Prime Minister Narendra Modi has demonstrated strategic independence in ensuring that a message from him has been delivered to the incoming President of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi by no less a personage than External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. The Trump administration made a number of missteps based on an incorrect assessment of US capabilities, and Iran was in that list of policy goof-ups. The nuclear deal signed between Iran and the other signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action by the countries negotiating with Iran was not perfect, but represented nevertheless substantial concessions by Iran in its path towards full-fledged nuclear capability. Given the constellation of forces confronting the Islamic Republic of Iran, the JCPOA gave a breathing space of 15 years for the world to engage with Iran and seek to modify its policies, especially the insistence on the annihilation of the State of Israel. When India’s first professor of geopolitics first went to Teheran decades ago, the introductory words of his first lecture were to the effect that Israel and the US were friends of India, and hence it was not possible to agree with the many signboards along the route from the university guest house to the campus that called for an end to both countries. It must be said to the credit of the Iranian people and their culture of civility to guests that not a single individual left the hall in protest at such a declaration, but listened attentively to the talk delivered by the visitor from a university in India. Later, that professor opposed India stopping the purchase of Iranian crude out of concern about US sanctions under Trump, pointing to the significance of Chabahar besides other factors that made good relations an essentiality for both Teheran as well as Delhi. It had earlier been pointed out that India could use its friendship with both the US and Iran to try and ensure that the latter agreed to the flow of US equipment and commodities from Chabahar to Afghanistan and Central Asia, thereby breaking the stranglehold of GHQ Rawalpindi on such supplies just as has long been the case with supplies from India. When General Secretary Xi asks Prime Minister Modi to welcome the CPEC, he fails to consider not only that it passes illegally through Indian territory but that the network is in substance off limits to India. Xi is asking India to cheer a cosy club set up together with GHQ Rawalpindi that sets up part of its facilities illegally in the territory of another country and adds to the injury by denying access to that same country while refusing to rectify the illegality committed by routing the CPEC through Indian territory taken by Pakistan through the use of force and deceit. The CPEC is among the biggest policy errors made by General Secretary Xi, as will become evident in course of time.
Just as Xi has followed the US policy of relying on the Pakistan military rather than the civilian government, treating Prime Minister Imran Khan as what he is, a flunkey of General Qamar Bajwa, it has been pointed out by an expert in geopolitics that China has long given priority to the Supreme Leader of Iran rather than to the elected government in Teheran. On the contrary, India has always placed its relationship with the elected governments in Pakistan and Iran rather than to either GHQ Rawalpindi or the Supreme Leader. Elected leaders are not as convenient to deal with and as reliable in carrying out commands couched as requests as those responsible to the people are, at least so far as Beijing is concerned. India in contrast respects the will of the people as exercised through the ballot and not the bullet. Which is why it is commendable that the Prime Minister delivered his message not to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (who has often demonstrated a dislike of India) but to the incoming President of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi. By all accounts, Raisi is a patriotic individual who places the interests of Iran first. This will be helpful in understanding why it would not be wise to fall headlong into the trap being laid by China through its access to the Supreme Leader, which is an alliance with Pakistan and Turkey that will be directed also against India. Both countries are run by leaders who are no friends of the Shia community, while Iran is predominantly a Shia country. The PRC and the Wahhabi International have allied against democracies such as the US and India, while keeping Iran in their sights once the country gets weakened to a point where a meltdown will occur. Given the resilience of the people of Iran, this is a remote possibility, but try telling that to the Wahhabi International that has been supercharged by support from PRC. Saudi Arabia led by its anti-Wahhabi Crown Prince would be as important an ally as India, and it is possible that Riyadh and Teheran will understand such a reality before long. As for the US and its European partners, they seem to believe that agreements are meant to be honoured only by the other side and not them. They need to return to the JCPOA now, in the form agreed to by President Obama, before they push into the rival camp a country that is an essential element of Indo-Pacific security architecture. Over 15 years of a renewed JCPOA followed by engagement rather than sanctions, Iran may follow the example of some of its neighbours and understand that Israel is as much a reality in the Middle East as Iran is and will remain so.