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4th West Asia Conference: "Ten Years of Political and Economic Transformation in West Asia: Lessons, Challenges and Prognosis for the Future"

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  • February 26, 2020 to February 27, 2020
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Concept Note

    The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses has been organising its biennial West Asia Conference since 2014. Over the years, this flagship conference has dealt with a number of critical issues facing West Asia and North Africa (WANA)— such as the paradigmatic shifts in the region’s geopolitical landscape; the growing impact of ideological and socio-political movements on regional and international security and stability; the global, regional and intra-regional responses to the ongoing multi-vector convulsions in the social, political, environmental, demographic, trade, energy and economic domains, etc. The forum has also discussed the concerns and challenges facing countries, and organisations, as well as the prospects of various initiatives and proposals for improved security, stability and development of the region. IDSA’s West Asia Conference provides an important platform for academics, policymakers, semi-government and government officials from participating countries to discuss issues of mutual concern and explore avenues of cooperation. Countries and organisations stretching the vast expanse of WANA participate in the IDSA conference to discuss issues in a free and frank manner. In addition, participants from other regions and institutions concerned with peace and development in West Asia, such as from the United States, Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Korea, and Africa, are regular invitees who make the deliberations comprehensive and productive.

    As popular protests removed four longstanding regimes across WANA earlier this decade, the ensuing geopolitical situation grew more complex. The process of transition from authoritarianism to participatory politics has been painful and inconclusive. As a result, thousands of people have been killed, millions internally displaced, while others have become refugees in neighbouring countries in need of humanitarian assistance. Tunisia is probably the only partial success story with elections held to elect representatives and government. The latest wave of popular protests in Algeria, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq are reflective of the fact that the basic aspirations of the youth remain unaddressed. The fact that protests have continued unabated in the face of the severe crackdown by the regimes shows that the fervour for democracy is here to stay. Further, the situation in Syria, Libya and Yemen continues to deteriorate with growing sectarian, ethnic and tribal divisions. The efforts of the UN and other international actors have been ineffective, as parties to the conflict have remained adamant in their approach.

    Taking advantage of the continuing chaos, several terrorist and extremist elements have emerged and entrenched themselves in a number of countries. Al-Qaeda, its affiliates and a numerous other local terrorist and militia groups continue to present huge challenges for regional and global peace and security. Despite setbacks in WANA, the ISIS and Al-Qaeda are now focusing their attention on South Asia.  

    The regional geopolitical situation in WANA continues to remain fluid and unexpected.  The signing of the Iranian nuclear deal called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in July 2015 was believed to be a new opening in the region. But President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA has brought back the animosity and heightened tensions in the Gulf. The attacks on the oil tankers and installations inside Saudi Arabia raise fears of escalation. The crisis within the GCC continues to affect regional geopolitics. The boycott of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt has led to Qatar coming closer to Iran and Turkey. This is a reflection of change in the existing balance of power in the Gulf region. The emergence of a strong Iran-Turkey-Qatar relationship alters the existing geopolitics and regional security architecture. A power struggle among the key regional players is further complicating the regional security situation.

    The continuing political instability and armed conflict have severely impacted the economic development in the WANA region. The economic prospects for this region have been grim in recent years. The region has one of the world’s highest unemployment rates as well as the world’s slowest GDP per capita growth rate. The drastic fall in oil prices by around 60 per cent in 2014 had a severe impact on the economies of the oil exporting countries. The economy of the WANA region witnessed stagnation as a result of low oil prices, prolonged political instability, terrorist attacks, spread of violent armed conflicts and civil wars.

    In 2010, before the outbreak of the protests, the World Bank had projected a growth rate of 4.4 per cent for the WANA region. The years of political instability, conflicts and violence that followed deeply affected economic growth. In 2015, the World Bank estimated that GDP growth for the region would be around 2.8 per cent. The region’s economic growth now is almost half of what it was before the unrest began in 2011. The World Bank now predicts that the economies of the WANA region would continue at a pace of 1.5 to 3.5 per cent during 2019-2021.

    Amid the continuing instability and violence, the issue of energy security has been a key concern for the oil importing countries in Asia, such as India, China, Japan and South Korea. Production and supply of oil has been affected as a result of the conflicts, leading to revenue losses to the oil producing countries. The emergence of non-OPEC oil suppliers, such as the US, also has the potential to affect the present status quo in the oil market. This will certainly affect the oil-based economies of the Gulf region.

    From India’s perspective the West Asian region is of great importance. India’s bilateral trade with the region is around US$ 200 billion and India imports more than 60 per cent of its energy requirements from the region. There are about nine million Indians living in the region whose safety and security is a concern for New Delhi. Any challenge to regional security or weakening of the economies in WANA will have a direct impact on the economy and security of India. To secure its economic and strategic interests, India has pursued extremely active diplomacy since 2014.

    One of the most significant foreign policy initiatives of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the importance accorded to further strengthening India’s relationship with its ‘extended neighbourhood’, particularly in West Asia. Though the region has been going through political and economic turbulence, India has maintained momentum in its engagements with WANA. There have been substantive improvements in political, economic, security and defence relations. India has deepened engagements with a large number of countries of the region on the issue of countering terrorism. The invitation by the OIC to India to participate as the “Guest of Honour” to address the inaugural plenary held in Abu Dhabi in March 2019  is a reflection of growing acceptance of India’s  rising international profile, growing economy and its views and positions, especially on the issues of terrorism and extremism, among the countries of the region. The fact that the efforts by countries inimical to India to internationalise issues internal to India including those pertaining to Jammu & Kashmir, have not received any traction in the region, is a reflection of strengthening relations and India’s growing engagement with the countries of the region. Further, India’s principled positions on regional issues have enabled her to articulate her views in a balanced manner while maintaining good relations with all countries.

    The WANA region has attracted intervention from several regional and extra-regional players in the face of political instability, socio-economic uncertainty and escalating violence. This further complicates the already complex situation. These crises and challenges necessitate meticulous monitoring, in-depth analyses and more frequent exchanges among scholars and policy-makers to find ways for lasting regional peace, stability and security. In that direction, this conference intends to spur in-depth and open dialogue among scholars and policy-makers from India, the WANA region and beyond, in order to analyse the problems and challenges, draw the right lessons and gain informed solutions for enduring peace and prosperity in the region and further enhance India’s engagement.

    The following key questions, among many others, would be discussed during the conference: 

    1. What are the key political, security and economic challenges the region is facing since the beginning of the protests in 2011 and what are the important lessons to be drawn?
    2. What are the key links between regional instability and economic development in West Asia? How have been political turbulence and armed conflicts impacting the regional economic development and energy politics? 
    3. How have the economic and social indicators such as unemployment, access to education, social inequality, ethnic and sectarian divide affected the future course of regional politics and economy?
    4. What are the key economic stakes of the important extra-regional powers such as the US, Russia, Europe, China and India?
    5. How is India adapting to the new regional security and economic realities in the West Asian region? What could be a possible roadmap for India’s engagement in future to secure its strategic and economic interests?