Monday, January 24, 2005

Indo-Asian News Service -> India-Diplomacy-Iran -> US action in Iran would affect India (COMMENTARY)

Indo-Asian News Service -> India-Diplomacy-Iran -> US action in Iran would affect India (COMMENTARY): "US action in Iran would affect India (COMMENTARY)
By Amulya Ganguli

Although people in India are more favourably disposed towards George W. Bush than those in European and Muslim countries where his unilateralism is widely criticised, there is one negative aspect of the US policies that can override their positive implications.

The point that may cause some concern in New Delhi is not so much the continuing close US-Pakistani relations, but the possibility of the Americans pursuing a policy bordering on hostility towards Iran. As President Bush's observation that all options, including the military one, are being weighed by his administration shows Washington's attitude towards Tehran has become much tougher than before when the possibility of military action was never mentioned.

Any deterioration of the US-Iranian ties is of concern to India on two counts. For a start, the Indo-Iranian relations are in a category of their own. They can be traced to pre-historic times when the Aryans lived in both countries and had close interactions. In the 7th century, the Zoroastrians left Iran following the arrival of the Arab Muslims and migrated to India, where they have prospered as members of the Parsi community. In modern times, India and Iran have more often adopted an identical approach on international affairs than be on opposite sides of the fence.

But it isn't only the cordial relations that make India sensitive to any sign of tension in the region. What is a lot more worrying is the claim by reputed American journalist Seymour Hersh that the American commandos are already in Iran on a mission to locate its nuclear installations. Even more disturbing is his assertion that the American forces have infiltrated into Iran from Pakistan.

This hint of cooperation between the US and Pakistan has made observers find an explanation not only for the high praise which Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf regularly receives from the US for aiding its war against terror, but also the surprising US acquiescence in Musharraf's decision to pardon Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan despite his clandestine acts of selling nuclear know-how to Iran and other countries.

For India, this proximity between Washington and Islamabad and the former turning a blind eye to Pakistan's secret encouragement of nuclear proliferation mark a return to the Cold War days. At that time, too, the US and Pakistan were extremely close in the fight against communism. But that's not all; the US used Pakistan to establish contacts with communist China to prepare for Richard Nixon's historic visit.

As a quid pro quo for such facilities, America not only supplied arms and ammunition to Pakistan, but also remained unperturbed by the nuclear cooperation between Beijing and Islamabad. At present, India will not obviously mind the American enlistment of Pakistani help in battling the Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan since the jehadis pose a grave threat to India as well. But a US-Pakistan axis against Iran is another matter.

For one thing, the US will now have lesser inhibitions in continuing arms supplies to Pakistan even if this doesn't extend to the supply of nuclear-capable F-16 aircraft for the time being. For another, the revival of the close Cold War ties between Washington and Islamabad cannot but make the latter more intransigent in its attitude towards India vis-à-vis Kashmir.

There is a third worry. Notwithstanding Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the US foreign affairs committee that America has contingency plans to prevent the Pakistani nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, India will obviously not be able to rest easy, especially if any US (and Israeli) intervention in Iran sets off a chain of unpredictable events in the Middle East.

The only saving grace is that unlike the days of the Cold War, the India-American relations are now warmer. As a result, not only will New Delhi's concerns be appreciated in Washington, the US will also pay greater heed to the belief in India about the essentially unstable nature of the Pakistani polity, manifest in the absence of a genuine democratic atmosphere (evident in the banishment of two former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif) and the suspected presence of fundamentalist elements in the army and the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence.

The current disturbances in Balochistan are yet another example of the powerful anti-establishment ethnic and religious factors which simmer just below the surface in Pakistan, occasionally making certain areas ungovernable. It is elements of this nature that have enabled the Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives, including Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, find a safe haven on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

As is evident, therefore, the entire region from the northwest of Pakistan through Afghanistan and up to Iran is extremely volatile because of the presence of religious fanatics and a hostile feudal culture that ensures that the writ of the government doesn't run in large areas. To make matters worse, strident anti-American sentiments are known to prevail because of what is perceived as an American invasion and occupation of Iraq.

If Iran, too, is targeted in any way, it will amount to adding fuel to fire. Unfortunately, the conflagration is bound to affect India.

(The writer is a current affairs analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)

Indo-Asian News Service"

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