India may be dragged into war against Iran

Image result for pics of General Soleimani

[General Qassem Soleimani]

The assassination by a killer drone of Iran’s Pas Daran (Revolutionary Guards) chief, Major General Qassem Soleimani, on the express orders of the US President Donald J. Trump is the sort of historical blunder that will rank with President George W Bush’s initiation of war against Iraq in 2001 to takeout President Saddam Hussein on the blatantly false charge of Baghdad readying nuclear weapons. The Bush decision set fire to West Asia, and completely destabilized an already volatile region that Saddam had kept a lid on by strongarm measures.

Saddam was the hinge on which West Asian peace rested. He had for several previous decades somehow managed to balance the interests of the sunni and shia communities in Iraq, and maintain order, often by bloody means, something both the Saudi led sunni bloc and the Iran-headed shia bloc grudgingly acknowledged. That order was upended. Now Trump’s murder of Soleimani is likely to start a spiral of violence and targeted strikes against American military presence and US economic interests in the Gulf, in Iraq where shias predominate, and generally in the extended area stretching from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Hormuz to Central Asia in the north, Pakistan in the east, and Syria and the Levant in the west. As it is, the Iraqi parliament is on the verge of voting for a resolution asking the US to get out of Iraq.

Hugely respected in the region as much for his political acumen and military expertise as for his understanding of the religio-ethnic dynamic in greater West Asia, Soleimani founded the al-Quds force for action in Iraq after the US military intervention there. Deployed against what Tehran considers the greatest danger to Islam — the US-Israeli combine, and also to fight the spurious caliphate of the murderous al-Baghdadi, the al-Quds force and the Kurdish paramilitary force, Peshmerga, were primarily responsible for reducing the Islamic State to nothing, which actions were discreetly supported by Saudi Arabia — the ostensible guardian of Mecca. The real reason why the people by and large held Soleimani in high regard was because of his physical courage; he led from the front.

It is very possible that with Pakistan getting dragged into the melee with likely attacks on US targets mounted by Iran-backed elements in that country, India will be asked by Washington to not only share intelligence — and in case Pakistan becomes too hot for the US forces to stage military missions out of, to permit American military units to operate out of Indian air force and army bases along the border with Pakistan. In Jaishankar-Rajnath Singh’s recent 2×2 summit with the Pompeo-Esper duo in Washington, the American side was eager particularly to activate the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) that will allow the US military the use of Indian facilities for, among other things, anti-Iran operations.

Permission under LEMOA will be demanded by the US because, with the general elections coming up, Trump will be compelled for political reasons to up the ante — meeting an Iranian counter thrust with a bigger strike — rather than to cool down the situation by making some sort of friendly gesture and even reparations to Tehran in terms of say, weakening the US-led sanctions regime. With much of Islamic Asia, including Pakistan, now unwilling to be any part of this action-reaction sequence, the only two countries on Iran’s flanks — Russia standing aside for the nonce before jumping onto Tehran’s side should America escalate with too much force — are Turkey to the west and India to the east.

Erdogan began building bridges to Iran with his visit to Tehran in January 2014 that was hailed by the Iranian foreign ministry, “As two neighbors and Muslim countries, ….enjoy[ing] many commonalities and many cooperation opportunities”. Indeed, before meeting with Trump in Washington in November last year, Erdogan had hosted a controversial Iranian diplomat who had a hand in an attack on certain Jews in Buenos Aires. So it is improbable that Ankara, which is already on the outs with the US owing to Erdogan’s purchase of the S-400 air defence system, will allow the NATO base at Incirlik to be used for air or any other activity against Iran. That leaves India exposed to US pressure.

One of Narendra Modi’s major claims of foreign policy success is his supposedly warm personal relations with Trump. It has so far fetched absolutely nothing for India and all the country has to-date witnessed is a one-way relationship where Modi keeps trying to please the US with unending concessions and deals for military hardware but receives no consideration whatsoever in return. With a confirmed America-firster — Jaishankar in MEA, moreover, the advice offered Modi is to give the US more and more even if it gets India less and less in return. His natural aptitude for hard bargaining that Modi boasted about is nowhere in evidence, at least not in terms of any substantive strategic gains and economic benefits. What benefits anybody can point to are mainly negative ones, meaning things like US restrictions on India techie movement could have been more severe, limitations on imports of Indian manufactured goods more onerous, etc.!

At the heart of the worry about India getting engaged, willy-nilly, in American initiatives hurtful to Iran, is that Modi, like most Indian politicians, is a proven sucker for praise and flattery, and Trump’s laying it on thick will be irresistible to the Indian PM. One need only recall the “Howdy, Modi!” Houston event and how elated Modi seemed when Trump rained accolades on him, to gauge the dangers ahead.

It may be best for the Modi government to, for once, do the right thing and preempt any approaches for help by Washington, by wagging its finger and asking the US and Iran to refrain from doing anything to escalate tension and, as a well wisher, to suggest to Washington that it make amends, by easing economic pressure on Tehran as prelude to negotiations for ending the long US-Iranian diplomatic impasse. It may be the way to regain for an over-US tilted India room for diplomatic manouevre, some slight self-respect and, perhaps, even an affirmation of shared interests with Iran.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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21 Responses to India may be dragged into war against Iran

  1. PRATIK KUMAR says:

    Sometimes I really doubt whether China is our biggest enemy or uncle sam….

    • Nowroz JC says:

      Uncle Sam is everybody’s Friend and everybody’s Enemy – depending on the circumstances. If you get into bed with Uncle Sam, you’d be well advised to keep your a**e covered!

  2. Girishkumar says:

    Sir,If not for Modi’s relationship with Trump , abrogation of article 370 and lockdown in Kashmir for more than 6months would have warranted sanctions on India by US of A and it’s allies, in this regard Modi’s foreign policy is good. Isn’t it, Sir?

    • vivek says:

      why india or any country needs outside permission for its internal matter? did America asked any ones permission when they start deporting and detaining Mexicans ?

  3. vivek says:

    Iran has no capability to initiate direct war against US. Also China and Russia would also refrain themselves to get into this. And after modi govt initiated this 2×2 dialog with US (which is meant to pressurize India every now and then) India is in no position to say NO to us.

  4. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Re. “US restrictions on India techie movement could have been more severe, limitations on imports of Indian manufactured goods more onerous, etc.!”

    Sorry but Americans are in no position to do any of the above, the chinese trade war has ensured that for India. And they will not be able to do much of any such, with any lasting losses for India, for a very very long time in the future.

    LEMOA, in any case was a coup on the Indian civilization by the Indian state and if it gets activated then it will only expose the truth that this country must be in the know of.

    General Qassem Soleimani has already achieved, for the most part, what he set out to do. His assassination could well be a face saving measure that Americans needed. I wonder if the late general would have minded being assassinated after such a full career.

    I frankly do not see any escalation given that Chinese have vowed support.

  5. RG says:

    All this turmoil will die down after few months. Al Khameni is too clever not to indulge in a full scale war. Once the public hysteria is over, there will be rhetoric statements from both the sides.

  6. Sudip says:

    I shudder to think of the consequences for India and its people, which would be catastrophic, besides sounding the death knell of Chabar Port. The present political dispensation, howsoever nationalistic its goals, is susceptible to arms twisting by Americans, the most selfish and criminally inclined people on earth. Shootouts there have killed more innocents, including people of Indian origin, than terror attacks! Invading Iraq to find and destroy WMDs and the assassination of Saddam Hussain have destabilized this part of the world, besides impacting India as never before. The US has triply compounded its error by eliminating Maj Gen Soleimani. Unfortunately, Modi will be constrained to help his friend Trump, one way or another.

  7. Vimal Mohan says:

    India has been isolated in a very recent past Naval Joint exercise which conveyed more than said by China, Russia and Iran.. Reaction of US allowing India to go ahead with Charbahar ; I feel is a futile exercise now; moreover, China’s investment ongoing and future is known to all..
    If India succumbs to US pressure, south east Asia may bleed badly.

  8. Rahul says:

    US didn’t go near Strait of Homruz. It managed the attack, didn’t go Rambo and blow all up. Had US meant recklessness, it would have attacked on Iranian soil.It was reciprocal and punitive. Clearly, there was no point in keeping the General alive. Bush and Obama both wanted to bump him off.The math changed this time.

    It reveals deep intelligence penetration of Iran’s top military leader. Just not possible without human intell., should be extremely worrying for the Iranians. US, for the short term at least regained escalation dominance. A lot depends on how Iran responds. Iranians are not stupid, they are strategic and calculating(there calculations fail sometimes ,anyhow Iranians are good), low likelihood of an all-out direct US-Iran confrontation.

    An already under pressure regime and with growing popular dissent at home, it has to respond. But cant and in all probability will not provoke the US for a response inside Iran. A measured response might come but strong or perceptually good enough to save face domestically.
    The infallibility rather the myth of it, built around the General stands shattered. Iran used it cleverly for hiring recruits. Competitors/challengers, and there are quite a few, might ask now how your all powerful man fell so easily!!! The human intell. angel can and will spook the Iranians for some time.

    It’s a fact that the west is responsible in big part for the situation the middle east is in today but it’s just convenient to point out western intervention and justify Iranian/Russian actions.

    Iran is like an uninvited guest in Iraq/Syria/Leb/Yemen. Not a legit player there. Its crimes there are as ghastly as that of the US .Imagine this: China dancing in our backyard,its another thing we are cowards and do nothing.

    Hard to say what happens next.

    India should and in my view would not side with US, certainly would not cede on Chabar, which is still a neonatal btw. Iran is important for us, we should make that clear. India is too important for US compared to Iran. Stand up for your interests!!!
    A US- Iran full on conflict suits China the best. We should stand for our interests as should any nation. China would try to extract from this build up,vis-a-vis Iran, a loss for us still. US would sink in the orient if at all; they should pack their bags from the Middle East and focus on Asia or face atrophy,China wins then.

    Wow,what a way to whack a guy ,clinching evidence,right in your face! That’s how a superpower moves , and we went berserk over downing an F16 with almost zero evidence! Way to go India.

    Given all the bullcrappy around the concept of ‘strategic restrain’, am very interested to see how it unfolds,how Iran reacts,for there are just so many pieces one can play.

  9. Joydeep Sircar says:

    No way. You are disregarding the soft signal by allowing demonstrations in Kashmir against the US outrage. India will also hold USA to the Chabahar clearance it extracted. The only way lndia will go to war will be against Pakistan if USA takes on Pakistan with decapitating strikes that bring down it’s war-making capability and degrades it’s nuclear arsenal, and there it may quickly settle for a China-Russia guaranteed standstill agreement with minor border tweaks like Haji Pir Pass. Despite all this talk about taking back PoK lndia really does not want to add millions of untrustworthy Muslims to its population just for the sake of a land corridor to Central Asia.

  10. Mallikarjun says:

    When Iran is not our enemy how can India go to war with out any reason(directly or indirectly)

    • john doe says:

      We won’t. There will be no war. Neither the US or Iran wants it. LEMOA allows us reciprocal access from US bases too. It allows our Navy to extend its reach much further out than previous. The fears mentioned here were brought up by the opposition earlier when LEMOA was about to be signed.

  11. Jagdeep Bhatia says:

    I,hope that Mr. Modi should ease out trade concession and other related matters like buying Def. eqpts ,etc and deal firmly with America and persuade it to go slow on aggressive acts against Iran and thus destabilizing the peace in the region.I m sure our shrewd PM will act smartly and help maintain World peace.

  12. Bharat kumar says:

    There is a news that demonetisation was conducted to stop terror financing.. does ISI have fake note printing capacity to print capacity more than RBI … Was this a reply to our surgical strikes… And javed khanani suicide in karachi linked to it…

  13. Rupam says:

    Regardless of signing LEMOA, do u think India should/can ignore the US should they ask for using
    our bases and using the pretext that it would affect our national interest also revoke LEMOA, while also extending a life support to Iran by buying oil from it but getting it at cheaper rates and also finish Chabbar port work as well and start operations there.

  14. Gram Massla says:

    “Robbery, butchery, rapine, these liars call empire: they create desolation and call it peace.” Thus spake Tacitus Germanicus, Roman historian, on the rapacious motives of the Romans who would carve out an empire out of the misery of the conquered. Not much has changed since then. Politicians promise to clear the “swamp” to get elected, then lie through their teeth and leave in ignominy. The savage murder of Gen Soleimani is not merely pointless, it strengthens the retrograde elements of the Iranian regime while acting as a wagging tail to the twin pit bulls of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Whenever that war weary region senses peace trust the Americans to throw in another grenade. And there will be no rest for the weary, bogged down by endless war. it is doubtful that Modi will accede to the American demands, if forthcoming. Indian ports may be used (as in 2003) but that will be it. Anything beyond that will be utterly foolhardy.

  15. Rupam says:

    Bharat Karnad ji slight digression, is it possible for our domestic private sector to produce lets say a bulk order of 700 Tejas in blocks of 50 with upgrades from themselves and HAL if orders are guaranteed on mission mode and war footing speed also accompanied by allowing pvt. sector to export certain variants as well to bring in economies of scale ?

    • Yes, if all source codes are transferred to the private players and the offtake of 700 planes guaranteed to obtain economies of scale, which alone will motivate L&T/Tata/Mahindra, et al to invest massively in manufacturing infrastructure.

    • Yes, if all source codes are transferred to the private players and the offtake of 700 planes guaranteed to obtain economies of scale, which alone will motivate L&T/Tata/Mahindra, et al to invest massively in manufacturing infrastructure.

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