India Insight

Is India really the world’s fifth most powerful country?

India is the world’s fifth most powerful country, according to a New Delhi-authored national security document, the Times of India reported on Wednesday, as Indian analysts placed the emerging nation above major European powers.

Outranking traditional global powers such as the UK, France and Germany, India’s ballooning population, defense capabilities and economic clout were cited as reasons for its position behind only the U.S., China, Japan and Russia in India’s National Security Annual Review 2010, which will be officially released by the country’s foreign ministry next week.

Its statistical foundations in terms of population numbers and GDP aside — in terms of purchasing power parity, it should be noted — India’s experience of wielding power on the global stage of late, boosted by its temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, has been less encouraging.

India has failed to cultivate a wholly reciprocal relationship with the United States, despite warm rhetoric in recent years between New Delhi and Washington and a number of big-ticket diplomatic and industrial agreements.

New Delhi appears to struggle to assert itself in the face of growing Chinese influence in south Asia, has dithered on formulating a firm approach to states such as Iran, and risked appearing naive and out of its depth during the lead-up to international efforts to protect civilians in Libya.

India’s Iran double-speak could shed light on its Libya muddle

India’s Congress-led government has a “flimsy” relationship with Iran, and holds a far more U.S.-centric view of Tehran despite a number of public statements clashing with Washington’s stance towards the country, a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable said.

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) toasts alongside India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a state dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi November 8, 2010.   REUTERS/Jason Reed

The diplomatic double-speak alleged in the cable, obtained by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu on Saturday, shows Congress’ ability to address diplomatic pressures while maintaining bigger geopolitical relationships, and could shed some light on India’s decision to abstain from supporting a no-fly zone to thwart attacks by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on civilians, seen by some as a rebuttal of Western influence on New Delhi.

The cable, authored by the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, describes a 2008 statement rejecting U.S. demands for India to urge Iran to suspend its nuclear programme as “mere tactics in the UPA’s domestic political machinations.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Wikileaks on Pakistan

iran pakistanIn the State Department cables released by Wikileaks and so far reported, the most eye-catching as far as Pakistan is concerned is a row with Washington over nuclear fuel.

According to the New York Times, the cables show:

"A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”

The Pakistan Army is deeply sensitive about any questions on the safety of its nuclear weapons.  The country is also often awash with conspiracy theories accusing the Americans of harbouring secret plans to dismantle the nuclear weapons.

India’s Iran stance will be crucial at the U.N.

India took its deserved place at the world’s most powerful table on Tuesday, winning a two-year seat on the United Nations Security Council with the resounding support of 187 of the assembly’s 192 countries. India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee (L) speaks with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during an official meeting in Tehran. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Immediately, the country’s U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri began talking of his intent to use the tenure to push for reform, with an eye on a permanent berth for the Asian giant.

But the perennial issue of sanctions against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran and its nuclear ambitions are a more pressing — and complex — issue for India in its new role.

from Afghan Journal:

Saving Afghanistan from its neighbours

(A view of the tent in Kabul where the jirga will be held.Reuters/ Ahmad Masood

(A view of the tent in Kabul where the jirga will be held. Reuters/Ahmad Masood

Walking into a giant tent at the foothills of Kabul, you are conscious of the importance of jirgas throughout Afghanistan's troubled history.  These assemblies of tribal elders have been called at key moments in the country's history  from whether it should participate in the two World Wars to a call for a national uprising against an Iranian invasion in the 18th century.

Next week's jirga is aimed at building  a national consensus behind Afghan President Hamid Karzai's effort to seek a negotiated settlement of the nine year conflict now that the Taliban have fought U.S. and NATO forces to a virtual stalemate and the clock on a U.S. military withdrawal has begun.

But the question is how much of an influence Afghanistan's half a dozen direct neighbours including Pakistan and Iran  and near ones such as India, Saudi Arabia and Russia will exert on any possible settlement of the conflict. At one level Afghanistan  has become a battleground for India and Pakistan  on the one hand, and the United States and Iran on the other.  At another level there is also China's deepening economic engagement and  Russis's concerns of the arc of instability radiating from Afghanistan into the Central Asia republics.

from Afghan Journal:

The other nuclear summit and the role of Asian regional players

AFGHANISTAN-IRAN/

Leaders of more than 40 countries are gathering in Washington for a summit beginning on Monday to control the spread of nuclear weapons. Iran for obvious reasons is not invited, but it has announced a conference of its own soon after the Washington meeting. It's called ‘Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for None, and among those who have agreed to attend  are India, Pakistan and China.  

While the level of representation to the Teheran meeting is not at the same level as Washington for all three countries, the fact that they have chosen to attend seems to be a signal to the Obama administration just as it is trying to isolate Iran for its suspected nuclear weapons programme. India's presence in particular has raised the question if it is starting to re-assess ties with Tehran that have in recent years been allowed to slip in the pursuit of a strategic relationship with America. 

 As The Hindu newspaper noted the Tehran conference is a "red rag" to Washington and it has been  quietly discouraging countries to attend.  For New Delhi to agree to send its ambassador to the meeting can only be a signal that it is looking to expand its diplomatic space in the region as differences emerge with Washington over its Afghan strategy weighted towards Pakistan, Indian experts say.New Delhi really should be re-energising links with Tehran  if it wants to maintain its reach in Afghanistan, they say. Without a geographically contiguous border and a hostile Pakistan in the middle, Iran remains the only corridor to Afghanistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Nuclear South Asia: Iran fires a shot at India

Iran looks like it will come out swinging at a global conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) opening in New York on Monday, and in the process take a swipe at Israel as well as India.

And that is a bit of a shift, for India and Iran have ties going back into history, but which have in recent years come under pressure and play in the tangled relationship between India and Pakistan.

Iran, according to this Reuters story, has submitted papers to the NPT conference accusing the United States of violating the treaty by developing new nuclear weapons and providing nuclear aid to Israel and India. The target is clearly Washington and according to the story an attempt by Tehran to deflect attention from its own nuclear programme.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India – aiming for diplomatic encirclement of Pakistan?

India is piling on the diplomatic pressure to convince the international community to lean on Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants blamed by New Delhi for the Mumbai attacks.

According to the Times of India, "India has made it clear to the U.S. and Iran as well as Pakistan's key allies, China and Saudi Arabia, that they need to do more to use their clout to pressure Pakistan into acting..." The Press Trust of India (PTI), quoted by The Hindu, said India had used a visit by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to Delhi to drive home the same message.

As discussed previously on this blog, in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, India's response was to look to the United States to put pressure on Pakistan. It also appears to have won some support from Russia, whose officials said publicly that the attacks were funded by Dawood Ibrahim, an underworld don who India says lives in Pakistan. China, Pakistan's traditional ally, supported the United Nations Security Council in  blacklisting the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity accused of being a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba.  China's Foreign Minister has also telephoned his counterparts in India and Pakistan urging dialogue, according to Xinhua

Iran or the US? India’s delicate balancing act

The visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to India on Tuesday was a slightly low-key affair. But it throws up an interesting conundrum for the Indian government.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad looks on during his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi April 29, 2008. REUTERS/B MathurJust how close can New Delhi afford to be to Tehran before it seriously angers Washington. In the end, will India be forced to choose — Iranian gas or American friendship?

Ahmadinejad was here to promote plans for a $7.6 billion pipeline to bring Iranian gas to Pakistan and India.

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