Bharat is trying to balance the relation between Saudi Arabia and Iran which have been at loggerheads all the time. However this time there is opportunity to really gain from the ensuing conflict.
Saudi Arabia carried out the largest mass execution in the country since 1980, putting 47 people to death which included 4 Shia men on January 2, 2016. Among them was the Shia Cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was condemned to death way back in October 2014. As he was hanged along with other 44 al-Qaeda convicts, Saudis took a gamble that it would go unnoticed. He was buried in a local “Muslim” cemetery as was told to his relatives. It was reckless act as commented by many people. This act added oil in the sectarian fires high up in the region. The indirect proxy and cold war between Saudis and Iran has now turned into direct confrontation. On the very next day of execution, no less than Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publically denounced the execution of the cleric calling him a martyr. In a typical theologian’s fashion, Khamenei called the execution as a political mistake of Saudis that they put to death a scholar who led silent protests against the cruel regime discriminating against the co-religionist Shia brothers. He cursed the Saudi regime and the ruling Al Saud family for “having unjustly spilled blood of this oppressed martyr. It will no doubt soon show its effects and divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians”.
Within hours of the address by the supreme leader, mob attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate at Meshhad. Mobsters stormed the embassy, hurled Petrol bombs and stones, ransacked the building and broke furniture before they were evicted. Although no casualties were reported, it created political fallout. Top officials from the Shia dominated countries, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria condemned the execution. Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain and Nigeria cut the diplomatic ties with Iran. Kuwait recalled its envoy back from Tehran. Many other Gulf states protested. The Muslim world stands divided into the Shia-Sunni factions as never before. As such after the advent of the Arab summer (not spring) Arab world instead of ushering in to the age of democracy, plunged into the sectarian violence. All the while these two leading entities kept themselves away from the direct confrontation, playing the proxy war. However hanging of the cleric Nimr was the last straw on the back of the camel.
This hanging came out of desperation and at the risk of opening confrontation with Iran. The late cleric was opponent of the Saudi royal family. He delivered fiery sermons and even suggested for seceding from Saudi Arabia. He carried deep influence on the younger generation of Shia in the oil rich eastern province. Any possibility of seceding of the Shia populated eastern province would adversely affect the future of the Saudi royals and the kingdom. Of late Saudi Arabia was disturbed by the US nuclear deal with Iran and lifting of sanctions imposed on Iran. That brought Iran in direct competition for the elevated status among the Islamic fraternity. After persistent urgings by both Saudis and Qatar to remove Bashar Al-Assad from Syria, US didn’t do much to oblige Saudis on that account. Then followed the entry of Russia, directly into the battle ground. With strong Russian favour, there are no signs of Assad being removed. Possibly Saudis will have to accept continuance of his regime in Syria in foreseeable future. His removal appeared to be farfetched. And virtually in desperation Saudis undertook the extreme step of executing Sheikh Al-Nimr.
Stand in future
Shia-Sunni feud is endemic in the Islamic world. Periodically it erupts. So also, the mobster attacking the foreign embassies in Tehran is not a new thing for Iran. As such we are balancing the relation between the two countries which have been at loggerheads all the time. However this time there is opportunity to really gain from the ensuing conflict.
Our relations with Iran are at sounder footing at this juncture. Iran has been wooing Bharat for purchasing crude oil. Earlier under the pressure of US sanctions, Bharat had stopped import of Iranian crude. Some of our refineries were then geared for processing the crude sourced from Saudi Arabia. However just a month ago, in mid-December the National Iranian Oil company’s international director, SM Ghamsari visited the Bharateeya refineries and offered very attractive terms of trade. These included credit of 90 days, free shipping and discount on the crude prices for the new grades of crude. Here is an opportunity to substantially reduce dependence on Saudi oil which will be helpful in the long run.
Iran has proposed to open banks in Bharat. We have sizeable import-export dealings with Iran. Our exports amount to $4.2 billion and oil imports to $8.9 billion. Opening of Iranian banks here will further facilitate the trade and commerce. Iran has been after us and Pakistan to purchase natural gas. Work of pipeline is being initiated after years of dithering because of sanctions. Once the gas supply starts, our dependence on oil import on Saudi Arabia will be considerably reduced.
There is an urgent need for Bharat to enter into the solar PV basic chip production. At present we import all the chip material and modules are fabricated here. However with projection to set up 100 GW solar power production capacity within decade, it is must for us to start our own production. In that case we can help Iran to set up Mega scale solar plants in the desert regions of Iranian Sistan—Baluchistan. It will help Iran with reduction in consumption of the oil based fuel. Because the oil deposits in Iran are not as enormous as in the Gulf States or the Middle East. It will be a win-win situation for both and it will truly be an Indo-Iranian venture.
The oil prices are sliding down like anything. As on January 12, 2016, prices have declined to $30 per barrel. At this rate it will be difficult for Saudi Arabia to sustain the crude production. At this juncture Saudi Arabia has announced to part with shares of the oil producing company Saudi Aramco. It is the largest crude producing company. We must show the foresight to have some sizeable share in the company. Eventually our technocrats can get entry into higher positions and have a say in the crude market.
As regards our relations with Saudi Arabia, these are bit problematic. Saudi Arabia has friendly relations with Bharat. During the recent terrorist attack at Pathankot, Saudi Arabia silently shared sensitive information regarding the terrorists with us. However one real menace that is associated with Saudi Arabia is the export of Wahhabism from that country. And not only Bharat but almost all the countries with sizeable Muslim population are facing the internal conflicts due to extremism rising out of inculcation of Wahhabism. Initially the rise of al-Qaeda and recently ISIS owes it to the funding these organisations received from Saudi and neighbouring oil rich Sheikhdoms. The time has come to stop funding not only to these organisations but to all and sundry local madrassas which have thrived on Saudi funding. As of today, Saudis have started facing the money crunch. This is the right time for Bharat to clearly indicate to the Saudis to stop totally any funding their outfits in Bharat. It has so happened that the radicalised Wahhabi recruits are now turning to the deadly Caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Bhasmasur—the cremating demon, raised by Saudi Arabia over the decades is now proving detrimental to the creator himself. Only Bharat with its standing in the world can effectively convey the message to the Saudi royals that the time has come to end the export of Wahhabism and associated inculcation of Kafirophobia.
Dr Pramod Pathak (The writer is keen observer of the Islamic world)