Iranian paranoia

Like time and tide national security/foreign policy issues await none, not even a government in Delhi distracted by the Foreign Direct Investment Bill, five state elections, the Uttar Pradesh one critical to the demise or consolidation of UPA-2, or flip-flops over religion-based quotas etc.

Ironically the Supreme Courts of both India and Pakistan are contending with corruption issues and irate Army Chiefs. The difference being, as the wit quips, though the Indian government normally determines the Indian Army Chief’s tenure and the Pakistani Army Chiefs that of Pakistani governments, both are currently clueless.
Levity aside, the storm clouds over India’s extended neighbourhood need immediate handling, despite the government’s domestic distractions. A mishap was averted when the attempted coup in Bangladesh was aborted. If successful, it would have undone the rebuilding of a secular and pro-India fabric by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s churlish boycott of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Bangladesh visit, on parochial grounds, was unwise. To prosper, West Bengal needs, not doles from the Central government, but rail and road connectivity through Burma and Bangladesh to the 10 Asean nations, making it a bridge for investment and trade. Ms Hasina must be strengthened to exorcise the ghosts of Pakistani genocide in 1970-71 and participate in the Indian economic surge.
The electronic media entirely and the others largely ignored the visit of Dai Bingguo, Chinese state councillor and special representative for the 15th Sino-Indian border talks. Being Mr Dai’s farewell visit, as the fifth generation of leaders take over this year, he radiated controlled bonhomie, emphasising “substantial progress” and hoping to “work miracles”. Though a working mechanism was agreed upon for better border management, at the joint secretary level, China seemed to be stepping back, perhaps tactically, from the brinksmanship of the last two years when assertiveness at the border was accompanied by pinpricks like stapled visas, denial of visas to senior Army officers and residents of Arunachal Pradesh.
Chinese President-in-waiting Xi Jinping, meanwhile, is visiting the US. On the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s breakthrough visit to China on February 21-28, 1972, Mr Xi talked of “cooperative partnership” and “strategic trust” between the US and China. The year of the dragon, which has just commenced, and apparently a harbinger of historical shifts in 12-year cycles, seems to have made the Chinese cautious of the damage they have done to their regional relations through aggressiveness towards all neighbours, providing the US an opening, manifested as President Barack Obama’s Asian Pivot. For the moment, it is smiles all around.
The real danger is of an Iran-US-Israel stand-off. The November 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report revealed Iranian work on re-entry vehicles, high explosives etc indicating interest in nuclear weaponisation. Mr Obama, heading into an election, signed on December 31, 2011 new sanctions on entities dealing with the Central Bank of Iran, to choke Iran’s oil and gas exports. The Iranians mounted provocative naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, cautioned Gulf Cooperation Council countries to not ramp up their oil production and finally warned the US aircraft carrier group, which had exited the Gulf, to not re-enter.
The US’ fifth fleet being headquartered at Bahrain, the US normally maintains one-and-a-half carrier groups in the area, which now has been raised to three. Having positioned the stick, Mr Obama conveyed a conciliatory message to the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, through diplomatic channels as well as President Jalal Talabani of Iraq that Iran should not impede freedom of navigation in the Strait, offering talks on security in the Gulf. The Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, also moderated Israeli stridency conceding that Iran may not be building a deliverable nuclear device. While this is welcome, it is no comfort to realise that 17 million barrels of oil, one quarter of world’s supply, transit Strait of Hormuz daily, which Iran can close at will. The US would perhaps be able to reopen it in two weeks, but only following major military action against onshore Iranian defence facilities and perhaps a wider conflagration.
The US sanctions will hit India, Republic of Korea, Japan and China the worst in Asia. In Europe, Greece, Italy and Spain, already financially challenged, are the main buyers. While China has already started diversifying, Japan sought a waiver. The European Union ministers meet on January 23 and would perhaps seek six months to implement. Meanwhile, Iran is letting the IAEA inspectors in, after provocatively announcing enrichment up to 20 per cent at a new tunnelled mountain facility at Fordow, near the holy city of Qom. The usual Iranian tactic of defiantly enriching and then talking and dissimulating.
However, the game is about Iranian domestic politics, as the ninth parliamentary elections loom in March and the reformers, forcibly stymied in 2009, advocate a boycott. In the past, voter turn-out has been around 50-60 per cent. In 1996 and 2000, with liberals rising, the percentage climbed to 71 per cent and 67 per cent, respectively. The Islamic regime renews its legitimacy through periodic, albeit guided, elections, which also have a cathartic effect on the masses. A large-scale boycott can undercut Iran’s leadership in the Islamic world, particularly amongst the Shias, at a time when the Arab Spring is reordering the regimes in West Asia. The Iran-US confrontation is not only between two security orders, one led by the US, pegged in Israel in the West, and the other by the GCC in the Gulf, but between two worldviews. Iranian influence stretches through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean and Israel’s borders. The US’ reach flanks Iran in the East in Afghanistan and from the South via the GCC allies, exacerbating Iranian paranoia.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao spent six days in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar to ensure alternative oil supplies, finalise infrastructure deals like an oil pipeline in UAE to bring their oil to the Arabian Sea bypassing Hormuz and new Saudi refineries. Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna did some West Asian tourism in Israel and West Bank — symbolism without content. India needs a comprehensive West Asia and Gulf policy shorn of the twin bugbears of a UPA government: Malayalee jobs in the Gulf and Muslim clerics’ votebanks. It would take more than scaring Salman Rushdie away and firing Dr Singh’s media adviser to do so. Herodotus the Greek historian’s fifth century BC query, why the people of the East and the West could not live in peace, is as valid today. The answer: because India’s wisdom has not found a means to express itself.

The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry

Comments

Unfair potrayal of the

Unfair potrayal of the influence of Kerala community affecting strategic issues in foreign policy.

Need a realistic outlook on the real reasons behind the present foreign policy banes rather than blaming it on keralite workers who work there on minimum wages and who have little influence on such issues.

If indeed the 'malayalee' community could at all influence foreign policy then it is not to be seen.

Apart from the fact that the economic contribution to the development of the middleeast could wrest an extradition treaty from the UAE in exchange for seat sharing quotas and profitable routes for Emirates Airlines.

Clear distinctiion need to be made between the workings of the Overseas Affairs Ministry and the MEA as their roles are distinct in nature.

The Overseas Affairs Ministry is defunct in nature and provides no macro assistance to NRI's in general apart from high profile individual cases which have got attention in the media. Bringing in the dead bodies or helping people stranded for instance. The presnt foreign affairs 'crisis' in Norway is a point in case.

SM Krishna's visit to Israel and West Bank is nothing but tokenism and I see no connection between this and the Malayalee community.

If at all any influence has been exerted or extorted out of SM Krishna then it is by the Manglorean lobby which has powerful and vested interests in the ME.

I would request the writer to reconsider his statement on the unfair potrayal of the malayalee community as 'racist' in nature.

If at all the MEA affairs has failed it is because of their myopic vision and lack of strategic thought in its cadre

We need the likes of K Subrahmanyam to handle strategic affairs not academic types with only domestic policy and political influence.

Unfair potrayal of the

Unfair potrayal of the influence of Kerala community affecting strategic issues in foreign policy.

Need a realistic outlook on the real reasons behind the present foreign policy banes rather than blaming it on keralite workers who work there on minimum wages and who have little influence on such issues.

If indeed the 'malayalee' community could at all influence foreign policy then it is not to be seen.

Apart from the fact that the economic contribution to the development of the middleeast could wrest an extradition treaty from the UAE in exchange for seat sharing quotas and profitable routes for Emirates Airlines.

Clear distinctiion need to be made between the workings of the Overseas Affairs Ministry and the MEA as their roles are distinct in nature.

The Overseas Affairs Ministry is defunct in nature and provides no macro assistance to NRI's in general apart from high profile individual cases which have got attention in the media. Bringing in the dead bodies or helping people stranded for instance. The presnt foreign affairs 'crisis' in Norway is a point in case.

SM Krishna's visit to Israel and West Bank is nothing but tokenism and I see no connection between this and the Malayalee community.

If at all any influence has been exerted or extorted out of SM Krishna then it is by the Manglorean lobby which has powerful and vested interests in the ME.

I would request the writer to reconsider his statement on the unfair potrayal of the malayalee community as 'racist' in nature.

If at all the MEA affairs has failed it is because of their myopic vision and lack of strategic thought in its cadre

We need the likes of K Subrahmanyam to handle strategic affairs not academic types with only domestic policy and political influence.

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