“Changing Security Paradigm in West Asia: Regional and International Responses”
Islam News – Delhi – On September 5th and 6th, 2018, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) with the support of the India Office of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung organized the third West Asia conference on “Changing Security Paradigm in West Asia: Regional and International Responses” in New Delhi.
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Over 25 speakers from 15 countries participated in the conference und discussed topics like rivalries among regional powers, geopolitical struggles and the role of international actors. The conference also examined India’s growing relations with the countries in the region and its possible role in finding solutions to the problems the region is facing.
In the inaugural session M. J. Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs, highlighted the wide ranging diplomatic engagement of the Modi government to emphasize the point that India was capable of dealing with regional as well as international binaries. He pointed out that the year 2018 began with the highly successful visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and included visits by Narendra Modi to Palestine, UAE and Oman. India has strong relationships with Russia and the United States while it has also a mature relationship with China. The Minister noted that India does not have aggressive intent and that it does not get into regional disputes. He ended his remarks by hoping that the conflicts of the region will move towards resolution, not by the efforts of one or the other power but by the parties involved themselves.
The first session was titled “Changing Regional Dynamics in West Asia and North Africa” and was chaired by Ambassador Swashpawan Singh, former Secretary to the Vice President of India. He stressed on how mitigation of crises requires a consultative approach. The first speaker of the session was Talmiz Ahmad, former Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. In his presentation he outlined that India has a diplomatic opportunity to mediate the Iran-Saudi Arabia divide. The second speaker was His Excellency Amine Gemayel, former President of Lebanon, who spoke on transnational terrorism. He reiterated that India is well-positioned for a leadership position in the WANA region. The third speaker was Dr. Syed Kazem Sajjadpour, whose presentation focused on Iran and the region. For Iran, Chabahar is very important and symbolises connectivity between Iran, India and Afghanistan and the Subcontinent to Central Asia, he stated.
The second session focused on the topic “Challenges of Transnational Terrorism: Origin, Developments and Prognosis” and was chaired by Ambassador Rajiv Sikri, former Secretary (East) of the Ministry for External Affairs. Prof. Mohammed Benhammou, President of the Moroccan Centre for Strategic Studies, highlighted the fact that main reasons for instability in the region are political instability and bad governance in the region. Dr. Abdelhamid Abdeljaber, Lecturer at the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University, focused on the Palestine issue and argued that the failure of the UN to implement its own resolutions on Palestinian issue has been due to its selective approach that has deepened the frustration, despair and rage within the domestic and international community. Dr. Nada M. Ibrahim Al-Jubouri, former Member of Parliament of the Iraq, said that if the Iraqi government and the international coalition led by the United States’ aim is to ensure integrity and inter-communal reconciliation in Iraq then it needs a political process that guarantees equality, justice, and human rights based on liberal-secular principles.
The third session’s topic was “Confrontation and Conflicts in West Asia: Role of Regional Powers”. The chairperson Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director General of the Vivekananda International Foundation underscored the increasing importance of regional actors amidst a fragmented regional order, which at present lacks a mechanism to resolve the contentious issues. Amb. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, former Diplomat and Visiting Research Scholar at Princeton University, outlined two options of the Saudi-Iran relations: first, continue the status quo of confrontation which will deteriorate any prospects of eliminating terrorist groups and sectarianism that will increase with risk of war and second, pursue avenues of cooperation by gaining some sincere understanding of each other’s security threats and concerns and then explore mutually acceptable paths to pursue peace. Dr. Awadh Al-Badi, King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, argued that Saudi Arabia is a status quo country and any radical changes that threaten the existing regional order are not acceptable for the country. Its foreign policy purpose is to preserve its security, stability and maintain political order. Dr. Badra Gaaloul, President of the International Center for Strategic, Security and Military Studies, argued that ISIS is defeated only on the ground, but not its ideology and has moved to the desert and sea shores of North Africa.
Fourth session continued with the same topic like the previous session. Ambassador Sanjay Singh, former Secretary (East) of the Ministry for External Affairs chaired the session. Prof. Dan Schueftan, Chairman of the National Security Studies Center, said that one of the reasons for instability within the Arab world was the hopelessness among the people. Prof. Mustafa Aydin, Professor at Kadir Has University, stated that Turkey has abandoned its soft power approach after the Arab Spring, but overestimated its influence in the region which led to miscalculations in Syria. Dr. Jin Liangxiang, Shanghai Institute for International Studies, explained that China would follow the policy of noninterference in the region, support political solutions to the challenges in the region and would have mutual respect among civilisations based on the respect for religion and promoting development.
The fifth session focused on the “Role of Big Powers: United States, Russia and Europe” and was chaired by C. Uday Bhaskar, Director of the Society for Policy Studies. Jeffrey S. Payne, Manager of Academic Affairs at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, emphasized on the American comparative advantages in leveraging its position as the key regional security, military and strategic partner. Dr. Elena Suponina, Advisor at the Institute for Strategic Studies, argued that coordination between regional and extra-regional powers should acquire a sense of urgency in order to resolve the ongoing conflict in Syria. Dr. Gidon Windecker, former Regional Representative to the Gulf States of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, argued that prevailing crisis presents both challenges and opportunities for European involvement and that the EU should step up its engagement with both regional and extra-regional powers to address migration, terrorism and maritime security. Prof. P. R. Kumaraswamy, School of International Studies, argued that India should continue to robustly engage with the region.
The sixth session was about “Emerging Socioeconomic Challenges” and was chaired by Professor Girijesh Pant, former Dean of the School of International Studies. H. E. Dr. Shaikh Abdulla bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Chairman of the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International & Energy Studies, emphasized that Iran must stop playing a negative role in the region and instead ensure welfare of its own people. Dr. Elsayed Abofarha, Assistant Professor at Banisuef University, claimed that Egypt is ready to play the role of a regional power in coming years, disregarding the internal problem that the country faces as its role is likely going to increase in future in the region. Dr. P. K. Pradhan, Associate Fellow at IDSA, said that the horrible situation in Syria has emerged because of the failure to reach a consensus on any agreement between the conflicting parties.
The seventh session focused on “India and WANA: Building Partnerships and Managing Challenges” and was chaired by Dr. B. Bala Bhaskar, Joint Secretary (WANA) at the Ministry of External Affairs. Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian argued that the European model of economic and security cooperation can be experimented and practised in WANA. Like Europe, the WANA region also requires cooperation in every domain from cultural to commercial and that will eventually bring collaboration in the realm of peace and security, he added. Dr. Meena Singh Roy, Research Fellow and Coordinator West Asia Centre at IDSA, mentioned that inclusive regional security dialogue focused on politico-economic cooperation and constructive engagement among regional and extra regional actors can be a viable option for the region.
The conference was concluded by a panel discussion on “Security and Stability in WANA: The Way Forward” chaired by Maj. Gen. Alok Deb, SM, VSM (retd.), Deputy Director General of IDSA. The participants were Dr. Awadh Al-Badi, King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, Dr. Haytham Mouzahem, Director of the Beirut Centre for Middle East Studies, Dr. Wael Batterkhi, Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of the State of Palestine, and Ruchita Beri, Senior Research Associate at IDSA. The participants agreed upon the fact that there is an urgent need to change the existing discourse in the Arab-Muslim World. In this respect, economic diplomacy can play an instrumental role in bringing all the actors, both regional and outside, on board. Seeking one’s national interests via economic cooperation with the regional and outside powers should score due primacy over all other bilateral or multilateral conflicts. The nations should be guided by the principles of peaceful coexistence and national interests.