India needs new Look-West policy: Vice President

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NEW DELHI - Vice President Hamid Ansari Saturday called for the adoption of a new Look-West policy aimed at the Gulf and West Asia that can secure the country’s economic, strategic and cultural interests in the region, which has a huge non-immigrant population of over six million Indian workers.

“For us in India, a ‘Look West’ policy towards this part of West Asia would be as relevant for safeguarding and promoting India’s interests as its Look-East policy aimed at East Asia that has been in place for some years,” Ansari told a conference.

“The strategic relevance of the sub-region to India has to be located in geographic and economic terms,” Ansari said in his inaugural address at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) conference on India and GCC Countries, Iran and Iraq: Emerging security perspectives.

Nearly 100 delegates from India and the region are participating in the two-day conference.

The GCC countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Ansari said: “The focus of Indian interest in the region would remain on the desirability of having friendly governments, regional peace and stability, access to oil and gas resources, freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf through the Straights of Hormuz, continued market access for Indian trade, technology, investments, security and welfare of the Indian workforce, particularly in times of the distress emenating from disturbed local or regional conditions.”

The vice president also pointed out that the region is within the security parameters of India and the operational radius of the Indian Navy.

“The latter’s participation in the anti-piracy operations in the Arabian Sea is a case in point. If needed, it can escort shipping and interdict forces hostile to it,” he said.

Ansari said it is “evident” that given the geo-political imperatives of the eight littoral states of the Persian Gulf, security perspectives and threat perceptions do not converge.

“The concerned states want to prosper and avail of the benefits of development. The Gulf lands are essential for the world’s economic health since they are a principal source of hydrocarbon energy as well as a major market for industrial goods, technology and services. Therefore the peace of these waters must be maintained,” he added.

Ansari, who was ambassador to Iran and Saudi Arabia, cited several of India’s trade ties with the Persian Gulf region.

India imports over 63 per cent of its crude oil from these regions. These countries account for 22 per cent of India’s total trade. The UAE is one of the top trading partners of India with a total trade of $ 43.5 billion, ahead of China and the US. Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trade partner and Iran stands ninth. Indian non-immigrant workforce of nearly six million work in these countries.

“A Gulf regionalism that is outward looking, flexible and dynamic, consistent with regional diversity would contribute to regional and global welfare, peace and security.

“This would also enable these nations to take advantage of the opportunities emerging from enhanced economic integration, as also to face the common threats of terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, securing energy exports, security of sea lanes, tackling pandemics, natural disasters and others,” Ansari said.

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