By Kabir Taneja
March 08, 2015
New Delhi’s active diplomacy with the region is now being bolstered by growing recognition of threats such as ISIS.
Much of India’s foreign policy, even today, is based on the fundamentals laid down by the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. India’s place in the world and the policies that have shaped its global personality as a nation are based on Nehru’s ideals, which were sacrosanct until the Indo-China war of 1962 offered a perspective based on realism, rather than idealism.
Nehru was genuinely fond of driving India’s foreign policy, just like Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi have been. However, Nehru’s play in extending India’s hand of friendship and cooperation in the Middle East and Persian Gulf (more commonly known in India as West Asia) was a masterstroke, the benefits of which India reaps in the region even today.
India’s influence post-independence in the region started with the rapport that Nehru ended up building with the former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. By 1953, eminent Indian diplomat V. K. Krishna Menon had already started to market the idea of a Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) at the United Nations. Nehru, Gamel, and others from Asia and Europe later championed the NAM, at the time a revolution, but now an idea well past its expiry date.
Nehru made Cairo a single-point policy in West Asia, though which New Delhi over the years developed exposure to the various intricacies of the region. Even though trade between Egypt and India never flourished to the levels that both Nasser and Nehru had hoped for, the Nehru-Nasser dynamic did lay much of the groundwork for India’s policy of strategically backing Arab states. Even after Nasser died in 1970, India supported his successor President Anwar Sadat’s regime as it partnered with Hafez al-Assad’s Syria and took on the Israelis in the October War (Yom Kippur War).
Continuing the trend, India also maintained good relations with Hafez al-Assad’s Ba’athist regime in Damascus. These ties were retained when his son, Bashar al-Assad, took over the presidency of Syria in 2000. India has maintained a sly preference for the Assad regime even during the current Syrian Civil War, echoing the Russian line of supporting only an amicable solution via talks. In addition to taking part in the Geneva II talks, New Delhi sent a business delegation to Syria last May to bolster trade ties.