India’s war with China is getting more and more imminent, as what has finally come out, after the talks between India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe in Moscow, it has become clear that situation is clearly heading for a deadlock 1.  India in a true case of running with a hare and hunting with a hound, is supposedly not into ‘right-waters’ as on its international front, things are not turning out to be ‘that-fruitful’. Surely, the analysts were baffled as to why, straight from Moscow, Rajnath Singh, would make an unscheduled visit to Tehran? Particularly, when Iran had walked-out of India’s shadow and instead had made one of the biggest deals in history i.e. of 400 billion USD with China for the next 25 years on July 13, 2020 2.

Why did Rajnath Singh tried to open-up a window with Iran which Iran has already closed, if not on the direction of US, and cut a ‘sorry-figure’ in Tehran.  According to NDTV on September 6, 2020 3 , ‘Rajnath Singh said he had a “very fruitful” meeting with his Iranian counterpart Brigadier General Amir Hatami and discussed ways to bolster bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on regional security issues, including the situation in Afghanistan. Singh landed in Tehran after concluding his three-day visit to Russia where he attended a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) defense ministers. “Both the Defence Ministers discussed ways to take forward bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on regional security issues, including peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Singh’s office said in a separate tweet on the meeting. India-Iran commercial ties were traditionally dominated by Indian import of Iranian crude oil. In 2018-19 India imported USD 12.11 billion worth of crude oil from Iran. However, following the end of the Significant Reduction Exemption (SRE) period on May 2, 2019, India has suspended importing crude from Iran, according to the Indian Embassy here. The US had asked countries, including India, to cut oil imports from Iran down to “zero” by November 6, 2019 or face sanctions’.

Has even the recent-memory of Rajnath Singh not helped him as he went ahead with Iran when Iran hasn’t not even ‘straighten its back’ after India had so unabashedly  disowned Iran, to the tunes of US and had put on hold all the oil-imports from Iran. ‘if a small jog of memory might help, who can forget Iranian foreign minister Javed Zarif dashing to meet India’s then foreign minister Sushma Swaraj on May 13, 2019 , when India had stopped buying the Iranian oil in the wake of US sanctions on Iran. Sushma Swaraj  had then tried to comfort her counterpart that India ‘would see’ once the elections were over.  Only six-months later India new foreign minister S Jaishankar was in Tehran, on December 22, 2019, where he disgraced himself by openly expressing  his gratitude to Pompeo to have allowed India to resume the stalled work in Chabahar  , something which was loathed by Iran .  Today India stands dropped from Chabahar railway project by Iran. Courtesy: China’ 4.

 

There is a new wind blowing in Iran and a pretty hard stand from Iran came-out-to-be,  even as Rajnath Singh had just landed in Tehran. The stand was enough to spell the mood, as Rajnath Singh took-up the cudgels after two months when Iran had gone ahead with China, after India’s ouster from the Chabahar project, as it was expected that India should have ‘rushed-into’ to salvage at least the claim to have shared linguistic and civilisational ties with Iran. But, otherwise India remained silent.  Iranian president Hasan Roohani was very harsh, with an oblique reference to India, as Reuters on September 5, 2020 has reported his statement saying ‘Friends should have defied US sanctions during the pandemic’. He expressed concern that not a single friendly country ( read India)  told us that in this time of coronavirus and hardship and for the sake of humanity ‘we will stand up to America.  The report informed that Hassan Rouhani castigated Iran’s friends on Saturday for not standing up to the United States and ignoring U.S. sanctions during the coronavirus pandemic. Iran, with over 380,000 registered cases and over 22,000 deaths from coronavirus, is one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic in the Middle East. He lambasted US that if the US “had a bit of humanity and brain”, he said, it would have offered to “lift the sanctions for a year because of the coronavirus”. But the United States “is far more heartless and evil than those things,” he added. Instead, it “imposed new sanctions and pressures on us over these past seven months of coronavirus”. In  March, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (had) rejected the U.S. offer to help Iran in its fight against the pandemic, and denounced U.S. leaders as “charlatans and liars”’ . The sanctions are a part of US effort to slash Iranian revenues after president Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 from the Iranian nuclear deal. Food medicines and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions but the trading bans have deterred several foreign banks from doing business with Iran, including financing humanitarian deal, provoking shortage of several drugs’. The subtle part of Roohani’s statement was that he made no reference to India stopping oil- imports from Iran etc.

This brings to the cardinal question as to why would Rajnath Singh risk this behavior from Iran? The answer perhaps, lies from the direction of US and US wanted to ‘test-the-waters’ in Iran, to find out that if war was to happen between India and China-Pakistan, to what extent would be the becoming-role of Iran. Thus, is this wake Roohani made it clear that Iran no more considers India to be its friendly country, and it cannot be ruled-out that Iran ‘could say this all’ on the behest of China. Iran, surely must have expected from India, which is an ally of US, to try to prevail over US to lift sanctions, even if for an year, as that ‘breathing period’ might have revived Iranian economy but nothing of that kind happened. The message from Iran to India was loud-and-clear that Iran considers China as its friend as China came to Iran’s rescue, when the whole world was ganged-up against Iran i.e. in its most trying-time while India made merry under the jolly-ride of US.

Any positive-report from Indian aspect was being awaited but which did not arrive. Iran in the last decade or so, has supported India on the position of Afghan-Taliban, who are now likely to resume their government once after US vacates,  and then, could Rajnath Singh extract anything from Iran on the question of Afghan-Taliban? Perhaps No. The message given to Singh came contrary to the expectations as Iran signalled to be a friend of China and also to the allies of China which include Afghan-Taliban too 6 . This leaves Rajnath Singh to maneuver-out from inside the Gulf-states a standpoint against Pakistan which is raring to go against India alongside China.  Hence, the great-game is now entering into its next phase as a ‘threat’ to Pakistan from Gulf-states, to the advantage of India, might be on the anvil, but winds of change are also blowing as China has started to discard oil-import from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which has slipped to the third position in terms of crude oil supply to china 7 .

The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner. He writes on international politics.

References:

1-      https://countercurrents.org/2020/09/is-war-imminent/

2-      https://eurasiantimes.com/us-exasperated-over-iran-china-400-billion-pact/

3-      https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/rajnath-singh-tweets-had-a-very-fruitful-meeting-with-irans-defence-minister-2291242

4-      https://countercurrents.org/2020/07/us-india-israel-versus-china-pakistan-iran-axis/

5-      https://in.reuters.com/article/iran-usa-sanctions/irans-friends-should-have-defied-u-s-sanctions-during-pandemic-president-rouhani-idINKBN25W0FL

6-      Pakistan invites Taliban, China to discuss Afghanistan peace talks aimed at ending 19-yr war

7-      https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/oil-and-gas/saudi-arabia-slips-to-3rd-biggest-in-china-crude-supply-for-july/77739885


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