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Volume 3, No. 5 - October 2003

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The Gulf is in Serious Turmoil
K.N. Pandita

After the bizarre Anglo-American imperialist re-visitation of Iraq, the heat has been turned on Iran, the immediate western neighbour of Iraq. The IAEA has set 31 October as the deadline for Iran to subject her nuclear installations to the inspection of the experts.

Iran has conceded that she has a nuclear programme but for peaceful means. It means that she is pursuing the programme of establishing nuclear power stations to produce electricity. The objection raised by the US is that Iran has sufficient hydrocarbon resources to meet her power requirements. Why then should Iran invest large amount in nuclear power production which is much more risky. The argument seems cogent enough to disarm Iran. However, Iran says that hydrocarbon energy has limitations and will get exhausted within a specific period of time. As such, it would be prudent to plan for future.

In any case, Iran is going ahead with her uranium enrichment programme, which she argues does not mean that she is necessarily going to produce nuclear weapons or bomb.

The controversy is deepening and the crisis is accumulating in the region. Iraq and Iran have seldom been friendly to each other. Soon after the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran-Iraq war broke out and during a decade of fighting losses in terms of men and material on both sides were high. Now that Iraq has been subdued, Saddam Hussein removed and Iraqi oil put under Anglo-American control, regional power balance is tilted in favour of Iran. There may not be any immediate threat of Iranian attack on Iraq with the intention of capturing two or three of Iraqís Shia centres, Najaf, Kerbala, Khanaqin etc. Ė to which Iran has been now and then laying claim Ė because of American military presence in Iraq, yet the regional security concerns and strategies would not allow Iran to be the source of threat.

It is clear that the Saudi monarchy is growing increasingly apprehensive of its stability and control over the situation. There is growing internal dissatisfaction in Saudi Arabia and there is much criticism of the ruling machinery of the kingdom in the Islamic world for its carte blanch to the Americans. One of the main reasons for upswing in Islamic terrorism worldwide is the lurking grouse against Saudi monarchy for its total sell out to the Americans.

Washington is aware of underlying political trends in Saudi Arabia and the Islamic world. It is trying to dovetail its Saudi policy though of course with great subtlety at her command. But Washington cannot abandon the monarchy that easy because that would leave Iran in full command of the region, the Gulf oil and the Gulf itself. Furthermore, Iran, a Shia country has no love lost for the Wahhabi Saudi monarchy. Thus apart from regional, religious, political and historical differences, Iran considers the Saudi monarchy responsible for attracting the Americans to the sensitive Gulf region. Between the two, Iran is easier for the US to lose and isolate.

As regards Iranís nuclear programme, it is doubtful if Pakistan would be willing to provide her either the sensitive nuclear technology or the necessary equipment for the project. Pakistan would not want to create a rival for herself towards her west when she is already at loggerheads with her neighbour in the east. Pakistan is dominated by Sunni Wahhabi population and it will be disastrous for her government to give the Shia Iran the nuclear technology. Pakistani Wahhabis want their government to declare Shias as non-Muslims like the Ahmadia.

Thirdly, Pakistan has very close relations with the Saudis. In fact it was the Saudi financial support that helped Pakistan go nuclear. There are serious and long range mutual commitments, promises and understanding between the two. If Iran produces a nuclear bomb, she will use it against Saudis if at all she were to use it. Therefore the possibility of Islamabad transferring nuclear technology to Iran seems very remote.

Why Pakistan gave nuclear technology to North Korea is a different story. North Korea leads in missile technology. So does India. Therefore in order to match Indiaís missile power, Pakistan had to look towards North Korea. Since she could not pay in cash the enormous price North Korea demanded for the missile technology, Pakistanis signed a barter agreement and transferred nuclear technology to North Korea. With the discovery of enormous oil reserves in the Central Asian region, political and security strategy in the whole of the Asian continent, particularly the Middle East, Central and South Asia is undergoing a sea change. With India and Pakistan both having nuclear capability, Washington might be disposed to reconsider the strategic position and strength of Diego Garcia where her strongest nuclear war heads, missiles and nuclear powered war ships are stationed.

Iran has a strong navy capable of policing the Gulf. So has India. Ultimately the Central Asian oil will find the main outlet to the Persian Gulf which, in turn, demands intensified security of the Persian Gulf. As such, Washington would not take the risk of allowing a known antagonistic state like Iran strategically so important to arm itself with the weapons of mass destruction. In fact, it could be Pakistan that might prompt the US to discourage Iran from going nuclear. In doing so, Islamabad gets rid of a nuclearized neighbour.

Islamabad is also somewhat skeptical of Iranís ambivalence and occasional hobnobbing with the Indians. There is the proposal of billion dollar worth gas pipeline from Iran to India. There is also the suspected India-Iran-Russia nexus countering the influence of the US in the region. Therefore Pakistanís long range interest lies in seeing Iranís nuclear programme scuttled altogether. No wonder therefore that in their recent talks in Washington, Pakistani and the US Presidents developed a strategy for the Gulf because Americaís warnings to Iran came soon after the meeting of Musharraf with Bush. Pakistan has another strong reason to prompt the US to place curbs on Iran. The Baluchistan province in southern Pakistan has a long coastline, and Gawadar port, which both the Chinese and the Americans are interested in building, is crucial to the security in the Persian Gulf. The Chinese sank about a billion dollars in the Gawadar port project but are now ousted by the Americans. It should be remembered that the Turkmen-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline is contemplated to terminate at Gawadar. This means the Americans and other big powers will send their tankers to the area on the mouth of the Persian gulf which at the same time means scouting it for security reasons.

Iranian ruling authority is divided between the hardliners and the moderates. Internal dissensions in Iran are deepening. Obviously, political situation inside Iran is highly uncertain. If Iran is allowed to develop her nuclear bomb, there is every possibility of the mullah regime using it against its own dissenting civilian population. One cannot forget the role of the clergy-led hangmen performing their brutalities on moderate and secularist segments of Iranian society. At the same time, there is little hope that Iranian theocratic regime will learn any lesson from the example of Iraq. 

As far as India is concerned, she may not be totally opposed to Iran becoming nuclear. But she is not the country to provide even the lightest assistance to Iran in her nuclearization programme. The only country that was openly and admittedly interested in providing some nuclear technology to Iran is the Russian Federation. But Bush appears to have convinced Putin that the time has come when no commitment should be made to Iran. It means loss of billions of dollars to the Russian Federation. President Bush may have promised Putin that Washington would be evolving a strategy to compensate Russia for the loss of her Iranian contracts. After all such an agreement was reached with the Kazakh President Nazarbayev soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is somewhat difficult to speculate the final course of events in the region. But one cannot ignore the fact that India and Pakistan cannot escape untouched with nuclear bombs in their basements. It cuts no ice with the American policy planners that India has a command and control system more dependable than that of Pakistan. And if the Americans are able to denuclearize the two countries in an amicable way and make them pledge to the security and peace in the region, it would be an achievement.

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