India’s president, Abdul Kalam (left), with Iranian president Mohammed Khatami (center) during his visit to New Delhi in 2003.

Iran is currently the center of attention of the US militarism that comprises the "Shiite Half Moon", that is, the Lebanese Hezbollah, Syria, Iraqi resistance groups and Iran. To provoke a casus belli, President Bush accuses Teheran of building a nuclear weapon with the aim of attacking Israel as he repeated during a press conference on February 17th, 2005. After these accusations were rejected by inspectors of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, Washington is trying to eliminate its director, Mohamed El Baradei, and replace him with an expert that may be easier to influence.

The latest event in a series of media-psychological maneuvers was the explosion reported on February 16th, 2004, in the province of Busher, some 100 kilometers away from the site where Russian technicians were building a nuclear power plant. The confused explanations of the Iranian authorities, along with the media repercussion that the incident caused, indicate that it was a warning to Teheran.

In effect, the United States and Israel can not carry out a military offensive due to the critical military situation in Iraq and the excessive deployment of troops and neither can they launch a quick operation against Iranian nuclear facilities, like the one Israel carried out against the Iraqi plant of Osirak in June 1981, due to the presence in situ of Russian engineers and the possible collateral damages it could cause.

Contrary to the French engineers in Iraq, who had evacuated the area to allow Tsahal destroy the plant and had even placed a light truck with that purpose in the site of the underground facilities, the Russians seem not to be willing to betray their agreements with Teheran in the interest of Israel.

The explosion did not provoke casualties or diplomatic agitation but it was a clear warning about the intentions of the powers hostile toward Teheran.

Besides these limitations to their military maneuvers, the United States and Israel face other obstacles in their efforts to isolate Iran at a regional level and to «mature» a situation similar to that of Iraq - weakened by UN sanctions - in order to facilitate a ground invasion.

Iran has just found in India a first-class strategic partner in the region and, consequently, this association entails the cooperation of Pakistan, a sworn enemy of India - something that would bring both countries to a situation of cooperation/economic deterrence that would make a confrontation less and less probable.

These agreements, which include Iran’s supply of natural gas to India (Iran has almost half of the world reserves of natural gas), certainly constitute an obstacle for Washington. In parallel with this, a well-cons
idered attitude by Europe and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a wide cooperation in this direction would serve to stop the US imperial agenda.

Cultural Affinities and Convergence of Interests

Iran and India are the two main Shiite Muslim countries of the world. Historically, their cultural affinities go back even beyond the cult of Mitra, in the pre-Christian era. In fact, the inhabitants of modern Iraq, the South of Iran and the West and North-West of India, came from the same region, something that one day led pundit Nehru to say: «Few peoples have been so closely united by their origins and history like the peoples of India and Iran». We also find a people in the hills of Beluchistan, the barhuis, who still have an Iranian culture and speak a Dravidian language similar to that spoken in the South of India. The very name of Iran is of a Sanskrit origin, airya (noble), like the word aryen, in reverse order, the term India evolved from the ancient Persian.

In the energy field, India, due to its increasing demographic expansion and to its fast economic development, only second to China, faces a serious supply problem. In spite of its significant coal reserves, its oil consumption doubled between 1987 and 1999 while national production remained stable. This made the country more dependent on foreign supplies. With a visionary and enterprising Oil Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, India has contacted Russia with which it has already signed important agreements, and China, although in a lesser extent.

However, Iran looks for partners eastwards after it was included in the so-called «Axis of Evil» by the Bush administration. On January 26, 2003, a first stage concluded when President Mohammed Khatami was invited to participate as a guest of honor in a parade commemorating India’s National Day, an honor granted only to the closest allies of New Delhi. On that occasion, both countries signed the Declaration of New Delhi which encourages the broadening of their economic association in the energy field but also in the military and strategic areas.

This association has strengthened ever since, while in parallel with this, India’s relations with Israel and the United States progressively and significantly improved thus giving India a role of mediator in the framework of a crisis of the Iranian nuclear sector.

In the military field, relations between India and Iran are still limited but tending to increase. Both countries carried out joint naval exercises in March 2003, probably motivated by the Anglo-Saxon deployment in the Persian Gulf. Iran also asked India - which has Russian MIG and Sukhoi fighter jets and has developed exceptional technical skills in this area - to guarantee part of the maintenance of its own air force [1] .

Last January, India and Iran signed a 50-billion-Euro agreement for the annual supply of 7.5 million tons of liquefied natural gas during 25 years [2].

A Project in which (Almost) Everybody Wins

The mega-project of the gas pipeline that will start in the deposit of South Pars, in Iran, and will reach India through Pakistan, was immediately brought forward as the possible basis for an agreement. With an estimated value of three billion Euros, the gas pipeline should allow India to deal with part of its gas demand in the next few decades. However, that can only be achieved if it stops being only a project as it has remained for several years due to New Delhi’s fears of Pakistan interrupting the gas supply if there were a bilateral conflict and using it as a means to damage India’s economy. Other ways were analyzed, including submerging the gas pipeline along the coast of Pakistan but the cost was too high.

Of course, Pakistan said it would not oppose the project but only a true mutual economic independence guaranteed by a counterpart in Pakistan, with a similar strategic level, could definitely eliminate this risk and allow India to obtain natural gas at reasonable prices.

This is probably the role that the project of the Baglihar dam in Kashmir could play, along with several minor hydraulic projects in the region of Chenab. The works, that will soon be finished, will allow India to drain a vital agricultural region for Pakistan if the gas supply is interrupted or, on the contrary, to destroy Pakistan’s defenses in the province of Silakote by opening the sluicegates of the dam [3] .

In a similar situation of balance of threats, not only the risks of conflict between India and Pakistan would decrease, like the risks of proliferation and military escalation, but also the region of Kashmir would benefit from the economic consequences of a project originated in New Delhi, which would reduce the independence caprices of this province with a Muslim majority that constitutes the center of tensions between India and Pakistan.

Today, February 17th, 2005, the governments of India and Iran took another important step in this direction with the signing of an agreement about the gas pipeline [4]. Iran’s National Company of Gas Export accepted the tracing of the gas pipeline and, so that the construction works can begin, New Delhi will simply have to submit a feasibility study and to subscribe a tariff agreement in the framework of the visit of its Oil Minister, Mr. Aiyar, to Teheran next June.

General Pervez Musharaf

What will the answer of Washington be to this initiative that goes against its efforts to isolate Iran in the region? The neo-conservatives find themselves between the Devil and the deep blue sea. Since September 11, 2001, they have spoiled the regime of General Musharraf in Pakistan with billions of dollars in economic assistance and F-16 fighter jets with nuclear capacity, which has forced India to assess its entire defense policy.

General Musharraf has thus far been an exemplary pupil. He has protected Bin Laden, Hamid Kharzai and the trafficking of Afghan heroin. Will Bush be able to have him withdraw from the agreement of principles relating to the gas pipeline and thus renounce significant royalties for the gas traffic and also give up a potential means of pressure against India?

After recent revelations by Seymour Hersh - which have not been denied by Washington - we know that in regards to the Iranian nuclear sector, which is developing, Washington had to accept a painful commitment when they had to give up to have scientist A. Q. Khan, «father» of the Pakistani atomic bomb, interrogated in exchange for Pakistan’s support in their espionage and destabilization operations implemented against Iran from Afghanistan.

In fact, A. Q. Khan had admitted transmitting essential data for the Iranian nuclear program but the CIA is not in conditions of carrying out operations from Iraq, controlled by the resistance to a great extent, which left no room for another alternative.

India, which seeks to ease tensions with Pakistan in order to satisfy its needs of low-price gas, seems much more concerned after the statements by Condoleeza Rice to the senators last January. The State Secretary explained that the United States had taken control of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal to avoid that the fundamentalists could get a hold of it if they overthrow Musharraf, who has escaped several assassination attempts in the last months [5] .

Therefore, New Delhi fears that Washington may bet on Pakistan to achieve its goals in the region, including the seizure of the Iranian gas to meet their own urgent needs, thus ruining the natural alliance between India and Iran.

[1CSIS report: Iran and India extend their friendship, January 1, 2005

[2«India finds a $40bn friend in Iran », by M K Bhadrakumar, India Monitor, January 14, 2005

[3« Indus water Treaty and gas pipeline from Iran to India », by Hari Sud, South Asia Analysis Group, February 7, 2005

[4« Iran to deliver pipeline gas at indian border», Xinhuanet, February 17, 2005

[5« India’s US-Pakistan suspicions deepen», by Sultan Shahin, Asia Times Online, January 27, 2005