The Iran Question
As far as the present state of affairs in international relation goes, most notably the open war of words between Iran and the US led western countries, India is faced with an awkward situation given its traditional close ties with Tehran and the new found expectation and trust that the US and other major powers have on India’s emerging role in the 21st century world order. That New Delhi is in a dilemma can be gauged by its cautious response in the aftermath of the bomb explosions in New Delhi targeting Israeli interest which has been blamed on Iran and the latest announcement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad showcasing the country's advancements in nuclear technology - a move seen as Tehran's determination to precipitate a confrontation with the West. Those who support the tough stand of the United States (and other western countries) to clamp down on Tehran have been quick to condemn the latest Iranian show of strength. Not India though for obvious reasons. Even in the case of the explosion in Delhi where strong evidence point to an Iranian hand, India is not willing to implicate Tehran as yet. If such terror activities emanate from across the border of Pakistan, India is very forthright to condemn it. But obviously the Iran question is something that New Delhi is more cautious about. And this is why the US and other western countries are closely watching how India is able to address the entire gamut of issues.
For those who have followed nuclear politics in the international arena for the last few decades and more, the Indian position on Iran acquiring nuclear knowhow is not very surprising. During the 1970s (cold war era) New Delhi considered it as its right as a sovereign nation to pursue development of nuclear technology for peaceful use. It even conducted a nuclear test at Pokhran, which was met with strong sanctions imposed by Washington. India continued to defy the call for giving up its nuclear programme. It went on to conduct two more nuclear tests during the BJP led NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Today India is an accepted member as a Nuclear Weapon State. Given New Delhi’s own past experience, the argument of Iran to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purpose is a valid one from India’s point of view. The only concern, which India should address with Iran, is to ensure proper safeguards under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and for Tehran to develop a strong State system so that the use of nuclear technology for the people does not fall into the hands of terrorists to be misused endangering world peace.
While no doubt the US will want India to take a more hard-line position on Iran, yet in a way New Delhi’s ties with Iran can actually be used for a good purpose. And also traditionally India has always propagated a non-aligned stand by not taking sides. Some may ridicule such a posture as ‘sitting on the fence’. Nevertheless this column feels that the world needs mediators who can be trusted by conflicting parties to find solutions. Washington will do well to appreciate the middle path taken by India on the Iran question. Sanctions and isolation of the Iran regime will not help because it is the people who will suffer and this could, rather than weakening the regime, only add to strengthen those in power. The Indo-US relationship should not be only about each others benefits but also creating opportunities for solutions—whether resolving issues in the Middle East or for that matter the present global worry i.e. Iran. New Delhi can use its leverage with Tehran to ensure peace, stability and understanding among the comity of nations.