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India Jettisons Strategic Partnership with Iran under United States Pressures-A Perceptional Analysis


Paper No. 5435                                                                     Dated 25-Mar-2013

By Dr. Subhash Kapila

“…the Singh Government’s shameful willingness to abandon the independence of Indian foreign policy for the sake of strengthening its strategic partnership with the United States”--- Excerpt from The Hindu, September 26, 2005 in a piece entitled ‘India’s Shameful Vote Against Iran.’

“India is under continuing pressure from Washington to back a Security Council referral of Iran’s nuclear transgressions with the Bush Administration signalling that any shirking on this issue will inhibit it from fulfilling its part of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal.”----Times of India, September 25, 2005 from its Washington correspondent.

“The best illustration of this (capitulation to US pressures) is the two votes India cast against Iran at the IAEA. I am the first person to admit that the votes were coerced (by the US) “--------- Stephen Rademaker, Former US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non Proliferation 2002-2006.

“ The India-Iran relationship has much more to do with India’s great power aspirations and New Delhi’s concomitant expansive agenda for Central Asia and beyond, within which energy is only one albeit important consideration.”------C. Christine Fair in The Washington Quarterly. Summer 2007

India in a perceptionaly unprincipled process for the last seven years in a series of sequential steps commencing with voting against Iran in the IAEA and continuing through with abandonment of the Iran-Pakistan India energy pipeline and cutting off oil supplies from Iran, has virtually jettisoned its much heralded strategic partnership with Iran.

In a manner inappropriate for an emerging power on the global stage, India despite its much trumpeted foreign policy declarations of primacy to “Strategic Autonomy” in its policy formulations, buckled down under United States pressures with hardly a whimper in downgrading the prominence and value of its strategic partnership enshrined in the Delhi Declaration of January 2005.

India’s strategic partnership with Iran was conceived and forged for substantial national security and energy determinants of strategic benefits to India.. It also arose from a number of strategic convergences that existed between India and Iran on global and regional issues, more specifically pertaining to Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran facilitating Indian access to Central Asia and Afghanistan, which Pakistan was denying India.

Iran consciously entered into a strategic partnership with India over-riding its Islamic affinity and Cold War era linkages with Pakistan. Putting ancient civilizational ties aside, even though it is an important linkage, in Iran’s strategic vision India figured high as a friendly emerging power in its neighbourhood with a strategically autonomous foreign policy unfettered by kow-towing to United States dictates till the middle of the last decade.

 India inspired confidence in Iran to invest in a strategic partnership arising from the Tehran Declaration of 2001 followed by the Delhi Declaration of 2003 and frequent high level exchanges of political dignitaries. Iran opened its land routes for India to access Afghanistan and both cooperated to bolster the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan against the Pakistan-installed Taliban regime in Kabul.

Strategically, it needs to be highlighted that an India-friendly Iran on Pakistan’s western frontiers with strategic congruence with India was an invaluable strategic asset for India’s national security.

Against such a backdrop the crucial question that arises is as to in what way shortly after the Delhi Declaration, Iran had strategically fallen from India’s strategic expectations meriting the initiation of the Indian process of side-lining Iran’s  importance in India’s strategic calculus?

The present Indian Government in whose tenure in power, the application of reverse gears in India’s Iranian policy and virtually jettisoning its strategic partnership with Iran has taken place has not chosen to admit what others have widely analysed as Dr Man Mohan Singh’s government buckling down under United States pressures to do so.

India in perceptional analysis had become a party to the United States strategy of isolation of Iran by the postures it has adopted since 2005 onwards in submitting to US coercive pressures on India’s relations with Iran, without any visible benefits to India being conceded by the United States in return.

Arising from the contextual backdrop outlined above, the present Indian Government needs to provide answers to the questions stated below as to why it chose to let a downslide occur in what was once a valued strategic partnership with Iran:

  • Was the jettisoning of its strategic partnership with Iran was the price demanded by the United States as a quid pro quo for finalising the Indo-US Nuclear Deal?
  • Has not the devaluing of India’s strategic partnership with Iran resulting in endangering India’s national security interests in Afghanistan and access to Central Asia which Iran       was providing?
  • Are current Indian Government postures on Iran synchronising with US dictates is a tactical move by India or is it a long term strategic calculation?

The first question above stands answered by the quotes stated above. Both within India and in observations of US officials of that crucial period, India was coerced or one could say blackmailed by the United States to change its stances on Iran. Over a half a decade down the line India not withstanding US coercion, was a strategically inadvisable and misguided step. It was so argued by this Author in his SAAG Papers of that period.

India’s national security interests certainly stand endangered by India virtually jettisoning its valued strategic partnership with Iran both in Afghanistan and in access to Central Asia. India certainly cannot expect Iran to forbear with India’s unceasing buckling to US pressures on the value and active continuance of the India-Iran Strategic Partnership. With the strategic uncertainty that is hovering over India’s presence in Afghanistan post-2014 US exit, India can write off its Afghanistan presence should Iran also display strategic opportunism like what India did.

The third question is most critical in determining India’s genuinity of intentions in investing or re-investing value in the India-Iran Strategic Partnership. Some apologists for the Indian Government’s change of tack in its foreign policy towards Iran have argued in the past that it was only a tactical ploy. If that was so, then seven years afterwards there should have been visible mid-course corrections to put back the strategic partnership with Iran on an even keel. No indicators are visible of the same. Iran could be excused if it starts perceiving that India’s intentions on policy reversal over Iran under US pressure is strategic in nature and intent and that it is now free to explore alternative strategic partnerships in the region.

Reverting to the main theme of why India virtually jettisoned its much valued India –Iran Strategic Partnership which took decades to forge by weaning away Iran from Pakistan under two different Iranian political dispensations, one analytically is at a loss to understand as to what compelling reasons forced India to adopt such a strategically misguided step? Was it the Indian Prime Minister’s personal decision to move away from Iran or did it emerge from considered institutional advice of the Ministry of External Affairs?

Apologists for the Indian Government would tend to argue that if jettisoning the India-Iran Strategic Partnership was the price that was required to be paid for securing the Indo-US Nuclear Deal from the United States, then it was a small price that was paid.

In support of their contention they argue that the Indo-US Nuclear Deal was a “strategic game-changer for India” and that India was now a de-facto nuclear weapons power and recognised as such. Has anybody certified it as such and rubber-stamped this recognition?

On both counts the above assertions are on weak ground and no tangible gains seem to have accrued to India in the strategic realm.

Rather, India’s succumbing to US coercion on Iran has been ironically the greatest strategic game-changer for India in that in India’s policy reversals on Iran, it is India that emerges as a significant loser. India stands endangered in losing the strategic partnership of the leading and most powerful geostrategically located regional power in South West Asia. India stands also endangered in that its current policy stances on Iran could possibly lower Iran’s amenability to provide India with strategic land-routes access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Further, with the existing policy, India is in danger of losing both Afghanistan and Iran as India-friendly strategic assets on Pakistan’s western flanks.

More significantly, in global power-play where perceptions determine strategic stances of nations, India with its virtual jettisoning of its strategic partnership with Iran, has grossly diminished its strategic stature as a “reliable strategic partner” immune from coercion from any quarter.