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Once Bitten, Twice Shy!


SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, June 13, 2012 14:22
Tags : india-us strategic dialogue | iran oil sanctions |

Tuesday night came as a bombshell. Well, not exactly unexpected but surely surprising. Ahead of the 3rd US-India Strategic Dialogue, the US waived India from Iran related unilateral sanctions citing India's determination to substantially decrease crude oil import from Iran. Naturally, mandarins in New Delhi are happy. It is being pegged as achievement. But there is a little problem here. Little, only because mandarins think so.

While the US is going all out with the news showing the world that the largest democracy in the world that aspires to be a superpower can so easily be coaxed to accept terms that will effect the equation detrimental to its interests. It also used it as a carrot to dangle before the serious issues are taken up in Washington.

On the other hand, Indian diplomats are in a fix. They are falling over each other to play down the news. It's a matter of image too. After-all the Minister of External Affairs of an up-coming superpower went on record, thrice, to assert that India only adheres to sanctions imposed by UN or related bodies. It ostensibly does not give a damn about unilateral sanctions. It was reasserted by the ministry spokesperson as well as Foreign Secretary as well. Considering that this volt-face does not reflect good. But let's analyze if it is really a volt-face, so to say.

The Indian-Iranian relation has hit the nadir in the last five years. One need not be an expert to see that. Normally, when the relationship between two nations deteriorates, it is a two-way affair. In this case, it's a single carriageway. India started the assault by voting against Iran several times in IAEA as well as UNSC. It was such an abrupt decision that India's representative at the UN body famously called back to make it sure if he read the instruction to vote against Iran right. It was followed by a refusal by India to launch an Iranian satellite, which in turn by followed by launching of an Israeli spy satellite targeting Iran by ISRO. It was also revealed later that India allowed Israel to taste an underwater weapon in its territorial water. There were other decisions as well. All this has led to what we are seeing here.

Last week's visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was indicative of how this relation will turn out in years to come. Typical of Indian bureaucracy, the visit was preceded by statements full of cliche and lofty words. Words to the effect of “civilizational links” and “age-old friendship” were used liberally. Now that is one indicator always that the relationship is nosediving. Experts and journalists covering MEA will confirm that when mandarins start talking about “civilizational links”, it basically means that there is not worthwhile at present to show. And that is what Indian-Iranian relationship has turned into.

It is now very obvious if one takes into account the pattern that India uses Iran as a hedging tool vis-a-vis the US every time there is a high profile visit to or from US in the offing. Clearly, when Krishna asserted that India will not heed unilateral sanctions, he dint mean it. He was hedging Iran for this all important US-India Strategic Dialogue. On that front, it appears for the time being that he has scored.

But thee is another aspect that needs to be focused. Afghanistan. I am not very sure how much mandarins in the South Block weigh Iranian diplomats and officials. I am also not sure if then consider them smart or not. What I am sure off is that I am yet to come across a diplomatic corp brighter than Iranians in west Asia. Surely, they too will be listening voices from Washington DC. Their next step would be detrimental. And no where will it be more detrimental than in Afghanistan. Pumped by the hubris of whatever, India has tried long to go alone in Afghanistan game. It has rather been sure of Tehran's cooperation as it sees convergence of interests in Afghanistan.

Talks of a chimera called North-South corridor stretching from Chabahar to central Asia has been raised time and again but in vain. India needs it desperately to get a foothold in Afghanistan. But that will change now. Iran will now see merits in such talk before taking any decision. It might also see merit in finding commonalities in its interest and that of Pakistan in Afghanistan. After all, after years of suspicion and distrust, Iran and Pakistan have started to work on a working relationship. And it has borne fruits too. Just to give an example, there has been a drastic decrease in anti-Iran terrorist activities inside Iran since Pakistan has barred American intelligence operatives from operating at its western borders. Second, in spite of the similar American pressure on Pakistan as on India, if not more, Iran and Pakistan have discussed different avenues for cooperation such as electricity, food-grains and others. And unlike India, Pakistan has shown much better resistance to American pressure. Surely, that message wouldn't be lost in Tehran.

As for Indian-Iranian relationship, expect a more terse and realpolitik response from Iran in years to come. I can bet my money that Prime Minister Singh will in all surety will give a miss to the upcoming NAM Summit in Tehran. It will only strengthen Iran's suspicion of India. Mandarins in New Delhi can now relax about Afghanistan and what happens there following the coalition troops pullout. We are ready to cut a sorry figure there.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog are that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Sunday Indian)
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017