Iran's search for political depth southward


Iran’s search for political depth southward

*-K. N. Pandita
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Picture courtesy Lee Nunley

Indian visit was the shortest leg -– just eight hours long --- in Iranian President’s recent South Asian visit.

Yet this shortest leg is perhaps the most important in term of Iran’s vision of “Look East” (nigah-i be sharq) policy.

Iran’s disregard of Security Council’s three instalments of economic sanctions and her rejection of Washington’s allegations of interference in Iraq forced Teheran to recast her geopolitical strategy.

She concentrated on diversifying her foreign policy by exploring new economic, political and commercial space in such regions of South Asia, which no doubt geographically close to her strategic reach are at the same time crucial to the global strategy of the United States.

Iranian foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaqi, who has received his education in Bangalore, may well have taken the cue from India’s “Look East” policy of the decades between 1970 and 1990. Thus Iran has extended her political arm to the strategic Indian Ocean island State of Sri Lanka, and two most important countries of the sub-continent, namely Pakistan and India. This is a subset of Iran’s ambitious global strategy to stand up to the American pressers and antics.

Iran’s billion-dollar investment in Sri Lankan sole oil refinery and funding of 450 million US dollars in that country’s Uma Opaya power project gives her a dependable foothold in the Indian Ocean region. Apart from close cooperation with Iran in the fields of tourism and education, Iran will have the unique opportunity of undertaking a vast project of vessel building for Sri Lanka at her well-equipped ports in the Gulf coastal region.

Iranian President’s visit is loaded with extraordinary economic significance to the three countries that have been negotiating hard over what is called Iran – Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project.

The US has been opposing this project arguing that enormous returns from this 7.6 billion dollar gas pipeline would make Iran more roughish a state that has so often publicly wished the extinction of Israel.

The stalemate over the IPI gas pipeline project since last 15 years seems to be coming to an end with Iran and Pakistan having come closer to signing a deal.

India has been reluctant arguing that security of the pipeline through Pakistan could cause a problem for her. But the very recent expression of interest by China to participate in the bid for laying the pipeline has indirectly instilled confidence in the Indians that with such international commitments, she could reconcile to move forward.

Pakistan will need enormous loans for investing in the project. Actually the World Bank had been showing interests in the IPI from the very beginning. No doubt Washington has a strong clout with the World Bank, but the lending agency will have to overcome reluctance in sanctioning loans to Pakistan.

It appears that the last obstruction of not so cordial relationship between India and Pakistan, too, can be overcome with a new government in the seat of power in Islamabad. Commentators believe that the two countries, hitherto on loggerheads for many decades, are gradually wriggling out of their mindset and are realizing the necessity of extended regional commercial relationship as the key to fast economic development of their societies.

Iran is engaged in a serious dialogue with Moscow to find a way out of nuclear impasse. Russian interlocutor has expressed hope of breaking the jinx sooner than later and that is why Russia stresses on continued dialogue with Iran. As things are moving along this line, China has of late showed greater interests in engaging Teheran in a meaningful dialogue. Teheran has unexpectedly released eight pictures of her nuclear installations in Natanz and experts are examining these

Conscious of Tehran’s move on the chessboard of regional strategies, Washington persists with her intimidation and ranting. Defence Secretary Gates announced movement of second America warship in the Gulf though he said it would replace the earlier one. President Bush has issued another stern warning to Iran accusing her of supplying arms and war material to the dissidents in Iraq and undermining the interests of the US in that war torn country.

Faced with critical need for energy resource, New Delhi has moved away from her earlier lukewarm stand on IPI. She could muster courage to tell US that she knew what to talk to the Iranians. It will be reminded that recently Nicholas Burns, US outgoing Assistant Secretary of State, while delivering a lecture at the University of Harvard, said that his one important achievement was that he had convinced India to stay away from IPI deal.

The US Secretary of State, in a comment on the subject said that signing the IPI deal would be illegal under the US law. The US sanctions against Iran penalises foreign companies or governments that invest more than 20 million dollars in Iran’s energy sector.

The final signing of he IPI deal will have tremendous impact on regional strategies, on bilateral and multilateral relations among three involved countries vis-à-vis the United States. Will Washington absorb the defiance of Iran –- a known adversary -- on one hand, and Pakistan --- an ally in war against terrorism --- and India ---- a huge democracy and economic power of the world --- on the other? Will sane and sober understanding of the ground situation bring a realization to all parties to sit down, close the chapter of old hostilities, and work in a new frame that brings them and their people respite from threats, intimidation, economic deprivation and poverty? It is a moment of introspection.

(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University)

*K.N. Pandita: Born in Baramulla, Kashmir in 1929 did graduation from St. Joseph’s College in Arts with English literature. The tribal raid of October 1947 destroyed his family like hundreds of other Kashmiri Hindu families in Baramulla.

After doing M.A. from Punjab University, he served as Lecturer in State Degree Colleges and in 1958 earned a scholarship from the Indian Ministry of Education for higher studies at the University of Teheran, Iran. Four years of study and research at the University of Teheran earned him a Ph.D. in Iranian Studies. He joined Kashmir University in 1963 and it’s Centre of Central Asian Studies in 1976. He rose to become Professor and Director of this Centre till his superannuation in 1987. He is not only the first Kashmiri to obtain Ph.D. from Teheran University but is also the first to have worked in close collaboration with a number of Central Asian Academies of Science particularly the Tajik Academy. His travelogue titled My Tajik Friends won him Sovietland Nehru Award 1987.
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