India serenades both Iran and its adversaries. But what if push comes to shove in the Gulf?
As the US and Europe tighten the sanctions noose around Iran,Delhi has chosen to celebrate its engagement with Tehran. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna did not spare any rhetorical flourish in serenading Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi this week. Salehi extended an invitation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit to be held in Tehran later this year.
Before Delhi said goodbye to Salehi,it was embracing one of Irans adversaries. As part of the intense effort to woo the Gulf kingdoms,Delhi hosted Bahrains crown prince,Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa,this week. The current turmoil in Bahrain has made it the principal theatre for the gathering confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Bahrain is being consumed by the widening chasm between the regions Sunnis and Shias. It was not too difficult for the foreign office protocol to ensure that the paths of Salehi and Salman did not cross in the Indian capital. On the face of it,Delhis play-all-sides diplomacy in the Gulf seems impressive. But there is no denying the danger that India might lose on all sides when push comes to shove in the Gulf.
Indias words and actions on Iran are sending mixed signals to our friends and partners in the West and the Gulf. While Krishna was describing Iran as a valued partner for India and as a force for stability in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia,Indias envoy to the US,Nirupama Rao,was complaining about efforts in the US to paint Delhis ties with Tehran in negative colours. To counter that campaign,Rao pointed to the fact that Indias share of oil imports from Iran has steadily declined from over 16 per cent in 2008-09 to nearly 10 per cent in 2011-12. While Krishna was criticising the American sanctions against Iran,Rao was emphasising Indias compliance with them. Posturing has long been part of Indias diplomacy. That is no substitute for hard judgements on the balance between Indias competing interests in the Gulf. When that moment of reckoning comes, Delhi must pick sides or fall flat on its face.