Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
THE problem in doing a deal with the US is that each wing of the government, and sometimes even a scatter of individuals, each have their own wish list for the country making the deal. Like different carriages in a train, each such agency wants the locomotive ( ie the agreement between the US and a country) to pull its own compartment, so that finally the “train” becomes very long and difficult to pull. Only during moments of crises (as with Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979) or decisive leadership by a US President ( as with Richard Nixon’s outreach to Mao Zedong in 1972) does the US bureaucracy step aside and allow the locomotive of cooperation between the US and a prospective ally to move forward at high speed. In the case of India, while President George W Bush mildly and President Barack Obama strongly (both during their second terms) ensured that static from the babel of bureaucracies that nest in Washington got temporarily stilled.
Even in their case, efforts were made to impose unacceptable conditions on the India-US nuclear deal in 2005 even after Bush and Manmohan Singh announced it, with the result that years were lost before a final agreement was worked out and submitted to the IAEA. Even during Barack Obama’s second term, Clinton loyalists within the administration slowed down Indo-US military cooperation despite efforts by Defence Secretary Ashton Carter to fast-track the three foundation agreements, signing of which is needed for close technical and other collaboration between the US and Indian militaries. Even during Narendra Modi’s tenure, only one of the three (that relating to logistics) has been signed. Another, on communications security, may finally escape in the next few days from the ditch into which the powerful international arms lobby active in Delhi sought to confine it. The third, on geospatial matters, is as yet not fully negotiated, although it is expected that it will get signed before the year ends. Should this take place, India and the US will be partners in mutual defence.
However, once again the US bureaucracy, while simultaneously and not very secretly seeking the overthrow of President Trump, is seeking to load conditions on an India-US partnership that ought never to be accepted by any government in Delhi. These include the peremptory “request” made by John Bolton and Nikki Haley to reduce petroleum purchases from Iran to zero. Private refiners may already have done so out of fear of US financial sanctions on their businesses. Some of them are reported to be buying crude oil on the spot market because of the self-created shortfall created by abstaining from purchase of Iranian petroproducts. Some claim that such “spot buying” is the cause of the painful increase in petrol and diesel prices in India, especially since the beginning of the year. Given that Iran is willing to accept a goodly share of the payments for its petroproducts in rupees rather than in hard currency, hopefully state refiners will continue to source much of their purchases from Iran. Also, the price of petrol and diesel by the state refiners should be less than that of private refiners, as the latter are into the spot market and the former hopefully are not. The loss of profits to private refiners may cause them to gain some courage and defy the unreasonable demand that the Government of India should allow the economy to be weakened to pander to the Iran phobia of US policymakers.
This columnist is wholly in favour of a robust defence and security relationship between India and the US. But this must not be at the cost of compromising vital interests. Iran is a partner of long standing, and is through Chabahar port the land and sea gateway for India to Central Asia and Afghanistan. At a time when effort has to be concentrated on assisting Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and others active in the battle against Wahabbism, it is an act of folly to open a second front by seeking the subjugation of Shia regimes in Iran and Yemen. Already Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq have seen the initiation of meltdowns as a consequence of US-EU policies, as also those countries that were either too weak or too foolish to ignore bad advice.
Among the many efforts being made by the US-EU on India is to ensure that through tweaking of Intellectual Property Rights laws, Indian pharma companies are either absorbed into foreign giants or close up shop. Millions across the world are dying every year because of the havoc caused by the policies being pursued across both sides of the Atlantic to fill the bank balances of those controlling giant pharma companies within the NATO bloc. As yet, neither the UN Human Rights Commission or the International Court of Justice has even noticed this silent murder of underprivileged through denying them recourse to affordable medicines. It is expected that Prime Minister Modi will stand firm and source even more petroproducts from Iran than has been the case thus far, exactly as China is doing. If India is to be a strong defence partner of the US, the country must have a strong economy. This means buying oil from the cheapest sources, even if these be countries that Clinton and Bush-era zealots in Trump administration are seeking to weaken and destroy in manner that has happened with Libya and Syria.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.