Friday, January 27, 2012

India's Possible Folly in Iran

Now that Saddam Hussein is long gone and Iraq has been 'gifted' a democracy(what a travesty of that word) by United States and it's allies, the next 'rogue' regime to be targeted is Iran. Just recently, following the for steps of the US, the 27 member European Union has announced that it will virtually enforce an embargo on purchase of oil from Iran beginning July 1. The ostensible reason is to pressurize Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program and turn it back. The real reason of course is regime change. Ever since citizens of Iran overthrew an American imposed dictator Reza Pahlvi in an Islamic Revolution in 1979, Uncle Sam has been an implacable foe of Iran. Do remember, when Iran fought a war with Iraq under Saddam in the 1980s, it was America and Saudi Arabia that helped Iraq with money as well as arms.

Now, America and its allies are applying relentless pressure on India to toe the sanctions line against Iran. On the face of it, that might look innocuous. India imports PIL worth about $ 12 billion a year from Iran. Back channel diplomacy seems to be promising to make up that shortfall through the good offices of key American ally Saudi Arabia. Of course, with a total annual oil bill well in excess of $ 100 billion, that shortfall doesn't look menacing. And then again, many in Delhi are still so much in love with the delusion called an Indo-American alliance to check China, that they would urge India to do anything keep Uncle Sam happy.

But India must not support this gang up against Iran. It is in India's long term strategic interest to refuse to toe the American, Israeli and Saudi line. Two things must motivate Indian policy makers when they think about Iran. The first is the all important need to secure future energy supplies. The second is to not needlessly give ammunition to Jihadists with their propaganda that India is against the Muslim community. On both these counts, the interests of America and India-contrary to what many think- are actually diverging instead of converging. It would be stupid of India to rely on an unreliable ally like America for its future energy security. It must learn a lesson or two from China. Look at what happened when America and its allies decided that some countries like Myanmar and Sudan had gone rogue. Besotted with both idealism and a naive belief in America, India avoided building bridges with the two countries. China went merrily ahead and is now in an unviable position of having massive supplies of energy and other natural resources. It is only now that India is trying to play catch up with China in Myanmar. Even in Central Asian countries, China has marched way ahead in securing future energy supplies even as Indian policy makers waffled, hemmed and hawed. Look at this way, India is today staring at an annual trade deficit of $ 200 billion caused mostly by oil. Targeting Iran will inevitably mean a big rise in oil prices and a big rise in the trade deficit. Is India- with just about $ 300 billion in foreign currency reserves and a falling Rupee in a position to afford such nonsense?

Now look at recent history to figure out what will happen even if India goes the American line. In 2005, when middle class India was basking in the glory of a historic nuclear deal with America, our policy wonks did something incredibly stupid. As a gesture of goodwill towards Uncle Sam and with the hope that America will support India when it comes to our own vital interests. India voted for IAEA sanctions against Iran in 2005. The result, a lot of deals being worked by business houses like the Tatas and Ambanis with Iran went up in smoke. And what did India get in return? American didn't even supply crucial information obtained from David Coleman Headley about the 26/11 Terror attacks. It made a few polite noises but Hafeez Sayid of LET continues to openly preach Jihad against India. Of course, the Americans smoked out Osama Bin Laden and blithely killed him by openly violating Pakistani sovereignty. India is still twiddling it's thumbs. But the real shocker for Imdia is the manner in which America is negotiating with the Taliban even as it prepares to exit Afghanistan. Uncle Sam is simply shrugging off protests from India that letting the Taliban sneak in through the back door will be disastrous.

And don't blame America. It is doing what it thinks is best for its own strategic interests; others be damned. China too is openly saying that it will continue its 'good relations' with the Iranian regime. Isn't it time we in India too woke up and smelled the coffee. You don't use tools like hope and goodwill and hope while pursuing national interests. Indira Gandhi had shown us long ago that you need nerves of steel, and a backbone.


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