In a dramatic admission of earlier negligence (although not in so many words), the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a report published by the co-ordination of the 16 intelligence agencies in the United States pronounced that Iran was not proceeding with a nuclear weaponisation programme since 2003. This admission came at a time, when the U.S. Administration was doing all that was necessary to ratchet up confrontation against yet another nation in the USA's perceived “axis of evil”, Iran. Only two years ago, the NIE had concluded differently, insinuating that Iran was a budding nuclear weapon threat, an estimate that ultimately led to the referral of Iran to the UN Security Council by the IAEA board of governors.
The main loser in the aftermath of this report is definitely the neo-conservative group in the United States establishment which has been hell bent upon going on the military path against Iran a la Iraq. The antipathy for the Islamic Republic in Iran in the US is not a secret and the current George Bush establishment has tried every trick in the book to go in for a military confrontation against the country. Making up the case for military intervention has been a series of revelations, insinuations coming about from different “intelligence sources”, and the threats have been built up step by hostile step from unilateral economic sanctions to naming the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist outfit. President Bush had even mentioned about the threat of World War III in the offing from a “nuclear armed” Iran. Such was the sabre rattling, as the hardline Iranian President's response to such hostility was defiance and a fall back to the tested means of combating international pressure, stronger nationalism, and emphasising Iran's sovereignty.
The Indian response to the unfolding drama involving the United States and Iran since 2003 has been a part of what this author considers a paradigm change in the nation's previously considered independent foreign policy. Ever since the earlier intelligence estimates in the United States had warned of a nuclear armed Iran and the US administration went upon taking the international community on board in an attempt to sideline, censure the Iranian regime and even threatening to impose unilateral military action, the Indian response has been contradictory to the affirmed non-aligned policy. India, in contrast to their public postures on supporting Iran's right to persist with a civilian nuclear programme, under the aegis of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT of which Iran was a signatory) and IAEA safeguards, voted against Iran in the IAEA in 2005 in a case that took the Iran nuclear issue to the security council. This act by India, was according to some experts due to coercion by the United States, who wanted Indian co-option as part of a quid pro quo for the nuclear deal agreement which was built in 2005.
This in turn caused bitterness between Iran and India, even as the nations formally affirmed to keep the still continuing talks on the natural gas pipeline through Pakistan going. On the ground, at every behest of the Bush regime to pressurize the Iranians through sanctions and threats, there have been consequences in the Indian relationship with Iran. Recently the State Bank of India stopped issuing Letters of Credit to Iranian companies. There has been a visible impasse in the pipeline talks eventhough conceptually the project is a slam dunk for addressing energy concerns in the country. Although the Indian side claims that there is no pressure on the culmination of the project, the slowdown in the talks point toward a political negligence to address the bottlenecks (mostly in pricing) quickly and move ahead with the implementation of the pipeline project. In the meantime, China and Russia have upped their relationship with Iran, as they sense the necessity for stronger ties to buttress the energy partnership with a fossil fuel rich Iran.
Obviously, the paradigm shift in Indian foreign policy to cohere with a bandwagoning process and closer relationship with the global hegemon, is not paying any dividends for India in the west Asian region. Defenders of this shift had argued that there were shared areas of concern for India and the US about a nuclear armed Iran and hence the coherence in policy. Now that the NIE has said it with “high confidence” that the nuclear weaponisation programme in Iran had been wrapped up in 2003, it brings into question, India's vote against Iran in the IAEA for short term expediency, without any correct assessment of both the international situation as well as Iran's considerations. It must also be pointed out that the “better late than never” dawning of sense in the intelligence agencies in the US was despite the IAEA's repeated mention about the correct nature of Iran's nuclear programme. That it was virtually the very same intelligence community in the US that had decided to build a phony case for a brazen, illegal war and occupation of Iraq, points out to the fact that this community has grown tired of the hawkish neocon establishment in the country.
For the ordinary political watcher, who is not privy to the Kafkaesque dealings of the murky world of spooks, spies, and the security agencies of various countries, it will be difficult to comment upon the technical details and veracity of findings of amorphous intelligence bodies, which have a closed-door way of functioning in a complicated bureaucracy such as the United States'. It would be therefore difficult to say anything for sure about nuclear weaponisation projects in countries such as Iran too, as such projects inevitably involve covert transfers, illicit deals and thick veils of secrecy. Some in India point out that the Indian vote against Iran was driven by the fact that illicit sales of nuclear fuel and components existed between Iran and the A.Q.Khan network, even as it is necessary to mention that Iran voluntarily declared its nuclear enrichment activities to the IAEA in October 2003. But indeed, it is imperative to mention that careful calibration of foreign policy is a must, and this policy making must not be bothered only about short term expediency or hinge only on one point agendas, as the Indo-US nuclear deal seems to be for the current ruling regime (the UPA) in India. By making it a point to bank upon a divisive and hugely unpopular George Bush regime as being the cornerstone for the “new enlightened national interest driven foreign policy”, India has burnt its hands in west Asia vis-a-vis Iran.
India should for a first step, try to mend its relationship with Iran, which has been affected by the events since 2003. The bottlenecks in business relationships in the trading and banking sectors,that have ensued because of the American insistence, must be done away with, immediately. Whatever hurdle that seems to persist in the final culmination of the gas pipeline, has to be addressed with solid political endeavour. And hopefully, India can be resilient enough to demand that the United States give up the path of confrontation, pre-emption and naked hegemony, a legacy of the Bush administration and focus on strengthening the international institutions which are already dime-a-dozen present to prevent nuclear weapon profileration, conclude world peace and transact the business of maintaining world harmony.
The saving grace of the NIE's report is the fact that the war hawks have their wings clipped and hopefully the US administration (even the forthcoming one in 2008) realises that the best way to solve international problems is to use international instruments and institutions. And also the fact that diplomacy still remains a viable, tried, tested method of addressing disputes. Perhaps, the forthcoming US administration will also show the willpower and imagination to engage regimes that are not close to the US, in a way that builds future cooperation through the use of moral norms of mutual respect. Which means that the US can cooperate with Iran and use the stature of the nation in stabilising the environs in west Asia, particularly in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. One hopes that there is further dawning of intelligence among the various decision making structures of different nations' leadership.
Article written for "The Post"