U.S Exit from Greater Middle East Will Alter Regional Relations

SynopsisThe future US exit from the greater Middle East region is altering the relationships among the regional powers. In this regard, both India and Pakistan must come to terms with the changing dynamics.

Background

  • The US will soon withdraw its last forces from Afghanistan in September 2021. The country is also shifting its focus from the Middle East region to Indo-Pacific.
  • The US has played a pivotal role in the greater Middle East region in the last 50 years. 
    • It is a vaguely defined region comprising the “Arab world” plus Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, and Turkey.
  • Many regional actors sought alliances with America to secure themselves against ambitious or troublesome neighbors (like Saudi Arabia, U.A.E). Similarly, others (like Russia, China) sought to balance against America.
  • The withdrawal will simply alter the regional equations and induce the creation of new realignments.
Why is the US withdrawing?
  • First, the country has failed to solve centuries-old conflicts in the region even after decades of presence.
  • Second, there are very few compelling factors that can compel the US to incur huge military, political and diplomatic investments in the region.
  • Third, the rising Chinese assertiveness has compelled it to focus its resources on the Indo-Pacific region. 

Realizing the reality of withdrawal, countries have started to alter their relationship with neighboring countries or search for alternate patrons.

Attempts towards improving the relationship among the Middle East countries:

  • Turkey is focusing on establishing peace with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Although it had tried to trouble them using other Muslim countries.
  • Saudi Arabia and Iran are now exploring means to reduce bilateral tensions and moderate their proxy wars in the region. 
  • Saudi Arabia has also refrained from isolating Qatar from the Gulf region.
  • Similarly, UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan are trying to normalize their hostilities with Israel. These 4 Arab states recognized Israel as an independent state in 2020.
How India and Pakistan have responded?
  • India’s approach towards Middle East countries:
    • The country has maintained its approach of dealing with all the gulf countries, without focusing on their regional rivalries.
    • There has been a little friction in the relationship with Turkey owing to the policies of President Erdogan. However, India is hopeful of improving the relations post the withdrawal.
  • Pakistan’s Approach towards Middle East countries:
    • The country has struggled to adopt a pragmatic policy due to domestic politics and ideological considerations. 
      • For instance, it has not established diplomatic ties with Israel. Despite knowing that a normal relationship with the Jewish state serves Pakistan’s interest.
    • Earlier, the country tried to construct a new Islamic bloc with Turkey and Malaysia in order to overpower the Saudi-led bloc. However, its huge economic dependence on Saudi Arabia and UAE induced it to establish good relations with them.
  • Bilateral Relations:
    • Some experts believe that Pakistan is now adopting a softer stance towards India as its relevance will get reduced post-U.S withdrawal.
    • Both the countries have maintained the February 2021 ceasefire along the Line of Control.
    • Pakistan is also trying to delink the question of India’s 2019 constitutional changes in Kashmir from the normalization of bilateral relations.

Despite improvement in bilateral relations, both countries want US forces to stay in Afghanistan. 

Why do India and Pakistan want the U.S forces to stay in Afghanistan?
  • India – The presence would keep a check on the rise of extremist forces like the Taliban. This would have enabled India to play a greater role in Afghanistan.
  • Pakistan – The presence would sustain the dependence of the US on Pakistan for geographic access and operational support in combating terrorism. This dependence can, later on, be used as a bargaining chip in International relations.
  • Further, the trans-border links between the Taliban and other extremist forces in South Asia would be strengthened without US forces. It is extremely worrisome as the region is already surrounded by a significant degree of terrorism as testified by the May 2021 attack on the former president of the Maldives. 

Way Forward:

  • The South Asian states must collaborate on countering extremism and terrorism, else every one of them will be weakened.
  • They should realize that the national interest of the state must prevail over all other considerations, including religious ones.
  • The middle eastern countries should also cooperate on pragmatic lines rather than working on old ideological tropes like pan-Islamism, pan-Arabism, or anti-Americanism.

Source: Indian Express


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