Why India could play honest broker between Iran and US

The recent fuss by the Americans about Iran’s nuclear programme and the ongoing war of words between the two countries is not a good thing as far as India is concerned. It could lead to grave consequences, and, therefore, it is a good idea to do something proactive to avoid further escalation.

In fact, what India should look at is the big picture. Based on its relatively good relationships with both countries, it could attempt to broker a deal which will, in effect, bring Iran back out of isolation – partly self-imposed and partly forced by the US because of Israeli paranoia – that is has faced for some years.

The media shrieking about Iran in the US has reached fever proportions, and there are suggestions of some major Armageddon coming up. This is laughable because of several reasons. One, whatever the West does (including targeted assassinations), it is quite likely that Iran will develop whatever nuclear technology it wants.

We have seen in the case of India and Pakistan that no amount of sanctions is going to have an effect on a determined and technologically-capable nation (especially if, as in the case of Pakistan, there is sugar-daddy China lurking in the background).

 Why India could play honest broker between Iran and US

Based on its relatively good relationships with Iran and the US, it could attempt to broker a deal which will bring Iran out of isolation. Reuters

Two, Iranian nuclear weapons are fundamentally less dangerous than nuclear weapons in the hands of unstable Pakistan, the epicentre of terrorism. Those with a certain sense of proportion and balance (which of course is rare in the US media, whose specialty is manufacturing consent) will see that Iran is a miscreant and Pakistan is a felon. If the US is content to let Pakistan harbour nukes, why scream so much about Iran? After all, Iran was unable to defeat even Iraq comprehensively; whereas the Pakistani army has for all practical purposes defeated the Americans in Afghanistan.

Three, despite the blood-curdling speeches by Prime Minister Mohammed Ahmedinejad, Iran is not exactly insane. In a region where there is increasing Sunni fundamentalism (the sad outcome of the Arab Spring) it is good to ensure that Shia Iran acts as a brake on the onward march of the good soldiers of Wahabism. An Iran to counterbalance a Saudi Arabia is simply good geopolitics.

Four, Iran is not rash enough to want to invite nuclear annihilation upon itself, which is the likely outcome if it were to attack Israel. The majority of people in Israel also do not favour a (pre-emptive) military strike in Iran, according to a New York Times story (“Preventing a Nuclear Iran, Peacefully”, on 15 January).

Five, an exhausted America is not going to be able to carry on another two-front war in Afghanistan and Iran; especially considering Iran probably has a lot more resources than Iraq did. So a military solution is probably not in the cards.

Therefore, a face-saving resolution of the crisis where everyone can claim victory is the desired outcome. India can be the peacemaker in this, and I say that not for any noble “world peace” conceit that got India to moralise (and annoy everyone else in the process) in the past. It is because it is the best outcome for India’s enlightened self-interest.

No, it is not because India has some silly sentiments about ancient civilisational links with Iran (but there is a convergence of regional geopolitical interests). No, it is not because India is a sell-out to Israel (despite the large arms purchases). It is because of cold, hard realpolitik.

There are three reasons why India should try to intervene.

First, India would not at all be happy if the Straits of Hormuz are closed. Iran is one of India’s principal suppliers of oil, and if the spigot is turned off, this would be a major problem for India.

The reason the US is rattling sabres so cavalierly is that it has reduced its dependence on oil from this region because of its increasing reliance on shale gas and other new discoveries in North America. India, and for that matter, China, does not have that luxury. India is dependent on the smooth functioning of the Indian Ocean shipping lanes.

Second, if there a détente between Iran and the US, the entire complexion of the Afghanistan situation would change overnight. At the moment, the US is dependent on the Pakistani army to get a significant chunk of its military materiel to Afghanistan. There are northern routes through Central Asia, but they are not convenient. This is the Damocles’ sword the Pakistanis hold over the US.

However, if Iran were to allow access to its ports and its long border with Afghanistan, Pakistan’s geographic advantage would evaporate in an instant, and the US would gladly wash its hands of the obstreperous Pakistanis, who are clearly playing a double game. Without American attention, Pakistanis can go back to their game of killing each other, and nobody would care.

As a bonus, any diminution in the geopolitical fortunes of Pakistan would be a blow to its principal patron and all-weather friend China as well. This, of course, is an outcome greatly to be desired, as a rampaging China is a threat to itself and the rest of Asia.

Third, an Iran that is not treated as a pariah (remember how India was forced to vote against it in the UN based on US pressure during the so-called ‘nuclear deal’ days?) would mean that India can expand its relationship with that country without fear of sanctions and suchlike. India has invested in an Iranian port at Chah Bahar, and has plans to build a 900 km railroad to Afghanistan. Trade to Central Asia through this link is also possible.

There could also be some variant of the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline that skirts Pakistan and comes directly to India (it would make no sense for India to intentionally make itself hostage to an overland pipeline in Pakistan).

Thus the benefits, both tactical and strategic, for India are quite clear in playing peacemaker. It remains to be seen if the mandarins in the foreign ministry figure out a way of not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory yet again.

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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2012 11:16:14 IST