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New thinking in India’s Iran policy

By M K Bhadrakumar | Rediff | February 2, 2012

Finally, India is getting its act together in its Iran policy. The ‘breaking news’ that India proposes to robustly explore expanding its trade with Iran signals a new approach to stepping up oil imports from Iran while at the same time rectifying the imbalance in trade, which heavily favours Iran traditionally, and to make this happen within a paradigm that resolves the current problem over the payment mechanism.

The new thinking is an acknowledgement of Iran’s importance as a strategic partner. That is where the rub lies. Delhi has lumped far too long the blackmail tactic by Washington with the malicious intention to erode India’s ties with Iran. Indeed, as result, for no real fault of Tehran, the India-Iran relationship suffered needless setbacks in the recent years.

Delhi should never accept that this is a zero sum game – India’s relationships with the US and Iran respectively. Iran is far too important a regional power in India’s extended neighbourhood to be neglected. There is no need to dilate on this thought.

Other Asian countries like Japan, South Korea or Malaysia have successfully managed to have positive relationships with both Iran and the GCC states. Also, GCC states themselves have maintained highly nuanced relationships with Iran. In a long term perspective, it is far from inevitable that Iran’s rise is an irreconcilable eventuality for the GCC states.

Much of the present-day tensions in the Persian Gulf is also to be attributed to the imperial policy of ‘divide-and-rule’ that the West continues to pursue in the region for the sake of perpetuating their hegemony. Finally, the US-Iran standoff itself is increasingly becoming unsustainable if Washington is to optimally develop a regional strategy. The point is, Iran has already bolted away.

China sees all these trends very clearly and is successfully developing a multi-tiered regional strategy that creates space for pursuing fruitful relations with Iran and GCC –  and even Israel – alike.

Indeed, it is also best for a healthy US-India partnership that it is an equal relationship where neither side takes undue advantage or tries to browbeat or resorts to prescriptive approaches and arm-twisting. In this case, the US policy toward Iran also happens to be vacuous, lacking sincerity of purpose; it is opaque and brittle – and increasingly, US comes to realise that even its European allies are reluctant to follow its lead. Therefore, it is simply appalling that US has chosen to harbour expectations of dictating to Delhi the directions and content of its Iran policy.

Of course, the American side is not to bear the entire blame, either. Somehow, the Indian elites (including bureaucrats) and strategic pundits have come to develop an atavistic fear that US-Indian partnership is highly perishable unless Delhi keeps harmonising its policies with the US global strategies even by sacrificing its interests. This sort of inferiority complex is completely unwarranted.

The heart of the matter is that the US is a highly experienced practitioner of diplomacy. If it began abandoning its historic cussedness toward India sometime during Bill Clinton administration’s second term, it was because Washington saw the growth potential of India and the great possibilities that would arise for a beneficial relationship.

Even today, that consideration is the prime mover of the US polices toward India. It is a well-known fact that after being grumpy for a few weeks after India spurned the US offer for the 10-billion dollar multi-purpose aircraft tender, Washington moved on.

We could also learn from the Americans – how doggedly they keep pursuing their regional strategies through the Afghan endgame, no matter what Delhi thinks of it. Suffice to say, the high probability is that India’s Iran policy may displease Washington for a while and then life will move on. As for the fear complex of the Indian elites or pundits, it is borne more out of their own insecurities vis-a-vis the US establishment and it should remain their private affair.

February 3, 2012 - Posted by | Economics | ,

2 Comments »

  1. Your prognosis about a change in India’s strategic thinking towards Iran is thinner than water. India’s inability to abide by American dictate on oil purchases from Iran is quite exceptional. India cannot follow America without putting its economy in great turmoil. On other issues India is apparently following the American-Israeli leadership.

    Comment by Mohammed Mahmood | February 4, 2012 | Reply

    • India needs to repair its relations with China and Pakistan. Then we will see a real improvement all around.

      Meanwhile, the independence it is showing regarding Iran is a notable step in the right direction. Europe can’t even demonstrate such a level of independence. But then Europe is still occupied territory.

      Comment by aletho | February 4, 2012 | Reply


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