The Indian Ambassador to the United States, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, in mid-2019, made two statements regarding India ending oil imports from Iran – these statements appeared to be oxymorons, at the very least.
“ ... We depend very heavily on stability in that part of the world,” Harsh Vardhan Shringla had said.
‘That part of the world’ is a complicated generalisation, seeing as there is no universally recognised definition of the boundaries of the ‘Middle Eastern Region’ politically, or academically. However, considering the vast and heavy diplomatic, military and trade relations with the Arab world and the Gulf Cooperation Council, not to mention the millions of Indian citizens residing in the region – it is true that India depends on stability in the region to protect Indian lives, Indian wealth and Indian diplomacy.
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Shringla’s next statement, made on the same day, attempted to justify the end of oil imports from both Iran and Venezuela. India, Shringla had said, considers itself a “partner of the United States”.
Were we even to ignore the confusingly heartwarming sentiment expressed by the same man for Iran, calling it “an extended neighbour”, again, on the same day and on the same occasion – we’d find the collective of statements ridiculous.
Ramifications of US Choking Iran Economy
Cognisant of the nature of diplomacy, as itself conniving and conspiring, two-faced and untrustworthy – there are certain facts to be recognised, before one decides to declare allegiance for an economy that feels entitled to dictate India’s foreign policy and defence trade decisions, while on the other hand withdrawing visa issuances, trade benefits and even considering itself entitled to oppose domestic regulation to do with e-commerce, and even the RBI’s data localisation policies.
But more importantly in this consideration, than why to NOT side with the United States, is why it is entirely unnecessary and immoral to side with it.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a diplomatic ally in the subcontinent. At the same time, it is an oppressive theocratic regime that heavily cracks down on political dissent and equal rights activism.
Its middle-class suffers the most when the United States chokes the national economy, and employment falls drastically, accompanying shortages of essentials (food, medicine, education…) and illiquid markets.
The regime further uses the existence of a ‘foreign threat’ to crack down on political opposition within the borders of Iran – and on the pretext of national security, journalists, lawyers and activists are arrested and muzzled on massive scales.
Iran’s markets and businesses opening up to the world, was a salient step towards the economic and social emancipation of the citizens. When the United States chokes the economy, and threatens to cut off companies and individuals who continue to deal with Iran – essentially extorts market participants into actively boycotting Iran’s businesses and businesspeople – we see disastrous ramifications, rather easy to predict, of oppressive and regressive elements in Iran resurfacing and thriving among the newfound hate for the liberal west that is responsible for their current condition.
Looming India-US Trade War?
INSTEX is a European creation, a brainchild of Germany, France and the United Kingdom, invented to circumvent US sanctions – a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’ to enable trade with Iran without risking US financial ramifications. This is unlikely to prove very useful, owing to the lack of clarity and a frankly rather insignificant trade volume between Iran and the EU, small enough for corporation to avoid the risk altogether.
Furthermore, the creation of a financial mechanism that bypasses the US dollar amounts to an attempt to circumvent the international financial system, a serious move, and arguably without enough incentive of EU governments and corporate bodies.
The United States government is, since the Trump takeover, a largely disruptive participant in the international financial market. India is, despite warm embraces among the leaders of the nations, perceived by the Oval Office as an economic opponent – evident by the administration’s moves towards withdrawing trade privileges to India. India responded with increased tariff’s on certain US imports.
If we, rather safely, assume that Trump won’t back down at this stage, or even less likely – slow down, we will likely be headed towards an Indo-US trade war. Politico published reports in March, from sources who sat in on internal meetings where Section 301 Investigations against India were discussed – the same mechanism that initiated the trade war with China.
India Must Make The ‘Wiser Choice’ In Diplomacy
US policies are not geared towards a favourable climate for India, and while it is still safe to assume some level of stability, sanctions can be easy to anticipate. Iran is a strategically important ally in the subcontinent, and if the morality doesn’t appeal to you, let diplomacy and strategic interests.
Iran’s skirmishes with Pakistan make it an important and geographically advantageous friend.
Iran’s interests further align with India in the Afghan region, namely, with reducing Pakistani influence in the area – especially post the US negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In the Chinese economic endeavours, namely the Chinese OBOR initiative with Pakistan, India’s alignment with Iran in trade and infrastructure, with projects like the Chabahar port, is of immense strategic importance in the economy of the sub-continent.
Shringla was not wrong when he said that India depends heavily on stability in the region, especially with conflicting interests in strong diplomatic ties Israel and Saudi Arabia, both traditionally opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
It is notable however, that India has opposed Saudi Arabia and Israel both on certain issues, recently with the Jamal Khashoggi issue, and the shifting of the Israeli Capital City to Jerusalem (Disputed Area) – and a continuation in Iranian oil imports is no reason to fear endangering thriving relations with either government.
What is of import is the diplomatic and moral position India needs to take in this situation. When the smoke (figurative, hopefully) clears and the crisis is over, India needs to come out of this as nation that stood by what’s right, and took a humanitarian stance against Western diktat – simultaneously making the wiser choice in diplomacy.
(Paarth Manjarekar is a first year law student from Mumbai, studying at the Jindal Global Law School. He has a keen interest in global geopolitics. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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