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December 2005 - January 2006

Political News

India's vote to refer Iran's nuclear defiance to the UNSC: It Changes History for India

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

When the European Union, with the strong backing of the US, presented at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna its EU-3 Resolution tabled by Britain, France and Germany, seeking a referral to the UN Security Council of Iran’s determination to revive the processing of nuclear fuels in defiance of international opinion and suspected to be aimed at producing nuclear weapons, India, to the shock and awe of the international community, voted against Iran. New Delhi’s decision to support the EU-3 Resolution changed history.

It seemed that at one stroke India successfully and finally stepped out of the strait-jacket of the Non-Aligned Movement, which had served a useful purpose during the Cold War but is of no consequence in the New World Order. India is no longer interested in playing the role of a marginal player on the world stage. It has joined mainstream politics. India’s foreign policy establishment had at long last achieved clarity in defining its national interests, unbowed by the demands of cheap domestic politics. It is the first sign that New Delhi has begun thinking and acting like a great power.

However, the sensitivities of the historic situation that India is the second largest Shia Muslim country in the world - Shia Iran is the largest and if Shia Iraq ever emerges through the democratic route as an independent nation it will be the third largest - forced New Delhi to make certain bold attempts to justify its decision. India made the point that its vote in fact delayed the EU-3’s demand for a referral of Iran to the UNSC to a second meeting at the IAEA in Vienna on November 24, 2005. This was meant to give Tehran time to rethink and perhaps mend its ways. The Iranians were not impressed. They tried every possible means to influence India change its decision. Pushed to the corner and not quite willing to reverse its decision, India was left with no alternative but to come out with a statement that contained more serious long-term strategic content. The question of what influenced India to do what it did in Vienna left the government no option but to clarify its stand to satisfy the meddlesome left-liberal establishment in the country. Intervening personally, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that India was against having another country in its neighbourhood possessing nuclear weapons. In other words, Iran’s atom bomb was seen as a threat to India’s security.

The Indian Communists, whose parliamentary support to the UPA Government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is important to its survival, have exercised considerable influence on policy-making. However, this was limited to domestic policy until now. The Iran issue was their first foray into foreign policy. They came out strongly opposing India’s vote against Iran at the IAEA and demanded that New Delhi should reverse its decision at the earliest possible opportunity. Iran, the Communists claimed, was a traditional friend of India and, as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, should not be ticked off to the wolves.

This new-found love for the Ayatollah-ruled, theocratic Iran - the fountainhead of Islamic fundamentalism since 1979 - from the Godless Communists, who are fanatically wedded to State Secularism in India (and virulently hostile to the BJP, which they describe as a fascist Hindu fundamentalist Party) created a lot of confusion in the land. What are they up to? Does national interest mean nothing to them? Is hostility to the US their only passion? Is Vote Bank politics their only aim, desperately seeking the Muslim vote for electoral gains, if only to hold on to power?

In line with the leftists, Muslim opinion in India also strongly rallied to the support of Iran. The Urdu Press in general as well as sections of the English language newspapers which support Muslim causes came out fighting against the Government’s vote in favour of the EU-3 Resolution on Iran. The arguments marshalled were the same as those of the Communists. The bottom line was that India should not have upset a friend like Iran in the way that it did.

A friendship is a personal experience. It is a sentimental feeling. Such attachments may exist between individuals as well as between nations. They are driven by various commonalities, the most important being cultural, religious, and linguistic. The Muslim world, for example, has created for itself a platform called the Organisation of Islamic Countries or the OIC, on the basis of a common religion. But cultural or religious convergence ends there. When it comes to safeguarding their national interests, there is no place for sentiment. Each nation is busy promoting its own hidden agenda. It is pure national interest that guides relations between nations. In other words, diplomacy is not conducted on friendships or historical relationships.

The Indian Communists forgot to take into account national interest when they made absurd demands on the Government. The Marxist Communist Party of India threatened nationwide agitation against the UPA Government unless it dissociated itself from its original vote. Nothing in politics, particularly in the field of international relations, can be more undignified than a political party which wants to be taken seriously, taking a serious matter of vital importance to the nation’s strategic interests to the streets, after a vote was cast in a lawfully-constituted international conference. The Communists have yet to suggest what it expects from Iran in return for this favour.

The Indian Communists are so blinkered in their knowledge of developments in contemporary international affairs that they cannot see the primacy of the US in the power structure of the world. The US is the last remaining superpower with unmatched military and economic capabilities. It is within the power and reach of Washington to preside over anything it wants to achieve. India will never accept US hegemony but a strategic partnership of equals will add enormous value to its efforts to break free from the shackles of its primeval poverty.

It was as if Iran’s nuclear defiance of international opinion was not enough for satisfying its national ego. The issue was complicated by a shocking statement made by the newly elected hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinidjad in Tehran. He said “Anybody who recognises Israel, will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury while any Islamic leader who recognises the Zionist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world…as the Imam said Israel must be wiped off the map”. While this statement served as a warning to Pakistan not to get too close to Israel, the threat to wipe off Israel from the map added to the image of Iran as an irresponsible nation. Israel demanded the expulsion of Iran from the UN. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair addressing a special EU Summit at Hampton Court, a suburb of London, on October 27, 2005, described President Ahmadinidjad’s statement as a disgrace and warned that the West might have to take military action against Iran. He added “Can you imagine a State like that, with an attitude like that, having nuclear weapons?”

It could not have come at a more inopportune time for the Indian Muslims and the Indian Communists. They were left with no legs to stand on. If they continued their support of Iran against India’s decision on the nuclear issue it would look like supporting a potential pariah state.

Notwithstanding the above, if the Government is forced to oblige the Left Front under the pressure of those 63 MPs who provide vital parliamentary support, India will look like an infantile non-entity and lose whatever little prestige and respect it had gained recently in the international arena because of its economic performance.

The compulsions of a globalised economy place India in need of Iran just as they put Iran in need of India. The India-Iran bilateral relationship in the 21st century will be purely businesslike. Iran is endowed with rich natural energy resources. It has to sell its overflowing gas and oil just as energy-hungry India will be satisfying its needs via the world market including Iran. If there is an iota of pragmatism left in Tehran, the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India Gas Pipeline should go ahead unaffected by the shenanigans of the nuclear issue.

On the strategic front, however, it is a different story. New Delhi will never be able to persuade Iran to support India on Kashmir, vote or no vote at the IAEA. Ask the Marxists if they can get their buddy Iran to support India on Kashmir as a return favour for their support. It is an unlikely prospect. One has to be first a Muslim nation to deserve such a consideration. That happens to be Pakistan’s privilege. Therefore on the principle of reciprocity India has done nothing wrong in voting against Iran at the IAEA.

In the midst of the 1971 Bangladesh War Iran, then a military ally of Pakistan and the US, had ferried in an emergency airlift arms and ammunition from its stocks in the Zahidan military base to Quetta in Balochistan in Pakistan. The supplies were sufficient to equip two divisions of the Pakistan Army. Had it not been for the timely information that the Indian Air Force had received and the lightning strikes it launched against the inventories, the war would have dragged for another one or two months with uncounted loss of life. Those were, however, the days of the Cold War. We are now living in the New World Order.

It is equally difficult to rubbish the logic behind the EU-3’s stand. What is the need for Iran to develop nuclear energy when it is overflowing with oil and natural gas which will last for decades, unless its intentions are to develop nuclear weapons, or in other words, an Islamic Bomb.
The West was divided over Iraq but it is no more the case in respect of Iran. Iranian nuclear ambitions have helped the Western Alliance to reunite and regain its former power.

Indo-US relations were not sweet either. Had it not been for the vetoes exercised by the Soviet Union in the UNSC during the last half-century, arguably India would have been forced by now to hand over Kashmir to Pakistan many years ago, thanks to Washington’s many tilts on the side of Islamabad. In the recent past the US has failed to extend support to India’s candidature for a seat in the UNSC.

Times are changing fast. The newly evolving consolidation of India’s strategic partnership with the US is beginning to make all the difference. It promises close mutual co-operation in the provision of access to high technology in such fields as defence, space and nuclear energy, trade, finance, outsourcing, IT, FDI and many other areas. The US will benefit from the huge market that India will provide, and may find it useful for India to act as a counter-weight to China’s expanding power and influence, which will have the potential to catapult India onto the centre stage of international affairs.

Make no mistake: the US, EU and Iran are all important to India in today’s integrated world and vice versa. However the difference is that on balance the US is likely to serve India’s diverse needs and interests a lot better and a lot more than Iran.

If India had voted in favour of Iran, New Delhi would have been ostracised and relegated to some obscure corner in world affairs. India’s potential for growth at this critical hour would have been crippled beyond measure. In a world of give and take, as India voted for the EU-3 Resolution, Washington in return promptly granted India the status of a nuclear weapons power, overriding the constraints of the NPT. India is now an important member of the PSI - Proliferation Security Initiative – a crucial component in the US effort at non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. As the strategic partnership between India and the US gathers momentum, it is possible to visualise that the next step will be for India to secure US support for a place in the UN Security Council as a permanent member. It will be the fulfilment of a long-cherished desire of all Indians. The vote in favour of the EU-3 Resolution at the IAEA in Vienna was for India a step in the right direction. There is no question of its reversal.

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