Maldives

Iran feels let down by India and rightly so

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Iran has shown its hurt on India which has unilaterally stopped the import of its oil, unwilling to stand in the corner of the adversaries of the United States.

Ali Chegeni, Iranian Ambassador to India, didn’t mince his words in a press briefing in New Delhi on Tuesday, chiding India for succumbing to the “sanctions” of the United States.

The Donald Trump administration is going berserk in his attempt to destroy Iran, first pulling out of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) despite Iran being faithful to the deal and piling on with economic sanctions without approval from its allies or world community in the form of United Nations.

India hasn’t imported oil from Iran for months now and couched its action as “reduced” and not “stopped” to suit its independent image. But now that Iran has gone public, India has been shown as having been arm-twisted by the United States.

Fans of India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and his muscular foreign policy could feel cheated as a multi-polar world—against the unipolar bullying of United States—is nearer to being a reality.

Russia and China, hit by sanctions and trade wars, are now joined at hips and Iran is a vital clog in their drive to keep Middle East, even Eurasia, out of bounds for the United States. European Union (EU) has created INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) to keep trading with Iran without resorting to direct transfers of money between the two entities. India is seen as one final piece of jigsaw of the emerging multi-polar world which would signal the further unravelling of US’ hegemony.

To be sure, the United States is one hell of an economic power and throws its weight to bring nations under its heel. It’s the nerve centre of global economy. Be it goods or money; data or transportation, the world doesn’t move much without the express will of the United States.

The United States is the kingpin of globalization. It anchors International Monetary Fund (IMF). It controls over 50 per cent of the venture capital, all but 10 per cent of currency trade use its dollars.  Tech and finance doesn’t move without its dollars; it could cripple phone-operating systems of the world; it controls the fund-management assets. As The Economist puts it: “Across the panel, it’s normal to use a Visa card, invoice exports in dollars, sleep beside a device with a Qualcomm chip, watch Netflix and work for a firm that BlackRock invests in.”

If a firm is blacklisted, no bank would touch you with a barge pole and you are put outside the dollar payment system. There is a law in place which controls the foreign investment into Silicon Valley—if you fall foul, you could virtually say goodbye to transactions in semiconductors and software, a virtual ruination in today’s world.

Economy isn’t the imperative though which has guided India’s change of course vis-à-vis Iran. India needs to hedge its bets. That’s the demand of the geopolitics reality. It neither can annoy the chief actors of the drama nor it can afford to align itself with either of the two groups: United States vs the Russia-China combine.  If it snuggles up to the United States, it loses the strategic and military advantage of Russia. It provokes China to join hands with Pakistan and cause mayhem on its borders. If it slips into the arms of Russia-China, it must brace itself to the devastation which the United States could unleash, like the one they have in Hong Kong.

India thus follows the sensible policy of keeping its suitors interested. Both the United States and China need India. The United States in its existential mission to squeeze China and badly needs India. China wants to keep India dormant for the same reason. It can’t afford a naval configuration of United States-Japan-Australia-India to spike its waters.

India too needs to do a balancing act of its own. So it relents on South China Sea to ensure China doesn’t help Pakistan to the extent its borders are put under siege. It relents to United States’ demand on Iran to ensure its military purchases from Russia are unimpaired. It knows the mischief the United States is capable of.  India internally is in an ideological churn. And the United States is expert in fishing in troubled waters. Kashmir could so easily go horribly wrong.

I suspect Modi’s India, in its heart, is for a multi-polar world. United States doesn’t follow rules, it isn’t friends with anyone. All it wants is servility. Those who are independent—like Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, China, North Korea or Iran—face its wrath.  India is still some leagues away  before it could trust China completely and dump the United States for good. India is pivotal to Project Eurasia but can’t afford to annoy either of the two blocs. It’s a watchful tread by them.

It’s just not the United States: India has also made a choice in warming up to Saudi Arabia-Israel in the Middle East. They are Iran’s sworn enemies. By drawing close to the Gulf Muslim nations, India has left Pakistan sterile. Pakistan’s fervent appeal on religious lines to Muslim nations has drawn a very tepid response on Kashmir. Instead we have the situation where Modi is being accorded the highest civilian honour in UAE and Bahrain.  This comes in the backdrop of Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Maldives conferring similar honours to him. It has isolated Pakistan on Kashmir.

Iran has shown it can’t wait for India interminably.  It doesn’t want to be a minor player in India’s international diplomatic games. It’s a perfectly legitimate response given how Iran and its’ proud people are waging a war for survival. Modi government though is in the thick of its own war with internal and external enemies.  One hopes, through the backdoor diplomatic channels,  India and Iran remain warm to each other. Till the time is ripe.

It’s good for the world.

 

Modi-Imran in SCO: Be ready for some tough pictures

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It would be a hectic two days for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (June 13-14). The flight detour through Oman and Iran too wouldn’t have helped. Then there is this little matter of bilateral talks with at least five heads of states:  Xi Jinping (China), Vladimir Putin (Russia), Hassan Rouhani (Iran), Ashraf Ghani (Afghanistan) and Sooronbay Jeenbekov (Kyrgyzstan) besides the actual SCO Summit.

Modi’s diplomacy in Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) isn’t just about his time. It’s also about the long shadow of United States which would follow his every move and not just with China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran—all in US crosshair for one reason or the other.  Modi has the image of a tough leader, engaging the world but never aligned to any particular bloc. Much of it would be tested by Friday.

Modi, of course, can’t overlook the probing audience of a billion and a half people in India and Pakistan. There would be photo-ops with Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan. Every nuance of arched eyebrows, warm or cold smile, firm or limp handshake, would be dissected in reams of papers. A hug though is as good as ruled out.

In many ways SCO would be about optics. Its’ stated goal is to fight against the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism. But Pakistan would be spared this embarrassment. Our troublesome neighbour is making its debut in SCO since its formal induction in 2017—as is the case with India. This  powerful  Group of the East has had always China behind the wheels. Modi can enjoy the ride but can’t change the course.  China is friends with Pakistan for nothing.

Meanwhile, India and Pakistan have chosen to embarrass each other on the eve of the 19th SCO Summit. India first sought a free airspace for Modi’s passage to Bishkek. However once it was granted, wisdom prevailed and Modi opted to decline the offer. Pakistan, or its propped-up separatists in Jammu & Kashmir, then killed 5 CRPF jawans in Anantnag on Wednesday. Be ready for some tough pictures from Bishkek.

It isn’t to say that SCO is without merit for India. US needs India for its Asia strategy and by appearing shoulder-to-shoulder with Putin and Xi, Modi would keep Donald Trump sober when the two meet in a fortnight’s time in Osaka for G20 Summit (June 28-29).  Modi’s bilateral with Rouhani in Bishkek would further force Trump’s hands. That the host in Osaka would be Japan’s Shinzo Abe, who is outreaching to Iran later this week, is no little matter.

India also needs to have the right thermostat to keep matters with China from running too hot or too cold. Modi’s recent visit to Maldives must have prodded the wounds of China. Bishkek would be a good place to straighten out the ruffled feathers since the two leaders, Modi and XI, are slated for a summit in October, a la Wuhan style.

There is no gain denying India sees a friend in Russia. It was Russia which facilitated the entry of India into SCO which, to begin with, was primarily a Central Asia lobby that needed an axis after Soviet Union exploded in 1991. Modi and Putin aren’t taking any steps back on S400 missiles or their growing defence cooperation and Bishkek would afford the two leaders a moment to align themselves against the evil eye of US.

SCO is as good a moment as any to keep Afghanistan in India’s good books. The mountainous country could be fuming for having been not invited for Modi’s oath ceremony last month.  Kabul is insecure for more than one reason—Taliban, fostered by Pakistan, is gaining international currency; and US is vowing a retreat of its armed forces. India has always been an all-weather friend and Bishkek couldn’t have come at a better time.

India also needs access to information and intelligence from the Tashkent-based RATS (Regional Anti Terror Structure). China’s push for Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also can’t be allowed a free goal. India also  can’t afford to be hemmed in by Pakistan and China on its two flanks. A global economy can’t be known as only a South Asian behemoth. India needs physical access over and above its northern borders into Eurasia and SCO affords an excellent opportunity.  A rising India is critical to all big powers and it must keep all its suitors on tenterhooks. A stronger and more empowered Modi by his people would only help.

 

India-China Cold War is bad news for BRICS

The Indo-US agreement on sharing military logistics to counter China’s assertiveness in Indian Ocean could have wider ramifications.  The two can use each other’s land, air and naval bases for supplies and repair. A piece on the essentials of this conflict:

India and China have been engaged in a Cold War since the beginning of 2015.

New Delhi feels a certain hegemony over Indian Ocean. China, which views it as vital to its survival as a trade route, won’t let it happen. The trade deficit between the two doesn’t help the cause.  Both are wary of each other. It’s a real bad news for the future of BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)—much to the delight of western powers.

India has made a few moves in recent past which shows its anxiety. Modi visited Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka in March last year but ignored China-friendly Maldives as an apparent snub. Also a conference of “Indian Ocean: Renewing the Maritime Trade and Civilisational Linkages” was held in Bhubaneswar.  India wants its own Cotton Route to challenge China’s New Silk Road.  The Grand Prize of East Africa doesn’t lessen their friction.

China has its own “String of Pearls” strategy. The Gwadar port in Pakistan; naval bases in Myanmar, intelligence facility in Bay of Bengal, a canal-in-construct across the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, a military tie-up with Cambodia and building military bases in the South China Sea. The “String of Pearls” is meant to secure the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea for its energy and security concerns.

With the Strait of Malacca enabling almost 80 percent of passage to China’s energy needs, it has looked to build its naval power at choke points along the sea routes from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea.

A look at the two Asian powers’ position vis-à-vis critical nations/islands strewn across the Indian Ocean:

Myanmar

This Southeast Asian state was close to China for two decades. But in 2012, it began a “pro-democratization” process—most likely under US pressure—and is now seen close to India. The two together plan to extend Myanmar-Thailand Highway into a trilateral deal.

India’s “Cotton Road” strategy is meant to counter China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan. India wishes to integrate with its ASEAN counterparts and block china from dominating these states.

Sri Lanka

In a surprise result last year, the pro-China leadership in Sri Lanka, under Rajapksa was ousted and pro-India Sirisena came to power. The first thing Sirisena did was to suspend China’s $1.4 billion investment in port infrastructure.

With Sri Lanka back under India’s influence, for the moment, the link between Maldives and Myanmar for China has been “cut,” so to speak.

Pakistan

Pakistan has decisively moved into China’s arms and there’s no going back on it. The $46 billion Pakistan-China Economic Corridor is well and truly underway. From an Indian perspective, it’s a bad news.

Bangladesh

In order to counter China-Pakistan alliance, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi went to Bangladesh and paved way for resolving the 40-year old border disagreement. It can also have a vital impact on India’s control of its northeast region.  India can also now directly use Bangladesh’s ports, instead of relying on vulnerable Siliguri Corridor. Till Modi visited Bangladesh, the latter had been cuddling up to China.

Nepal

Nepal has been a clear loss to India.  New Delhi reacted badly to Nepal’s new federative constitution, as did the pro-India Madhesi ethnic group that occupies the Terai border. Subsequent riots and Indian trucks refusing to cross the border into Nepal worsened the situation. Kathmandu sees the hand of New Delhi in this unrest.

China moved in swiftly, providing 1.3 million litres of petrol and signing a deal to fill in Nepal’s demand in the face of India’s monopoly. In one swift action, Nepal has pivoted itself on China’s axis. China surely eyes the control of strategic Karnali and Koshi rivers that sustains 200 million Indians who live at the southern border.

Maldives

The ouster of former head Nauseed and his Maldivian Democratic Party is a big blow to India’s plans for this little island nation. The current president Yameen is well-disposed towards China which gives it a proxy control on this island chain. There have been multiple attempts on Yameen’s life and India has found itself drawn into the scandal.