With Tehran after the Nuke accord

Farooq Ganderbali
The world has heaved a sigh of relief after the framework of an agreement was signed in the Swiss town of Lausanne between six nations and Iran. It effectively caps the chances of Iran developing nuclear weapons at least for the next 15 or 20 years.
Of course, there can still be a slip between now and June end when the final draft of the agreement, worked over a period of 18 months and literally burning the midnight oil on the last two days of talks, is to be sealed. But there is more hope than despondency over the agreement in most parts of the world, except Israel, Saudi Arabia and perhaps a few more Arab countries. Neither the group of the six nations nor Iran wants to have one more item on their overflowing plate of problems in today’s troubled times.
India has reasons to be satisfied with the outcome of the marathon talks over Iran’s nuclear programme. As the oldest civilisations the two countries have close ties culturally and historically. And in the modern times these ties have been cemented by growing commerce and trade besides the barter trade involving oil. Some may argue that India could not have been pleased to see Iran become a nuclear nation. It is difficult to say for certain though there is merit in the contention that the addition of another nuclear armed nation in an extended South Asian neighbourhood would have been a cause of great worry for India.
Israel’s unhappiness is related to its security concerns which may be exaggerated to the outside world even after allowing for the frequent rhetoric heard in Tehran and rest of the Muslim world against the existence of the Jewish state. The Saudis have also felt unhappy but their security reasons may again be misplaced because Shia Iran will be unwise in acting rashly against its Sunni rival in the region, Saudi Arabia.
India cannot remain entirely unaffected should the Iran-Saudi rivalry escalate. But for the moment, India may be thinking less about that scenario than working out ways to revive ties with Iran which were building up strongly before the western nations, led by the US, had started imposing sanctions on Iran. It restricted Indian-Iran trade ties. So much so that Iran, second largest oil supplier to India, slipped to the seventh spot.
One ambitious Indo-Iran project was put in the limbo—the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Another project equally important for India, the Chabahar port project in south-east Iran, also appeared to be headed for the cold storage. The ONGC had to almost forget about its hope of acquiring stakes in the exploration of new oil and gas reserves in Iran, which would have been a step towards ensuring India’s energy security. There was hardly any chance of expanding bilateral trades even after Iran had agreed to selective bilateral trade and accepted payments partly in rupees for oil exports.
Things can change for the better from the Indian point of view, once Iran is taken completely off the sanctions regime. But while waiting for that day to arrive, India has to start working on its Iranian priorities both in the political and economic fields.
With the withdrawal of the western troops and the installation of an apparent Pakistan-friendly regime in Afghanistan, India will have no option but to work in collaboration with Iran to neutralise any danger that may arise from Kabul. India and Iran had found convergence in their views on Afghanistan when it was under a Pakistan-backed Taliban regime. Both had developed close relations with Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Its leader, Abdullah Abdullah, is currently the prime minister of Afghanistan, though designated as the ‘chief executive’ of the Ghani government. The ties with Northern Alliance are in urgent need of revival.
If the Modi government looks at it pragmatically, the IPI gas pipeline project is not worth reviving because it will involve Pakistan, which remains hostile towards India. But India could renew its interest in importing LPG by the sea route from Iran. Perhaps the proposal to lay a pipeline under the sea from Iran to India may also merit examination.
But one project that does require immediate attention is the Chabahar port project which India has been supporting since 2003. Only last year, India had pledged $100 million for the project which has been proceeding at a snail’s pace when it should be up and running. It would provide India a short route to Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Although Pakistan would have been the more natural land route, India is unable to trade with these countries through Pakistan as it has refused transit facilities to Indian goods.
Indian interest in Chabahar makes more sense when it is realised that 72 km east of it, China has built a deep sea port in the Pakistani coastal town of Gwadar. The Gwadar port has been opened to traffic but it has failed to attract much trade and commerce, partly because it is located in the restive province of Balochistan. The Chinese or the Pakistanis, however, are unlikely to be bothered too much about that. The Gwadar port will be port of call for the Chinese Navy which has been expanding its maritime activities in most of Asia.
For India, a matter of special interest will be how the Iranians dispel their fear of the Saudi nuclear programme. The news was deliberately underplayed when it broke out some months ago, but it was widely reported in the West that the Saudis had invested heavily in Pakistan’s ‘Islamic bomb’ with an assurance that Pakistan would provide nuclear weapons to the Saudis whenever demanded.  The payback time for Pakistan seems to have arrived with the Saudis asking Pakistan to rush war planes, ships and soldiers in support of its Mission Yemen.
Pakistan has been adding to its nuclear stockpile at a frantic pace, largely with Chinese help. It has a record of proliferation, supplying nuclear know-how stolen by Abdul Qadeer Khan from European laboratories in early 1970s, to a host of nations on consideration of money. The ‘beneficiary’ countries included Iran, North Korea, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Islamabad will not be able to turn down request from Saudi Arabia for transferring nuclear weapons to Riyadh should the latter demand it.
Iranian suspicion of Pakistan will not go because of the deep ties that a host of Pakistani rulers, past and present, have with the Saudi royals. In the current ISIS insurgency in many Muslim nations, Pakistan is reported to have agreed to join a Saudi-led coalition to take on the ISIS terrorists. Then there is the Jaishul Adl factor that has been creating friction in the Iran-Pak relations.
Styling itself as the Army of Justice, this Pakistan-based Sunni militant group has been carrying out attacks on Iranian soil since 2013. Its goal is ‘liberation’ of the Sunni Baloch in the Iranian province of Sistan-Balochistan that borders Pakistan’s Balochistan.  The group has been regularly mounting attacks on Iranian border guards; in the latest such attack on April 7, the militants killed eight Iranian border guards in the Negur district and then fled back to Pakistani soil.  It was the deadliest attack since October 2013 when 14 border guards were killed in an attack claimed by Jaishul Adl. This group captured five Iranian troops in February last year. Four of them were released last April but the fifth is still missing presumed dead.
No surprise, last year a leading Iranian lawmaker, Esma’il Kowsari publicly ticked off Pakistan. “The Pakistani government has practically no control over the border areas, and if they cannot control the common border, they should tell us so that we ourselves can take action”, he said highlighting the levels of frustration at Pakistan’s inability to rein in Jaishul Adl.
Yet, the Pakistani pre-occupation and obsession with terrorists shows no sign of going away. It has not renounced its ‘strategic depth’ theory that seeks to patronise ‘good’ terrorists, causing resentment both in Tehran and Kabul.


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