Monday, May 10, 2010

Is Af-Pak a boon for Indo-Iran ties?

Is Af-Pak a boon for Indo-Iran ties?
Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 08.05.2010

The Nuclear Security Summit in Washington from April 12 to 13 and the Nuclear Disarmament Conference in Tehran from April 15 to 16 had one thing in common: Israel attended neither meet. It did not attend Teheran because it believes Iran is busy manufacturing nuclear weapons to attack Israel. It did not attend the Washington conference because there were suggestions that some Arab countries would raise the Israeli nuclear arsenal and Israel would not know where to look.

New Delhi attended both the meetings. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended the Washington summit while Gaddam Dharmendra, Joint Secretary in the MEA dealing with disarmament attended the Teheran meeting.

Contrary to the popular impression, the conference hall in Teheran was not empty. Indonesia, Syria, Oman, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, Iraq and Uganda were represented by Foreign Ministers. Ministers of Energy of Armenia and Tajikistan took part. Deputy Foreign Ministers of Russia, Turkey, Emirates, China, Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan and Venezuela were present. As were the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference (on this the Saudis wield considerable clout), representatives of the UN and the IAEA, chairman of the NPT review conference attended.

It cannot be described to have been a scantily attended conference, even though comparisons with the much more advertised show in Washington would not help one arrive at conclusions.

While on the one hand momentum is being built up to strengthen the sanctions regime against Iran at the UN, the number of skeptics on that score is not negligible.

Even on the eve of the NPT review conference, officers from the National Security Council have identified Teheran as a capital to visit for consultations. To imagine that these meeting are undiluted nuclear discourses would be fanciful because second and third track approaches to Teheran are proceeding.

Deputy National Security Adviser Alok Prasad’s visit to Teheran has the nuclear issue in its contents, but it can also be seen to be a pre cursor to Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna forthcoming visit to Teheran.

Iranian’s are sensitive on protocol. They are still nursing the wound inflicted on them in Vienna. Moreover, visits by President Ahmedinijad, Chief Justice Hashemi Shahrudi (the job has since been taken over by Ayatullah Larjani) have not been reciprocated.

At Thimpu, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki sought a meeting with Manmohan Singh but he could not be slotted into the Prime Minister’s busy schedule. They were, however, able to exchange greetings at the King’s banquet.

Gradually, despite many hurdles, Indo-Iranian relation are acquiring a momentum largely on account of the US’s Af-Pak approach where the Indian role is being made out to be of a lesser strategic value.

Recently the US ambassador in New Delhi Timothy Roemer made a helpful statement. To allay Pakistani fears that in the guise of developmental works in Afghanistan, the Indians may, with Brahminical guile, be upto tricks inimical to Pakistan’s long term interests in Afghanistan, Roemer suggested that Indians and Americans would take up developmental works jointly in Afghanistan. What are the implications of this co-ordination? As in soccer, every Indian in play will be marked allaying Pakistani fears of inimical activity behind their back!

The basic interests of the Pakistanis are transparent:
They would like to have strategic depth in Afghanistan, a turf on which they have considerable experience since 1980.
Consolidation of this strategic depth entails a confirmation of a government in Kabul which is deferential to Islamabad. This rules out Karzai.
To facilitate this scenario a strategy of good and bad Talebans has been devised. The good Taleban, in this sequence, are people like Mullah Omar or those of the Taleban who are hard on Karzai and soft on Al Qaeda.

A bonus American action in Afghanistan and Iraq conferred on Iran was the defeat of the Anti Shia Taleban in Afghanistan and the removal of Anti Iran Saddam Hussain in Iraq. But the subsequent chaos that has spread far and wide is giving Riyadh nightmares. Not only a bloated Shia entity in Iraq abutting the oil rich Saudi (also Shia) area of Dammam, but also Al Qaeda in Yemen are a menace.

The spaces created by the two occupations became hatcheries for Al Qaeda, feeding on Anti Americanism the US rule had bred.

Separation of the Al Qaeda from the Taleban is easier said than done. True, Al Qaeda consists of non-Afghan, foreign jihadists from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Xinxiang etc. But this lot made a beeline for Afghanistan since the 80s (eighties), when the plot to expel the Soviets by Islamic fervour was first hatched. Over, the years oppression against Muslims in the host countries – Chechnya and Uzbekistan, for instance – caused an augmentation of the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

But over the 30 years since the first Al Qaeda trudged his way into Afghanistan, the foreigners have got enmeshed by ties of marriage and blood. So, how does one separate Al Qaeda from the local population, say, Taleban? Further, how does one separate the good from the bad Taleban? Or, indeed, a Pushtoon from Taleban?

Strangely, India’s growing equation with Iran is not a source of anxiety to Riyadh, Iran’s rival in an overarching sense. In fact, Al Qaeda’s ultimate aim at one stage was to upturn the Saudi monarchy, and it is precisely these hardline elements upon whom Pakistan hopes to structure its so called strategic depth.

It is early days yet. One should not begin to distance oneself from the torrid romance with the US simply because Af-Pak has exposed the first chinks in what the city’s town criers have been celebrating as the Indo-US strategic partnership cast in stone.

Meanwhile, remember one golden role: neither Afghanistan, nor Iraq or even Balochistan can be managed without Iranian support. Invite Zalmay Khalilzad on the lecture circuit to enlighten you on just this theme.

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