India erodes US expectations

useePosted by Sumera Noor

Stating that previous sanctions were not really hurting Iran, realizing that China and Russia will not support approval of any more sanctions in the UNSC, the USA and EU have announced fresh sanctions hitting Iran’s oil exports. The US President Barak Obama has announced freezing of Iran governments’ assets held or traded in the US. These sanctions also included blocks on Central Bank of Iran giving American institutions the powers to freeze the assets related to the Central Bank of Iran.

The US government thinks that these sanctions will badly hit Iranian oil exports since oil sale transactions are done through Central Bank of Iran. EU countries have also imposed sanctions on Iran’s Central and other banks and have declared to cease purchase of Iranian oil with effect from 1 July 2012. The objective of these sanctions is to squeeze availability of oil revenues to Iran so that it finds it difficult to run the government affairs as well as to continue with its nuclear programme. Along with these sanctions, to compensate the international oil market for Iranian oil and keep its prices under control, the US is also trying to convince some Middle Eastern and African oil producing countries to increase their crude production. In this context the US is also trying to entice and pressurize its Asian and other friends for boycotting purchase of oil from Iran.

In this regard the US was expecting that India being its strategic partner will cooperate in any case. However India has made a policy decision that it will comply only with the UN imposed sanctions on Iran and not the sanctions imposed by individual countries such as the US and EU. Earlier, Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, during his recent visit to the US said that India will not scale down its petroleum imports from Iran despite the sanctions of the US and Europe. India has also made an agreement with Iran to make 45 percent of its oil payments in Indian Rupees.

No doubt this Indian pronouncement has surprised many in the US. Some US Congressmen have already suggested to new US Ambassador to India to convince its leadership to comply with US imposed sanctions on Iran failing which they will consider that Indian policy was serving Iranian interests which was detrimental to US goals. India’s decision, against US expectations, is although good for Iran and the regional environment, from US perspective the question arises whether, being a strategic partner of the US, India will serve US interests in Asia at the cost of sacrificing its core national interests?

The above mentioned Indian policy decision appears to be motivated by many strategic reasons. Firstly, India wants to maintain and strengthen its traditional friendship with Iran to preserve its economic ties as well as common geopolitical interests linked with that country. India wants to consolidate her influence in Afghanistan to the exclusion of Pakistan to exploit Balochistan situation to its advantage and to block Pakistan’s emerging linkages with the Central Asian States. Secondly, she wants to facilitate Central Asian and Russian trade through Chahbahar port of Iran thus denying an opportunity to Pakistan of sharing trade benefits by offering this facility to Russia and Central Asia via Gawadar port. For this purpose India has already constructed a road connecting Chahbahar port with Afghanistan’s road head on Iran’s border.

Thirdly India’s decision of not complying with individual countries’ sanctions in this case indicates that she intends to pursue an Asia friendly policy with respect to Asia’s major powers. In this regard she wants to be seen as having perceptive alignment with the Russian and Chinese thinking on the subject.

This implies that India desires to pursue an independent foreign policy to preserve its core national interests in Asia and it does not want to generate policies which are tangent to the policies of major powers of Asia on major disputes located in the this continent. This also reflects that in future India will not toe US line blindly and will not create rift with any major Asian power just to please the US. Thus, quite early in its happening, US-India’s new found strategic partnership has hit a snag giving an indication that many more such snags might come in future also thus putting sustainability of this friendship in question.

This Indian position of course creates a perception that objectives of developing strategic partnership between the US and India as thought out by both countries are quite divergent. Whereas the US must have thought to exploit India as a big market for their investment/ exports and mainly to use it as a counterweight to Russia and China to have its foothold in Asia, India seems to have thought to cooperate with the US only selectively where ever its core interests were not being hurt and mainly to draw US/ EU countries direct investment, procure Western missile/nuclear technologies and modern weapon systems etc, etc.

The aforementioned self perceived lucrative objectives on part of the US explain why it went out of the way to give nuclear deal to India by prevailing upon NSG countries to give waiver to India as a non signatory to NPT for sharing nuclear technology with this country as a basis for developing long term strategic partnership and supporting India to rise as a major world power. On the other hand India was keen to have strategic partnership with the US to fulfill its own perceived commercial and defence related objectives presuming to extend only selective cooperation to the US and EU on strategic issues without hurting its core national interests.

That is why US leadership has felt embarrassed because of India’s this strategic decision of not extending cooperation to the US because its core interests will be hurt in this part of Asia whereas the US had probably thought that India as a close friend (almost considered as an ally) will surely side with her on the issue of nuclear related sanctions on Iran. Recently India has also disappointed the US on another account by deciding to purchase 126 – French made Rifle combat aircraft by dropping airplanes deals with Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin of the US based on technical grounds.

These Indian policy reflections must be a dilemma for the US leadership to think and appreciate whether heavily drummed up strategic partnership with India will bring some commercial benefits only rather than giving expected major strategic gains in Asia. Here it can be concluded that rather than serving US interests, India is likely to use the US and EU countries to draw major strategic advantages such as attracting foreign direct investments, modern industrial technology and trade benefits for becoming an economic superpower and sharing missile, nuclear and space technologies for developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, thermo nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines, missile defence systems, modern satellites and space vehicles for becoming military superpower probably even to compete with the US as a world power one day.

Already there is a news that India is about to conduct a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. US and EU should question themselves that why India wants to develop such missiles The possibility of India becoming an unbridled major economic and military power cannot be ruled out in the long run if the US and EU countries continue to trust India blindly and keep their economic, investment, civilian and military technology markets open to her for next few decades. Therefore in this situation it might be prudent to suggest to US policy makers to review and adjust their India centric Asia policy and should not ignore other friends in South Asia at the cost of India.(Col M Hanif (R))

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