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#3424, 11 July 2011
Debate: Is a Nuclear Iran good for India?
Siddharth Ramana
Research Officer, IPCS
email: Siddharth13@gmail.com

Iran’s defiance of international norms on nuclear issues came to the hilt when Abbasi Davani was appointed the head of its Atomic Energy Organization. Davani who survived an assassination bid in January 2011, announced earlier this week that the Natanz facility which was under-scrutiny by international bodies was firmly on road towards tripling its Uranium enrichment capacity; much above the requirements for nuclear energy. The writing is therefore clear; Iran wants to acquire nuclear weapons. Then, what are the implications for India? Should India welcome the move or join international efforts in doubling efforts against Iran? Iran’s nuclear weapons program should not be bracketed as a West Asian dilemma, since the repercussions of its nuclear outgrowth will have strong implications for South Asia and Indian interests in the West.

First, the myth of Shiite ascendancy helping India’s battle against Sunni militancy should be debunked. Shiite Iran is not a role model to be adopted against Wahhabi-Salafist Islamo-fascism, since it too has engaged in radicalization and patronage of terrorist outfits to further its own ideals. Recognizing this, Iran has even worked out a pragmatic working relationship with groups which should theoretically be an anathema to them. This includes relationships with the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and even al Qaeda. For India, it would be disturbing that Iran is a conduit point for even Haqqani group affiliated terrorists (The Long War Journal, 13 April 2011), and that Iran has managed to make a deal with the Tehreek-E-Taliban, to serve its interests in Pakistan (Asia Times, 30 May 2010).

Iran’s game plan is to secure its interests in non-Shiite areas, by deflecting attention from ideological differences, towards Pan-Islamic causes such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of late an increasingly anti-Indian view on Kashmir. With an extended nuclear umbrella which can comprise a North Korean-China-Pakistan-Iran alliance, the revisionist ideology of Iran will most certainly see a centripetal expansion with South Asia, which is also on its radar. This can be seen in the fact that the Iranian influence has made its presence felt in West Asia in the form of the Moqtada Sadr militia in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza and alliance with Assad in Syria. Towards its north and Central Asian states reflect tactics in controlling major energy transit routes, and expanding influence in the region with equally ambitious Turkey, and Iranian backed groups in the region such as the ‘Sepakh’ in Azerbaijan included in the alliance.

For South Asia, the first move will come in Afghanistan particularly following the international withdrawal from the country. To augment pan-Islamic support towards Iran, attention can be directed towards a non-Islamic entity which has been/is favorable to Israel-India. It will be entirely plausible for Iran to foment internal disturbances within the Islamic constituencies of India. According to Pew Research Center (2009), the Shia muslims in India constitute 10-15 per cent of the Islamic populace. Needless to suggest, the fracturing a largely cohesive sub-group in the country is not a solution towards future peace and tranquility.

Second, a nuclear Iran will impact India’s energy security. Presently, the overwhelming fossil fuel requirements for India are met by the West Asian states, of which Iran is the second highest supplier of crude oil to the country. According to a study conducted by ‘The Energy and Resources Institute of India (TERI)’, the requirement for the three conventional forms of energy-coal, oil and gas will continue to remain high for the coming decades, despite a major overhaul of India’s nuclear program. Any affirmative moves towards Iran’s nuclear program, will automatically earn the ire of the other Gulf States, and any fence-sitting measures by India, will lead to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons which it can then use as a cover to encourage Shia unrest in the mineral rich areas of the Arab states. Unrest in the region will spike speculation which will further domestic inflation and unrest in India, and as a result India will be increasingly involved in West Asian developments- an activity it has long been averse to. Iran also seeks to control energy transit points in Central Asia which will complicate the situation further.

Third, the diplomatic endgames which will come out of Iran’s nuclear possessions will point a strong finger on India. Nuclear hardliners will fault India for having driven the preceding hole in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty through its nuclear agreement with the US. Belying claims of strong strategic relations with Iran, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao articulated that they are “not as good as you may expect”, because Iran is difficult to deal with (Wikileak Cables, 28 January 2010). In addition, the implications of strengthening the Saudi-Pakistan combine through their purported nuclear agreements to counter Iran will put India in a dark spot.

As a result, Iran’s nuclear program has far too many grave consequences for India for it to be supportive of such an endeavour.

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