‘India needs more clarity on Iran policy’

Visiting professor tells Bar-Ilan panel that Indian strategic planners still haven’t understood threat of Iran nuclear program.

April 12, 2011 02:38
2 minute read.
A man holds up an Indian flag.

Indian flag_311 reuters. (photo credit: Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters)


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India needs to be clearer in its Iran foreign policy, a Middle East expert from the country said at a symposium on India’s international relations held at Bar-Ilan University on Monday.

Prof. P.R. Kumaraswamy, an associate professor of international relations at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that Iran had been the most controversial aspect of Indian foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, and that the time has come for India to take a clearer stand on the Iranian nuclear issue, even while maintaining the two countries’ strong trade ties.

“I feel that there is a lack of clarity in Indian foreign policy. I think it’s time where we need to stand up and say, ‘yes, we messed up,’” Kumaraswamy said at the symposium, which was hosted by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and the Indian Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.

“During the Cold War, it was much simpler, the world was binary, we were a friend of Russia, but today the world is much more complex. You cannot have this zero-sum approach to international relations. If somebody is a friend on issue x, it doesn’t mean you must be on the same side on issue y,” he said.

To demonstrate his point, Kumaraswamy said that the confusion was particularly visible in India’s behavior at the International Atomic Energy Organization, where it has voted with other nations in censuring Iran, but has then contrasted this with statements in favor of Iran.

Kumaraswamy listed several reasons for India maintaining close ties with Iran, saying that the two countries had historically been close, that India relies heavily on Iran to supply its energy needs, that India has the world’s second-largest Shi’ite population, and that Iran is important in terms of India’s Pakistan and Afghanistan policies.

But he added that Indian policymakers needed to understand that Iran’s nuclear program constituted a threat not just to Israel, but also to India itself.

“Military developments are seen [by India] as within the Israeli paradigm. If you look at the Indian strategic community, they always see these developments on the nuclear front as directed at Israel.

“But to the best of my knowledge, there is no missile which fires only in one direction,” he said, adding that Indian policymakers focus too much on Iran’s declared intentions and that “internalizing Iranian military capabilities has not yet entered Indian strategic calculations.”

Samuel Rajiv, an associate fellow at IDSA, said that the bilateral relationship between India and Israel lacked a high level of political engagement, mainly as a result of the delicate balance India tries to maintain between strong ties with Israel on the one hand, and strong ties with other Middle Eastern states on the other.

“There is a need for the political leadership in both countries to acknowledge the strength of the relationship,” he said, adding that it was worth noting that Indian political parties with anti-Israel platforms suffered major losses at the 2009 national elections.

Rajiv presented data which showed that Indian-Israel bilateral trade reached nearly $5 billion last year, and could reach as high as $12b. by 2015.

In contrast, he said, Iran is India’s ninth-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade of $14b., and supplies 17 percent of India’s oil, putting it second only behind Saudi Arabia in that category.

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