West Asia mess. Where is India?
Donald Trump's impetuousness often gets boosted by his ego. This makes him a dangerous player in conflict situations. West Asia, already on edge with clashing ideologies, has been brought closer to war by his eccentric pull-out from the Iran nuclear deal and all-out backing to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's (MBS) policies of provocation at home and in the region. Add to this Trump's support to Israel's military adventurism, and we have a tinder box ready to catch fire any moment.
Has a side explosion already taken place? Although there has been no confirmation anywhere, month-long rumours of a coup against MBS have not died down. What is confirmed is that there was a gunfight in the royal palace in Riyadh. Officials claim it was guards shooting down a toy drone that flew too close to the palace. Unofficial reports said MBS had been evacuated to a nearby bunker. That a publicity-lover like him has not appeared in public since April 12 is a fact; the gunfight took place on April 21.
Assassination is an unacceptable solution to political problems and we must hope that MBS is safe.
That his policies had created unrest in the region cannot be denied. He is the prime mover behind the long and ongoing war in Yemen that he is unable to win despite US support. He organised powerful Arab countries to launch a boycott of Qatar for toeing an independent line. He launched a purge within the royal family to consolidate his power: Eleven princes, four ministers, dozens of ex-ministers and military chiefs were detained. Prince Khalid, living in exile in Germany, appealed to his uncles and others to rise against autocracy and take over the country.
Alongside creating powerful enemies, MBS has also initiated policies that fill nations with apprehension. He wants to build 16 nuclear reactors with facilities for uranium enrichment as well. Trump supports this, saying that it would mean massive contracts for American companies. Saudi Arabia was the first country he visited as US President and he signed a $100-billion arms deal with Riyadh.
The implications of this bonhomie take on worrying dimensions when we realise that Saudi Arabia sees Iran as its primary enemy. Trump's view is along similar lines. For Israel, Iran has for long been a personification of evil. This makes up a triumvirate capable of unpredictable action. There is already a war of mutual annihilation going on in Syria in which all these countries and Russia and Turkey are involved. A mess of this kind is rare in history.
It is a mess that involves other countries, too, because American pressure tactics include the threat of sanctions against countries that do business with Iran. The threat succeeded the first time around, 15 years ago. This time the European Union has not repudiated the Iran nuclear deal a la Trump and it has officially announced that the European Investment Bank will back EU projects in Iran. China and Russia are also against the Trump initiative, so the idea of sanctions may not prove as effective as before. But it may cause serious dislocations.
India is directly affected by this mess, partly due to its own policy peculiarities aimed at pleasing Saudi Arabia. Only Muslims are sent as ambassadors to Jeddah, for example. Worse, not a whisper is raised against the flow of unauthorised funds from Saudi sources to India, nor about the open activities of Wahabi missionaries to radicalise the Muslims of India. Nearly 100 Indians have joined the ISIS operations in Iraq.
When Bush's America imposed sanctions against Iran and threatened action against countries trading with Iran, Delhi cringed and sought US permission to get Iranian crude oil on credit. This time, India's foreign minister boldly declared: "India follows on UN sanctions, not unilateral sanctions by any country." Will Delhi have the political courage and the economic stamina to stand by that declaration?
For one thing, India, in response to challenges in its own neighbourhood, has walked into strategic arrangements with the US.
For another, corporate entities with profound interests in the US market are powerful in today's India and the government is beholden to them. Iranian President Rouhani, in his recent visit to India, held out a clutch of cooperation plans, or "long-term strategic contracts" as he called them, covering the Chabahar trade route, energy, connectivity and security. Iran is a natural ally of India, geographically and historically. Our relations with it should not be at the mercy of fickle-minded third parties.