January 7, 2007Foreign Affairs

Collecting thoughts on Iran

The foreign policy challenge for India this year is to evolve a new Iran strategy. Here are some considerations

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Excerpts from previous posts (from 21st Feb 2005 to 5th Jan 2007), quoted almost entirely in chronological order.

India needs Iran for very much the same reasons as the United States needs Saudi Arabia. Both countries are run by autocratic fundamentalists who have exported terrorism in pursuance of their ideological and geopolitical goals. So India would have as much of an appetite to enforce a violent regime change in Iran as the United States would have with respect to Saudi Arabia. Therefore if the sole purpose of an alliance between the United States and India is to challenge Iran (or Saudi Arabia), then such an alliance, as Praktike puts it, is not going to happen any time soon. [Iran does not stand in the way of better US-India relations]

Iran’s relationship with the United States is in a state of flux, and its nuclearisation, should it happen, has profound implications for India too. As long as the Iranian regime remains at loggerheads with the United States, it is not prudent to enter into deals that require investment in long-term fixed infrastructure. That does not mean India has to yield to American pressure on how it conducts its relations with Iran. [American concerns on the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline]

And there is Iran. While India would almost certainly not wish to take a provocative line with the Iranian regime, it can play its part in the good cop-bad cop routine. [

Condi Rice’s visit is not just a sales call]

Iran does not depend on funds from the pipeline project to develop its nuclear capabilities or fund terrorism. It has been doing so for a long time without ever having sold any significant amount of oil and gas to India. Indeed, it is unlikely to stop doing so if India were to abandon its plans to build the pipeline. [The United States must offer better arguments]

If India had retained control (or its claim to) the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir, it would have had a chance to attempt a land route to Afghanistan, albeit through difficult terrain. But with India foreign policy clearly on a path that seeks to formalise the Line of Control into an international boundary, it is unlikely that India will ever be able to have a overland route to Afghanistan that does not cross Pakistani territory. The only alternative is through Iran. This involves a sea-route between Indian and Iranian ports, followed by overland transit across Iran.

To India, the attractiveness of the Iranian option grows with every Pakistani move at linking transit trade to Kashmir. If the United States desires to prevent this from happening, then it must lean on Pakistan to stop being metaphorical bone in India’s (and Afghanistan’s) kebab. [The bone in the kebab]

Contrary to what it is made out to be, it is not true that India will burn its bridges with Iran by voting in favour of referring the case over to the UN Security Council. While it is certain that India will have to make a significant withdrawal from its bilateral relationship account, it is hardly the case that this will send the balance into the red. And if it does, and the Iranians send a with-us-or-against-us message, then the choice should be pretty clear. Nobody in India, not even the Communists, can argue that India is worse off on the side of the United States than on the side of Iran. But it is unlikely that this will ever come to pass for the ruling theocracy in Iran too intelligent to present such stark options to India. [What India needs to do about Iran’s nuclear programme]

In fact, now more than ever, it is clear that the Iranian regime has decided on a course of confrontation on the nuclear issue. It is also clear that it is unwilling to accept any compromise that does not leave it with a capacity to produce weapons-grade uranium at short notice, perhaps within months. Iran’s centrifuges are of Pakistani vintage. But how deep and how recent is their nuclear nexus? No one knows. (If India votes) shield Iran, however, means that no one will ever know. [Declaring the hand on Iran]

Iran’s ready retaliation suggests that merely being a big buyer is not good enough to secure fuel supplies. In the absence of a larger bilateral economic relationship — two-way trade and investment — it is quite easy for the fuel supplier to blackmail India by threatening to and actually cutting off supply. Therefore India must either procure fuel from countries with whom it has broad-based economic relations or rapidly build them up with those it doesn’t. [The Iranian regime’s true colours]

The Acorn has argued that there is an alternative to the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline. That alternative relies on investing in facilities and infrastructure at home to be able to plug in to the global energy supply chain. This will allow India to purchase natural gas not just from Iran, but also from any other country that sells it, including Russia, Indonesia and Timor Leste. But no single supplier will be hold the government to ransom. [An Ukrainian lesson (for India)]

There’s something in it for Indian policymakers too: another good reason to dump that pipeline project—Iran does not have enough gas to pump across. [Children, this is called analysis]

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