By Sandhya Jain
It is to Tehran'scredit that it has recovered its composure over India'sshocking vote at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting at Vienna, and announced that it will go ahead with the US $21 billion LNG deal with New Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who played his cards so close to his chest that Iranian President Ahmadinejad had no inkling of the forthcoming volte face, must now ensure that New Delhi does not endorse America'sbullying tactics in November, and further alienate a valuable ally.
Anybody can pick up the world atlas and see that American national interests and global supercop ambitions are at variance with India'slegitimate concerns. Washington has had no diplomatic ties with Tehran since the fall of the puppet Mohammad Reza Pehlavi in 1979, but New Delhi, under the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, forged a relationship that survived the fall of the Shah and shored up its security concerns vis-?-vis Pakistan. It is no secret that Tehran'sgood relations with Kabul checkmate Islamabad'ssearch for ?strategic depth,? which can only be a relief to New Delhi, especially after our experience with the Taliban regime in the Kandahar plane hijack disaster.
By all accounts, the decision to vote against Iran appears to have been taken only in concert with the White House, and this puts an unhappy interpretation upon President Bush'scertificate that
It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister is perceived as undermining India'ssecurity and economic interests by dovetailing foreign policy to suit Washington. By all accounts the decision to vote against Iran appears to have been taken only in concert with the White House, and this puts an unhappy interpretation upon President Bush'scertificate that Dr Manmohan Singh is a ?good man? with whom America can ?do business?. Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran'sadmission that the decision on the vote was taken late at night has reinforced the decision that India is not pursuing an independent foreign policy, and has became what BJP leader Yashwant Sinha calls a ?client state? of the United States.
Given the startling nature of the foreign policy deviation, the Prime Minister should have taken the Union Cabinet, principal UPA allies, as well as former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Leader of the Opposition into confidence before making his move. It is worth mentioning that Mrs Indira Gandhi took Mr Vajpayee into confidence when making critical moves, such as the decisions to invade East Pakistan and to go nuclear. But so unilateral was Mr Singh'smove that even Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, who only last month visited Iran and said the nuclear issue should not be referred to the Security Council, was caught unaware.
Dr Manmohan Singh owes an explanation why New Delhi did not abstain from voting on the European Union resolution referring Iran to the Security Council for alleged nuclear non-proliferation violations, as Russia and China did. Congressman Tom Lantos, the highest ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, has since made it clear that he expects New Delhi to ?support Washington'sefforts to ostracise Iran,? or the ?goodwill will dissipate,? and this does not bode well for the pursuit of an independent foreign policy based on national self-interest. One can only wonder what more Mr Bush will extract from New Delhi in return for the so-called peaceful nuclear cooperation and defence pact.
If India does not reverse the vote in November, Iranian disappointment could turn into anger. Even if this does not endanger the LNG deal, Tehran could move closer to China, which has cultivated both Iran and Pakistan with subtlety, and such an axis in our neighbourhood could prove politically costly. With Iraq under alien occupation, India has few friends in the Gulf region.
If India is seriously interested in emerging as a world economic power, it can hardly afford to alienate Iran which has rich oil reserves. Our growing energy needs make us a good market for Iran's812 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves; but Tehran could well take its business elsewhere or refuse us favourable terms if we hurt its larger interests. It should be borne in mind that despite an explicit assurance from the UN that America would not be allowed to ?steal? Iraqi oil after occupying the country, it is a fact that American oil companies have cut deals in that country. India, however, is still waiting for its share of the ?reconstruction? pie!
Dr Manmohan Singh is a ?good man? with whom America can ?do business?.
In the circumstances, New Delhi would do well to patch up with Iran and give up the idea of a gas pipeline through Pakistan. This is not a good idea because Pakistan can trip up our supplies whenever it wants to blackmail us on Kashmir. Worse, since the US State Department has close links with fundamentalist regimes and terrorist groups, such blackmail could be proposed and supported by Washington!
New Delhi and Tehran have joint interests in protecting Central Asian oil reserves from outside powers. Iran is an important transit point for Central Asia, and will not like Western powers interfering in the region. Even less would it like Western presence in an Iraq in which the Shia majority is coming into its own. New Delhi could do good business with a Shia Iran and Shia Iraq. It would also do well to reach out to the oil-rich Kurds, since separation of the country seems inevitable in the long run.
For America, it should be enough that India is not likely to help Iran acquire a nuclear reactor. As for Iran'sthreat that it will resume uranium enrichment and block UN inspection of its nuclear facilities unless the threat of UN sanctions is withdrawn, that is an internal matter of that country. India, however, could be an unintended beneficiary of a nuclear Iran, which would balance a nuclear Pakistan! With so much to gain from Iranian friendship, one cannot but wonder why Dr Manmohan Singh believes that a bird in hand is less than the bird in the Bush (pun intended).