimisation of brutality, fabrics of society being ripped apart, and an international community that grapples with how to pick up the pieces.

Boiled down to its essence, the story is the same whether it’s how to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan without recognising or empowering the Taliban or efforts to halt Lebanon’s economic and social collapse and descent into renewed chaos and civil war without throwing a lifeline to a discredited and corrupt elite.

Attempts to tackle immediate problems in Lebanon and Afghanistan by working through NGOs might be a viable bottom-up approach to the discredited top-down method.

If successful, it could provide a way of strengthening the voice of recent mass protests in Lebanon and Iraq that transcended the sectarianism that underlies their failed and flawed political structures. It would also give them ownership of efforts to build more open, pluralistic, and cohesive societies, a demand that framed the protests. Finally, it could also allow democracy to regain ground lost by failing to provide tangible progress.

This week’s sectarian fighting along the Green Line that separated Christian East from the Muslim West in Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war highlighted the risk of those voices being drowned out.

Yet, they reverberated loud and clear in the results of recent Iraqi parliamentary elections, even if a majority of eligible voters refrained from going to the polls.

We never got the democracy we were promised, and were instead left with a grossly incompetent, highly corrupt and hyper-violent monster masquerading as a democracy and traumatising a generation,” commented Iraqi Middle East counterterrorism and security scholar Tallha Abdulrazaq who voted only once in his life in Iraq. That was in the first election held in 2005 after the 2003 US invasion. “I have not voted in another Iraqi election since.”

Mr. Abdulrazaq’s disappointment is part and parcel of the larger issues of nation-building, democracy promotion and provision of humanitarian aid that inevitably will shape the future US role in the Middle East in a world that is likely to be bi-or multi-polar.

Former US National Security Council and State Department official Martin Indyk argued in a recent essay adapted from a forthcoming book on Henry Kissinger’s Middle East diplomacy that the US policy should aim “to shape an American-supported regional order in which the United States is no longer the dominant player, even as it remains the most influential.”

Mr. Indyk reasoned that support for Israel and America’s Sunni Arab allies would be at the core of that policy. While in a world of realpolitik the United States may have few alternatives, the question is how alignment with autocracies and illiberal democracies would enable the United States to support a bottom-up process of social and political transition that goes beyond lip service.

That question is particularly relevant given that the Middle East is entering its second decade of defiance and dissent that demands answers to grievances that were not expressed in Mr. Kissinger’s time, at least not forcefully.

Mr. Kissinger was focused on regional balances of power and the legitimisation of a US-dominated order. “It was order, not peace, that Kissinger pursued because he believed that peace was neither an achievable nor even a desirable objective in the Middle East,” Mr. Indyk said, referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Indyk noted that in Mr. Kissinger’s mind the rules of a US-dominated order “would be respected only if they provided a sufficient sense of justice to a sufficient number of states. It did not require the satisfaction of all grievances… ‘just an absence of the grievances that would motivate an effort to overthrow the order’.”

The popular Arab revolts of 2011 that toppled the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen, even if their achievements were subsequently rolled back, and the mass protests of 2019 and 2020 that forced leaders of Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, and Lebanon to resign, but failed to fundamentally alter political and economic structures, are evidence that there is today a will to overthrow the order.

In his essay, Mr. Indyk acknowledges the fact that “across the region, people are crying out for accountable governments” but argues that “the United States cannot hope to meet those demands” even if “it cannot ignore them, either.”

Mr. Indyk may be right. Yet, the United States, with Middle East policy at an inflexion point, cannot ignore the fact that the failure to address popular grievances contributed significantly to the rise of violent Islamic militancy and ever more repressive and illiberal states in a region with a significant youth bulge that is no longer willing to remain passive and /or silent.

Pointing to the 600 Iraqi protesters that have been killed by security forces and pro-Iranian militias, Mr. Abdulrazaq noted in an earlier Al Jazeera op-ed that protesters were “adopting novel means of keeping their identities away from the prying eyes of security forces and powerful Shia militias” such as blockchain technology and decentralised virtual private networks.

“Unless they shoot down…internet-providing satellites, they will never be able to silence our hopes for democracy and accountability again. That is our dream,” Mr. Abdulrazzaq quoted Srinivas Baride, the chief technology officer of a decentralised virtual network favoured by Iraqi protesters, as saying.

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