Ansari calls for more research on West Asia

August 8th, 2008 - 9:42 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 8 (IANS) Underlining India’s multi-faceted economic and cultural engagement with West Asia, Vice President Hamid Ansari Friday called for more funds for focused research on the region, which is home to over 4.5 million-strong Indian diaspora. “In knowledge terms, West Asia ends up being a rain shadow area,” Ansari said at the launch of a book titled “West Asia and the Region: Defining India’s role” at his residence here.

“The tragedy, and I dare say absurdity, of it is that this is happening at a time of most intensive economic engagement and geopolitical relevance,” said Ansari, a former diplomat who has served as India’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“More funds for focused research, more rigorous scrutiny of the research product, and greater familiarity with ground conditions are called for,” he said while emphasising the importance of the energy-rich region for India.

“A higher frequency of inter-disciplinary interaction among scholars, within the country and abroad, would assist the process. It would be an investment worth making,” he said.

Instead of perfunctory words of praise that goes with such occasions, Ansari chose to highlight gaps in Indian scholars’ knowledge of West Asia.

“Generally speaking and exceptions apart, the Indian scholarship on West Asia is lacking in micro-analysis. One reason for it is paucity of language experts; another is inadequacy of field work,” he said.

“If these gaps are covered, matters would be very different,” he added.

“Is our level of knowledge, for instance, up to what has been attained in regard to China or Japan? Is not the totality of our interaction with the region, in terms of the imperatives of national interest, justification enough for doing so?” he asked.

“West Asia and the Region,” published by Academic Foundation, is a compilation of papers presented on different aspects of India’s engagement with the region at a seminar organised by the Jamia Millia Islamia two years ago.

The book has been edited by Rajendra Abhyankar, India’s former ambassador to Syria and Turkey and an expert on the region, and has a foreword by eminent historian Mushirul Hassan, vice chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia University.

Abhyankar spoke about “seemingly inexhaustible fund of goodwill for India in the region” and exhorted policy makers and academics to enhance their knowledge of the region.

“India could not remain immune to developments in the region, whether positive or negative. It’s an interlocutor that is connected to all sides,” Abhyankar said while alluding to India’s multi-faceted economic and strategic partnership with the region.

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