By Sudip Talukdar*
The reverberations of the historic nuclear accord with Iran will be felt long after it has been signed with the Big Five plus One. The deal is almost as momentous as the one that the US inked with China in 1972, to halt the mighty Soviet juggernaut and end the former’s isolation on the world stage. If president Richard Nixon took credit for the unprecedented initiative which catalysed a tectonic shift in geopolitics, then the current achievement on Barack Obama’s part could be trumpeted as his most spectacular contribution to the cause of global peace and harmony.
The accord marks a paradigm shift in statecraft which would help address some of the most volatile issues vexing humankind today. The deal could not have come at a more opportune moment, bearing directly on vital strategic requirements of India. Marginalized by Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist politics, US-led sanctions and Pakistan’s duplicity, Iran now takes centre stage as a counterweight to virulent Wahabi radicalization, which has razed vast swathes of Iraq, Yemen and Syria, including world heritage sites and priceless cultural artefacts. Daily, Shias are battling the brutal ISIS for sheer survival in the cauldron of sectarian politics.
The latest outcome may not at all be to the liking of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, two of the world’s most regressive states, which have always been inimical to Iran, one of the world’s largest oil producers with huge gas reserves. According to the latest WikiLeaks documents, the Sunni kingdom, known for open hostility towards the Shia state, minutely monitored its most feared adversary’s every move, besides investing billions of dollars to export a puritanical version of Islam that is wantonly destructive of civilized values.
The two US proxies also wield disproportionate power and influence with the State Department’s blessings, either because of vast oil reserves or as a perceived frontline ally in the so-called war on terror. One whose seed the trio had unwittingly planted on Afghan soil to fight Russians in 1979, but which mutated into an unstoppable Frankenstein fast devouring everything in its way. The world is either clueless or comes up with half hearted responses, blundering from one ignominy to another in its dealings with the ISIS.
India may find welcome breathing space where contrary pressures and pulls of Western blocks constrained its actions, which it could ill afford as a budding superpower. India’s nuclear accord with the US severely hampered its dealings with Iran and even inveigled it into acting against its own interests. For instance, sanctions prevented India from depositing dollars or euros in foreign banks as payment for oil to a sorely cash-strapped Iran. When India wanted to utilize Turkey for the purpose in February 2013, Western obduracy blocked it, forcing it to route rupees in part payment, not a readily acceptable currency.
It is doubtful whether the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline would ever materialize, despite the hype surrounding it, given the turbulence in our Western neighbourhood and its deep distrust of all things Indian. However, the Chabahar-Dilaram land route from Iran to Afghanistan has enormous implications for an energy deficit India, which it is jointly developing with Iran. The project will bypass Pakistan completely, opening up lucrative markets for India in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
One could not agree more with Iran’s ambassador to India, Gholamreza Ansari, who pertinently pointed out that the port of Chabahar “is central to India’s efforts to circumvent arch-rival Pakistan and open up a route to landlocked Afghanistan where it has developed close security ties and economic interests”. India, in all its wisdom, did not allow US-led sanctions to derail its close ties with Iran, but had to slash oil imports by half to 2,20,000 barrels per day.
Fortunately, both the countries share ancient cultural links and a rare convergence of outlook on troubled Afghanistan. Both have reasons to be extremely wary of the Taliban, whose presence hangs like the Sword of Damocles over the landlocked state. The mullahs dream of converting it into a medieval fiefdom. China and Pakistan also have sights firmly set on its vast mineral resources, compounding India’s problems. However, India may have to deploy all its diplomatic skills to mollify a dependable ally like Israel, which might not be such an insurmountable task, after all.
Aditi Malhotra, doctoral candidate at the Graduate School of Politics (GraSP), University of Münster, Germany, pointed out how “the United States will probably be more willing to regard Iran as an important stakeholder in the future of Afghanistan. Such a development would imply minimum opposition from Western powers to India-Iran cooperation towards a stable Afghanistan”. The accord is likely to encourage increased engagement with Iran and ensure progress on suspended projects, besides boosting our economy and easing oil imports.
Post sanctions, an Indian consortium can resume development of the Farsi block, where it had struck natural gas with known reserves of 22 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of which more than half is recoverable. If some of this can reach India, then it will pave the way for a more level playing field for consuming countries. It would be a far cry from what the West did to discourage India from importing even a drop of oil from Iran in March 2015.
Decks may be cleared for finalization of the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) deal between India and Iran signed in 2005, permitting an yearly import of nearly five million tonnes, which would go some way in addressing India’s energy needs.
The accord has materialized like a twist of fate, a great leveller which could deflate Pakistan’s bloated sense of self worth and show it its proper place in the global space, something which decades of staid Indian diplomacy could not do. Conversely, India stands to gain in stature, acquiring a greater say in the neighbourhood. All of this could leave Pakistan fretting and fuming and reflecting on the futility of its vow to bleed India to death. It could be poetic justice for India, at long last.
*Sudip Talukdar is a senior journalist, author and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]