April 28, 2008

THINKING CAP TIME:

Friends with Iran or kiss of death? (P R Kumaraswamy, April 28, 2008, Rediff)

The visit marks an interesting phase in India's foreign policy. This is the first formal meeting between the mercurial Iranian leader and Prime Minister Singh. Ever since he was elected President in July 2005, Ahmadinejad has been trying to consolidate his stature and international acceptance. With Western criticisms and disapprovals getting louder, he needed to be seen in different parts of the world and courted by prominent world leaders. He visited all major non-Western powers such as China, Russia and of course Venezuela, which has emerged as the torchbearer of growing anti-Americanism in the Third World.

Partly to further Indo-Iranian ties, but primarily to enhance his international profile and acceptance, Ahmadinejad has been keen to meet Indian leaders. Such an opportunity came in June 2006 during the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Council where both India and Iran are 'observers'. Timing, however, was bad. Photo opportunity with Ahmadinejad, the Indian leader feared, would have hardened the critics of the nuclear deal then on Capitol Hill. Hence, Dr Singh skipped that meeting and instead sent Petroleum Minister Murli Deora.

Indeed when Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee went to Teheran in February last year, the Iranian officials ambushed him by suggesting a summit meeting among leaders of India, Iran and Pakistan to sort out their differences over the gas pipeline.
Thus, by hosting the Iranian leader, what does India convey to the outside world? Going by the working of the UPA government, one can infer a few possible explanations.

The visit is most likely to be used by the government to exhibit its 'independent' foreign policy vis-�-vis the US. This would partially assuage the Left and its supporters within the establishment. Spin doctors might stretch it further and hope that by hosting the Iranian leader the government could make the Left 'flexible' on the nuclear deal.

The sudden silence adopted by the US following its initial displeasure over the Indian decision should also be seen within this context. Washington might see the visit as a small price for larger cooperation with India.


Let us pretend for just a moment that there is such a thing as geostrategic thinking and that folks are ever able to engage in it, without details of the moment and personal feelings intervening. Now let us ask ourselves what genuinely troubling political phenomena remain extant in the world. The first, obviously the most important, is the nuclear-armed totalitarian regime in China. As it implodes--due to political repression, ethnic tensions, demographic imbalances, etc.--it could lash out at neighbors and create difficult situations for America to deal with. The other is Salafist Islam, which, while it does not control any regimes, creates some level of instability in numerous states and is especially virulent in the Tribal Areas between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. Of particular note here is that Iran is a Shi'a state and, thus, an entirely heretical nation in Salafist ideology. Meanwhile, to Pakistan's East lies India, a historic enemy with a Hindu regime.

Given this context, it takes not one lick of foreign policy expertise to perceive that India is the single most important American ally in the world today, situated, as it is, between the two sources of trouble. And, given the threat that resides in Pakistan, between India and Iran, it is ridiculously easy to see why they are natural allies.

It's a short step from there to grasp that because we share a common enemy, America, India and Iran are in all likelihood destined to make common cause, irrespective of the bumptious current president of the Islamic Republic. While domestic political concerns mitigate against a rapproachment between the US and Iran in the short term, electoral processes and historic inevitabilities will take care of the obstacles in the medium term. This reality would explain why we would not make a big humturum about India/Iran relations, were we thinking in such longer terms....

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 28, 2008 7:46 AM
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