Eerie silence

India and the arab spring

Iran’s powerful Guardian Council has endorsed the Majlis’ resolution to downgrade the country’s ties with Britain. The move includes expelling the British ambassador in Tehran. A signpost has been put up in India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’, which we can only ignore at some peril.

A deep chill is setting in in Iran’s ties with Britain, which, incidentally, has been a hugely troubled relationship historically, the high water mark being the coup to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadeq in Iran in 1952, which is commonly attributed to the CIA but was actually the handiwork of MI6. Iran knows better than most countries that Britain is often the ‘brain’ behind America’s policies – be it toward Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria or Myanmar.

Britain will almost certainly take its grouse over the Iranian snub to the European councils and would seek a ‘regional’ consensus in the western world to make diplomatic moves against Iran in goose steps. (London will convey its angst to Delhi, too.) Whether Germany, which has extensive involvement in Iran, would fall in line will be an occasion to take the temperature on Britain’s real standing in contemporary world as well as on European unity itself. Conceivably, Europe will duck – express solidarity with Britain in spiritual terms and then go about with its worldly business with Iran.

 The United States and Israel will no doubt work overtime in the European capitals to get the west downgrade the ties with Iran and if they succeed, they will drumbeat that Iran faces ‘international’ isolation. Clearly, Tehran has factored in the downstream diplomatic fracas that will follow by insulting Britain, and is nonetheless going ahead with its decision.

So, what is on the Iranian mind? Some serious conclusions can be drawn. First, Tehran estimates that a US-British-Israeli axis is in any case gearing up for confrontation. Second, this confrontation may take place within US president Barack Obama’s first term as president – because it may well ensure the success of his re-election bid for a second term. Third, emanating out of the above, Tehran has little choice left but to take to the high ground, as it is no more an issue of Iran being flexible on the nuclear issue or not, Iran being conciliatory toward Israel or not, or even of Iran being ‘moderate’ on the Palestine problem or not.

It’s pure power play and realpolitik. A similar situation arose in 1980 when Tehran couldn’t care less anymore what the US and Britain thought of its revolution, and Tehran feels it is far better off without the British hanging about. The Iranian historical consciousness still regards Imperial Britain as a poisonous serpent that every now and then crept up from India to devour the succulent Persian fruit.

Rational thinking
The recent statements by Iranian military commanders have warned that Iran has known (and unknown) capabilities to retaliate, if attacked. By warning explicitly, it hopes to inject some rational thinking into the US-British-Israeli discourses that are bordering on delusional estimations regarding Iran’s policies and choices. But Tehran senses the futility of trying to influence the undergrid of the Obama administration’s disposition at this juncture.

The point is, Obama is simply not interested in hearing Iran’s narrative. Obama’s obsessive concern is his 2012 re-election bid and he can’t do without the Jewish lobby in the US, which controls purse strings and what passes for ‘opinion-making’ in the media and the think tanks and the ‘mainstream’ political opinion among Congressmen in Washington.

The signpost shows Delhi will be soon navigating in dangerous waters. It cannot pretend that the sun rises in the Asia-Pacific and the sun also should set there and Asia-Pacific is the whole world for India and the Indians. India also happens to have a western vector to its ‘extended neighborhood.’ Some five million Indians habitate that region, who may not happen to belong to our well-heeled ‘middle class’ but they send back a lot of money into the Indian coffers which are depleting fast otherwise.

Can India have a partial ‘defining partnership’ with the US, strictly limited to the Asia-Pacific? There is pin-drop silence in Delhi about the dogs of war being unleashed over Syria or the birth pangs of the Egyptian revolution. True, Obama will expect Delhi to tag along if he goes to war in the Persian Gulf. True, Israelis will expect this is payback time for Delhi.

But it will be a tragedy and a great pity if these are going to be our two key determinants. India’s feudal chieftains courted the British believing it to be in their self-interest. It took 250 years to get rid of the pestilence and when we managed it, we were emaciated, drained out of blood.

No way, therefore, can India remain silent at such a period of epochal significance. India cannot be party to the perpetuation of western hegemony over the Arab peoples. Prime minister Manmohan Singh could have advised his youthful interlocutor last week in Delhi, the visiting deputy prime minister of the UAE, Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan that we too had our Siraj ud-Daulah and our crop of Mir Jafars (Muslims and Rajputs alike) but ultimately tragedies can be avoided if only we kept out outsiders from our fratricidal strife. But for that to happen, we too must have beliefs.

(The writer is a former diplomat)

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