Archive for July, 2007

Converging Interests in Iraq Allow Bush an ‘Iranian Option’ – Arabs Threatened

July 31, 2007

By Nicola Nasser*

Converging U.S. – Iran interests in Iraq are creating a common ground for an “Iranian option” for President George W. Bush that could be developed into an historical foreign policy breakthrough of the kind he has been yearning for in the Arab – Israeli conflict or India; however several factors are ruling out this window of opportunity, including his militarization of the U.S. foreign policy, obsession with the “regime changes” overseas, his insistence on exploiting to the maximum his country’s emergence as the only world power in the aftermath of the collapse of the former Soviet Union (USSR), an Iranian independent regional agenda that so far cold not be reconciled with his own, and a detrimental Arab feeling of insecurity of such a potentiality.

A potential “Iran option” for Bush, whether it emerges out of a diplomatic engagement or a military confrontation, be it on Iraq or on Iran per se, would embroil Arabs adversely and directly because both protagonists are waging their political as well as military battles on Arab land and skilfully using Arab wealth, oil, space, diplomacy and even Arab proxies to settle their scores towards either political engagement or military showdown.

True it is still premature to conclude that the prerogatives for a U.S. – Iranian regional understanding is about to emerge, or that the Arab feeling of insecurity would seriously jeopardize the friendships or alliances Washington has forged with the majority of the Arab regimes over decades of a love and hate relations, but the burgeoning U.S. – Iranian dialogue over Iraq and the convergence of bilateral interests as well as their complementary roles there during the last four years are flashing red lights, especially in neighbouring Arab capitals.

The first and second rounds of US – Iran dialogue in Baghdad in May and July this year should not perceive “dialogue” as the goal per se, but should be viewed as a diplomatic tactic within the context of a US strategy that either aims at playing Iran, in the same way Washington has been playing Israel, as a menacing threat against the Arabs to blackmail them into falling in line with the US Middle East strategy or, if a regime change in Tehran proves unaffordable, to revitalize the US-Iranian joint policing of the Gulf, but in this case on a partnership basis instead of the Iranian subordinate role during the Shah era, which boils down to serving the same US strategy vis-à-vis the Arabs in general and the oil rich Arab countries in the Gulf in particular.

On July 29, Robin Wright reported in The Washington Post that Bush was sending this week his secretaries of state and defence, Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates, to the Middle East with a “simple” message to Arab regimes: “Support Iraq as a buffer against Iran or face living under Tehran’s growing shadow … The United States has now taken on the role traditionally played by Iraq as the regional counterweight to Iran.” Both secretaries were scheduled to meet with the Saudi Arabian monarch King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in Jeddah on Tuesday.

Wright was aware however that, “On Iraq, Rice and Gates will have a hard sell,” particularly with Saudi Arabia, whose leader King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz raised a short – lived media tit-for-tat with the Bush Administration when he called in March this year the U.S. presence in Iraq an “illegal foreign occupation.” Wright quoted Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service as saying: “Iranophobia will not be enough to get the Saudis to back Iraq,” as they think that the U.S. – backed Iraqi government of Nouri Kamal al-Maliki is helping Iran – backed groups.

Arab and Saudi “taking aback” has less to do with backing the U.S. in Iraq or against Iran, as this backing was never a in doubt or question since the invasion in 2003, and much to do with the realistic prospects of an imminent U.S. military redeployment in Iraq that could leave the country dominantly in the hands of pro – Iran sectarian militias and parties, thus inevitably setting the stage there for either an escalating civil sectarian strife or worse for disintegration of the Iraq territorial integrity into sectarian and ethnic political entities fighting over oil and “borders,” with menacing regional repercussions.

Al-Maliki’s government is not helping to dispel this “Iranophobia.” On July 24, U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Patrick Cockburn, quoted the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, in British The Independent, as saying that like it or not, “Iran is a player in Iraq” and should be engaged in dialogue. No similar statement bestowed on Arab neighbours a parallel role; may be these neighbours should qualify more, Iran – style, to be “players” there.

Ahead of both secretaries’ visit Washington unveiled what they perceive as an encouraging “banana,” a major $20 billion arms package for Saudi Arabia and other GCC oil – rich states with an eye to countering an “Iranian threat,” in the latest manifestation of an old U.S. blackmailing ploy to scare them into keeping the U.S. defence industries busy and recycling whatever surplus of petrodollars these states have amassed from the soaring of crude oil prices following the invasion of Iraq.

Arabs could not but compare this paid for “banana” with the U.S. tax payers’ $30 billion the Bush Administration has pledged as “aid” for her Israeli strategic regional ally, a pledge confirmed days ago by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who added that Bush also pledged to him to sustain Israel’s dominant “quality” edge militarily over Arabs combined or individual states.

Both the late Ayatullah Khumeini – led Iran and the late Saddam Hussein – led Baath regime in Iraq were skilfully exploited by Washington as the scarecrows to blackmail GCC countries into buying more weapons and spending their surplus petrodollars. However the Iranian – Iraqi war (1980 – 1988) had turned Iraq into the regional counterweight to Iran, a role Washington insists now on assuming with Iraqi blood and oil, but denying the Iraqis even a contribution thereto. Iraq’s ambassador to the United States on July 25 launched a withering attack on the US administration’s reluctance to provide basic weaponry to his country’s U.S. – led and trained ill-equipped armed forces; Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman acknowledged “it is clear that there is still much to be done with respect to equipping the security forces” of Iraq, in another indication the U.S. is planning not to extricate herself militarily from her Iraqi debacle yet.

Arab Options Between Worse and Worst

The “banana” followed on record U.S. expressions of frustration with their insufficient backing to Bush’s war on Iraq: “Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries are not doing all they can to help us in Iraq. (Washington.) would expect and want them to help us on this strategic issue more than they are doing,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Sunday.

However, Washington is offering the Arabs a choice between two adverse options between a worse and a worst as an alternative to the current bad war – fraught status quo. Similarly Saudi Arabia is “frustrated by the United States but is at a loss what to do about it,” said Rob Malley, Middle East director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. The convergence of US and Iranian plans for Iraq and their complementary roles there during the past four years are not the right precedents to allay Arab fears.

The prospect of a potential bilateral US-Iranian understanding on policing Iraq, if Arabs are to be left out of such an arrangement, is perceived by them as a prelude to a similar regional co-ordination that would renovate the US-Iranian policing of the Gulf in the 1950s – 1970s.

Multiple channels of communication were recently opened between Washington and Tehran. The US- installed government(s) in Baghdad since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the indirect channel. The gatherings of Iraq’s neighbouring states, which both Iranian and U.S. officials attend alongside non-neighbours like Egypt, opened another semi-direct channel. The U.S. – Iranian meetings at the ambassadorial level in Baghdad were the first public direct channel since 1979. Realpolitics suggests a fourth covert channel as also always a possibility.

Officially Tehran still demands that the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, but on the ground Tehran was the first country and is still the most vehemently supportive nation of the U.S. – sponsored “political process” and the U.S. – installed regime in Baghdad. Ironically Tehran’s demand to end the US occupation of Iraq does not necessarily entail the logical conclusion of an Iranian support for the Iraqi resistance to this occupation; her demand instead to support the regime that was created in Baghdad by this same occupation reveals a contradictory Iranian approach to both the U.S. occupation and Iraq.

For Arabs the two rounds of U.S. – Iran dialogue in Baghdad were a bad omen, regardless of the conflicting reports on the “success” or “failure of the dialogue, which created a distrusting public perception that Arabs could be squeezed between a pressuring US demand to fall in line with the creation of an anti-Iran bloc and the pressing prospect of an emerging US-Iranian bilateral regional arrangements, a position which offers them a choice between two bad options: Either to be relegated to their past minor roles or get embroiled in a conflict that in no way could serve their interests.

On the one hand they are being asked to forego their conflict with Israel and coexist with her 40-year military occupation of Arab lands and instead spearhead the US-led anti Iran efforts; on the other they feel betrayed by being left out to play the role of mere onlookers and not the role of equal partners to the budding US-Iranian dialogue, which they have been long advising in their earnest search for ways to avoid a fourth Gulf war in less than thirty years that could devastate them for a long time to come. They have been seeking to defuse a war-fraught US-Iranian confrontation and see no interest whatsoever in a new military outbreak in their region and accordingly they have sought US-Iranian dialogue, but not to be left out of it.

During the Shah of Iran era, the GCC countries were only “minor” partners to both their strategic relationship with the United States and to the US-Iranian joint policing of the region. That subordinate minor security role is no more feasible or acceptable, at least because such a role does not correspond to their oil, financial and vital logistical inputs in past, current and potential future regional security arrangements. In the end they are the major indigenous demographic component and the major geopolitical asset of any perceived security plans as well as the major contributors thereto and the main losers thereof. If they cannot be the masters they should at least be equal partners. To be assigned their past minor role will serve neither their interests nor those of other partners to regional security.

The Arabs of the volatile region are and have always been realistic enough to accommodate the legitimate interests of both protagonists, who have been nonetheless the main encroachers on both each other interests and those of the Arabs and are still the major sources of instability and insecurity in the region who also never hesitated to foment regional conflicts into wars.

Does it need any documentation the now well – known fact that Iran more than welcomed and was the major beneficiary of the embroilment of her Arab and American adversaries in the Kuwait war in 1990-91 and in the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, or that Washington was counting on this Iranian stance to secure Tehran’s collusion, at least by default or by courting her courted sectarian Iraqi militias and parties who flocked into Iraq with or in the footsteps of the invading tanks and troops, when the Bush Administration planned her invasion?

The U.S. – Iran convergence of interests in Iraq in the context of a prevailing military brinkmanship sustained by Washington is empowering Tehran with a win – win position that could tilt against her only if an outright war breaks out, and both antagonists are unmercifully exploiting their “Arab cards” to improve their no-win positions. The Gates and Rice’s visit comes in this context; so are Tehran’s latest official statement that the UAE’s three Iran – occupied islands of Abu Mousa, Little Tunb and Big Tunb are not negotiable and her semi-official statement that the independent Kingdom of Bahrain is part of Iran, a statement which Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki refused to apologise for, saying in Manama it was a personal point of view that doesn’t reflect an official policy.

GCC Arabs in particular who do not trust Iran could not but interpret such statements as meant per se; others in good faith interpret them as playing an Arab card in political manoeuvring aimed at warning pro – U.S. Arabs to help fend off U.S. military adventures against Iran, otherwise a military confrontation could lead Tehran to making good on her statements. “The Enterprise” was the third U.S. aircraft carrier of the Fifth Fleet sent to the Gulf recently, where the number of US war ships has never been so large since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait are hosts of U.S. military commands that Iran would target in any fighting flare up.

Case for U.S. ‘China Opening’ to Iran

GCC countries could not afford a fourth regional war. Washington has so far failed to “change” the Iranian regime and several internal and international factors make any such change by force, Iraqi style, improbable. Neither could she replace Iran as the eastern neighbour of Arabs nor is Tehran able to dislodge the U.S. from her entrenched and strategically held bases on the Arab side of the Gulf. Both Arabs and Iranians also could not ignore or forego their geopolitical and historical interaction, cemented by Islam and humanitarian and inter-marriage inseparable links where large Arab and Iranian minorities live on both sides of the Gulf coasts, nor could they do away with their huge mutual trade interests where, for example the UAE tops Iran’s trade partners. The only alternative left for the three protagonists is to engage each other on the basis of, “if you can’t beat them, join them.”

Iran is on record as calling for a regional security arrangement with Arabs, but short of any U.S. role. The U.S. is ruling out any change to her dominant security role in the region, let alone allowing in any role for the Islamic regime. But the GCC Arabs are more open to partnerships based on international law and mutual interests. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Feisal, has recently surprised many, particularly in Washington, by proposing a joint Iran-Gulf Cooperation Council consortium to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes; his Iranian counterpart Mottaki responded favourably.

Engaging Iran was recommended by the James Baker – Lee Hamilton bipartisan Iraq Study Group; the Bush administration rejected the idea, until it has become unavoidable by the dictates of the facts on the ground in Iraq, but approached it tactically with the dialogue at ambassadorial level in the Iraqi capital.

However, “The price of anything that could remotely be called a victory in Iraq at this point, or at least not a defeat, is negotiating with Iran. And that means being willing to give Iran some of what it wants from us, including, for example, assurance that we’re not going to shock and awe Iranians if they simply don’t do as they’re told, … Iran is unlikely to do much to help the U.S. in Iraq without receiving something significant — both in terms of its economy and its security — in return,” Hooman Majd wrote in the Salon online on July 16. But Majd missed the fact that Iran already got her “price” in Iraq and the fact that Bush still does not subscribe to his strategic approach.

Nonetheless, this is the strategy advocated by a wide and influential U.S. spectrum of politicians, not least among them the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and the Democrats. Noam Chomsky, in his new book INTERVENTIONS published by City Lights Books in July 2007, had this to say: “In the energy-rich Middle East, only two countries have failed to subordinate themselves to Washington’s basic demands: Iran and Syria. Accordingly both are enemies, Iran by far the more important.” However, “Despite the saber-rattling, it is, I suspect, unlikely that the Bush administration will attack Iran,” because the world, seventy-five percent of Americans and “the U.S. military and intelligence community is also opposed to an attack,” Chomsky concluded.

Would this lead to, “A ‘China Opening’ to Iran?” Asked Jeremi suri, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of “Henry Kissinger and the American Century,” in the Boston Globe on July 24. In July 1971, Kissinger, acting as President Nixon’s special representative, secretly travelled to Beijing for a dramatic opening in relations between the United States and China – two nations estranged from one another for more than 20 years. “Today, the historical parallels are striking,” Suri said.

Bush confronts a war in Iraq with no end in sight, American standing abroad has plummeted and domestic opposition to present policies is growing. Iran, similarly, contends with a clash of generations and worldviews at home, as well as a cast of external challengers, including the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council. Leaders in Washington and Tehran need one another. The White House should pursue a “China opening with Iran,” wrote Suri.

Iran is more than open to such an “opening.” It is no more a secret that Iran is ready to trade her Iraqi privileged status quo and her regional political influence for a détente with the West, with the U.S. in the forefront, as her greatest prize that would secure the Western recognition of her Islamic regime as a fait accompli. The seriousness of Washington’s “saber-rattling” vis-à-vis Iran was not questioned only by Chomsky, but her pursuing a regime change in Tehran was in spotlight since the ceasefire in the Iran – Iraq war in 1988. “It was the USA” who “stopped the war, and … stopped Saddam (Hussein) from recapturing parts of Iran” and “not the wisdom” of the Iranian leaders, according to Bahman Aghai Diba, a member of the preparatory committee of the UN Security Council Resolution 598 in the Iranian Foreign Ministry, who wrote in the Persian Journal on July 29:

“Iraqi regime had accepted the Resolution 598 of the UNSC almost one year before the date that Islamic republic of Iran accepted it… At that time, the Iranian forces were well entrenched inside the Iraqi territory… The Iraqi regime, under the pressures of war, was asking all international figures and organizations to help end the war and get the Iranian forces out of Iraq… Almost one month before acceptance of the Resolution 598 by Iran, the Iraqi forces captured Fav and later they pushed Iranian forces back to Iranian territory… In the middle of this chaos, the MKOs [Mujahedin Khalgh Organization) staged an attack in the most irregular and bizarre way. Some of the advanced units of the MKOs that were consisted of lightly armed and poorly trained boys and girls simply riding family sedan cars reached as close as Qom, south of Tehran. The regime was feeling the collapse. Iran decided to stop the war immediately.”

U.S. – Iran Dialogue

Short of political survival prospects, both besieged governments of Bush in Washington and al-Maliki in Baghdad have desperately hanged on to the option of a dialogue with a forthcoming Iran, but a fruitful conclusion of the dialogue, which ended its seven – hour second round in Baghdad on July 24, will depend on whose terms an agreement or an understanding would be reached.

Cornered between a time limit set by an assessment report on the status of the war raging in Iraq on September 15 and the political prerogatives of engaging Iran over Iraq, the Bush Administration has decided, ostensibly responding positively to an Iraqi request, to hold a second session of a dialogue with Iran at an ambassadorial level as a last resort to win more time for both Bush’s Iraq new security plan and for al-Maliki’s government to meet Bush’s “benchmarks” by September.

The first round of the bilateral ambassadorial talks in Baghdad on May 28 recorded the first public bilateral budding dialogue since 1979 and broke the 27-year diplomatic freeze between what Tehran condemns as the “Great Satan” and Washington rules out as a “Rogue state” and “pillar of the axis of evil.” It put the Arabs on their guard; they and their Iraqi brethren were left out of the meeting in the aftermath of which a fierce debate raged inside the Bush administration over taking “military action” against Iran “before George Bush leaves office in 18 months,” according to the Guardian on July 16, but the second round of talks vindicated a report by the New York Times on June 15 that the advocates of diplomatic engagement led by Secretary Rice “appear to be winning [the debate] so far.”

Desperately clinging to the “Iranian option,” the Bush Administration was even ready to forego the fate of four Iranian-Americans held by Tehran. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed the detainees were not on the agenda of the second Baghdad talks because “the meetings in Baghdad are only about Iraq.”

Similarly al-Maliki’s government has bet all on the resumption of the U.S. – Iran dialogue.  Iraqi president Jalal Talabani late in June visited Tehran in a bid to convince Iran’s top leaders resume dialogue with the U.S.; on June 27 he thanked Iran for acceptance of the Iraqi bid.

Iran in turn was “unconditionally” forthcoming, ostensibly also responding positively to an Iraqi request: “Iraqi officials have made the request,” Foreign Minister Mottaki told IRNA after a meeting with Talabani. Iraq’s ambassador to Iran, Mohamed Majid al-Sheikh, thanked the Iranian officials on July 3 “for not setting any precondition for a second round of talks with the U.S.”

The trilateral U.S.-Iranian-Iraqi committee of “experts” they agreed to set up on July 24 to coordinate their “security” efforts in Iraq was a step toward discussing what ambassador Ryan Crocker said were “ways forward,” during what Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebar said would be the “the next round of talks … on a higher level.” Mottaki, revealing a receptive attitude, declared his country’s willingness to discuss higher level talks, but Washington nixed such a prospect for the time being: “I don’t see that happening at this point of time,” said Sean McCormack.

The Baghdad talks came on the backdrop of a revised U.S. military plan, known as the Joint Campaign Plan and developed by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Crocker, which envisions American troops being in Iraq for at least another two years to secure a “nationwide security by mid-2009,” after which permanent U.S. bases would safeguard the emerging status quo, according to the Voice of America on July 24, citing a The New York Times report.

In making the case for a continued U.S. troop presence, Bush argues that al-Qaeda or Iran would take over Iraq after a “precipitous withdrawal” of U.S. forces; he reinforces his arguments with the conclusions reached in recent “war games” exercises conducted for the U.S. military by retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, which were cited by the Washington Post on July 17: “If U.S. combat forces withdraw from Iraq in the near future, three developments would be likely to unfold. Majority Shiites would drive Sunnis out of ethnically mixed areas west to Anbar province. Southern Iraq would erupt in civil war between Shiite groups. And the Kurdish north would solidify its borders and invite a U.S. troop presence there. In short, Iraq would effectively become three separate nations.” Iran cites similar warnings, adding that the withdrawal of the Iranian “influence” would bring in a system more threatening to neighbours than the Saddam Hussein – led Baath regime.

Their agreement on the common denominators of identifying the enemy as “terrorism” and identifying the goal as the stability of the regime they both installed in Baghdad and recognized as the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people is most likely theoretically to produce agreement on cooperation to beat the common enemy and secure stability for their converging interests. Al-Maliki opened the trilateral meeting with a statement focusing on the common denominator, “terrorism,” and called on “everyone” to stand beside Iraq “to counter the scourge of terror and extremism,” he said, referring to anti-occupation national resistance more than to the actual terrorism of the Iran – supported militias and squabbling political parties who are the backbone of his government and the US-dominated “political process.”

The prospect of a potential bilateral US-Iranian understanding on policing Iraq is perceived by Arabs as a prelude to a similar regional co-ordination that would renovate the US-Iranian policing of the Gulf. On June 30 the Asia Times reported that Mohammad Javad Larijani, the brother of Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and head of the powerful Supreme National Security Council, called to expand those talks to broader issues such as Afghanistan, “Persian Gulf” security, and the tensions in the Middle East: “We should not negotiate only about Iraq,” he said.

Accordingly, when the two major foreign powers responsible for the destruction of the Iraqi state and the sectarian disintegration of the Iraqi society meet and say they are determined to stay in the country to restore it to “stability,” they leave no room for guessing that their complementary roles during the past four years have started to diverge and they are now merely trying to sort things out in order to avoid reaching a point of conflict that could jeopardize their war spoils in the occupied country.

Both Americans and Iranians played down the significance of their Baghdad “dialogue.” Former US ambassador to Syria and senior policy adviser to the Iraq Study Group, Edward Djerejian, had told AP that Arabs, “all have their own ongoing relationship and dialogue with Iran. So I can’t see where they can really question the US entering dialogue with Iran, and they really should embrace it.”

True the future of Iraq as well as the current situation in the wretched war-torn country were the focus of the US and Iranian diplomats in the Iraqi capital, but the dialogue was not confined to that and the regional roles of both sides were also on the agenda. Moreover, the Iraqis themselves are more concern to Arabs than to any other self-proclaimed concerned parties, at least because Iraqis in their majority are compatriot Arabs and because Iraq is also a founding member of the League of Arab States. Ruling them out of any future arrangements for Iraq and the region would surely antagonize them to figure out where their strategic interests lie.

*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli – occupied territories.


Communists, Leftists Defy Indian Politics of Liberal Economics

July 19, 2007

India’s Non-Alignment on the Balance, Communists on Alert

By Nicola Nasser*

The accelerated pace of India’s liberal economics and pragmatic ties with the United States and Israel risks polarizing Indian domestic politics and invoking a deep-seated communist as well as Islamist anti – Americanism with a realistic potential for a foreign policy strategic shift leading unintentionally and indirectly to creating an internal political environment that could be receptive for the first time to the agitation of the extreme violent Islamists who have been waiting on the sidelines for such a “golden opportunity” in the turbulent Afghani and Pakistani neighborhood, as well as for the agitation of the violent Indian Maoists.

Indian diplomats proudly highlight the fact that their country’s democratic and secular tradition has so far spared India the atrocities of the U.S. – led global war on terrorism and similarly proudly note that so far al-Qaeda has failed to recruit or implicate anyone of the Indian world’s second largest Muslim community, after Indonesia, in their schemes or activities.

The communist – leftist factor has had a decisive role in attracting grassroots anti – globalization, anti – American and anti – Israeli grievances into the traditional democratic channels of the Indian secular system away from violent Maoist and Islamist extremism; however the politics of India’s internally liberal economics and external pragmatic U.S. and Israeli ties risk also polarizing the democratic communist – leftist front, the national third mainstream political movement, and might make their role more difficult as well as more critical in neutralizing the violent Maoist and Islamist threats.

While the Islamist threat is looming, the Maoist is already an Indian security headache. According to a Christian Science Monitor report on August 28 last year, the Maoist insurrection is spreading across India “like an oil stain across paper,” already affecting 14 of India’s 28 States (Chatisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Asma, Uttaranchal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Bihar). In figures, that means the Maoists are in control in 165 districts out of the total of 602 into which the country is divided. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recognized the Maoist advance on August 23rd 2006 when he declared to Parliament that the Maoists “have become the biggest internal challenge to security that India has,” the Monitor reported. Undoubtedly Maoists and Islamists will find in the Indian foreign and internal politics of liberal economics precious ammunition for their anti-American propaganda as well as for their internal “struggle.”

Already India’s foreign policy and globalization – oriented liberal economics are creating cracks in the so far united communist – leftist front. The Communist Party of India (CPI) has recently moved for a review of Left parties’ outside support to the ruling coalition of the Congress – led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), but The Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M), with 44 seats of the New Delhi Parliament’s total of 543, was wisely not for such a move, lest it would bring down the Government: “At this juncture, it [review] would be counterproductive,” said a political developments report, adopted by the central committee of the CPI-M at a June 24-26 meeting.

The Left has been critical of Singh government’s economic and foreign policies and is working for a “political alternative,” the head of the CPI-M, Prakash Karat, told Reuters in an interview recently, adding that the ruling coalition had failed internally to curb rising food prices and was not addressing poverty and lack of investment in the countryside while following unpopular economic policies.

Externally the leftists see that a nuclear deal with the U.S. would or at least could compromise the ruling coalition’s commitment to “independent foreign policy.” India‘s National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan was expected with a high-ranking delegation in Washington for talks on July 16-18 to clinch a nuclear deal with the U.S. to coincide with the second anniversary of the landmark July 18 agreement,” the Indian Express reported; two major sticking points has been U.S. reluctance to allow India to reprocess spent atomic fuel, a crucial step in making weapons-grade nuclear material, and to continue nuclear tests. The Indian leftists criticize these U.S. conditions as constraints on India’s sovereign decision making. They also protested a port call in Chennai in early July by the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz, a first by a U.S. aircraft carrier.

Moreover they view the deal as courting India away from a potential alliance with Russia and China to counterweight the U.S. global hegemony. They note also that the U.S. administration began the process of agreement with India on the nuclear issue in March 2006, putting an end to the 30-year embargo on nuclear material she imposed on India in 1974, at the same time she began her nuclear crisis with Iran, with whom India has strategic oil interests.

During the last 18 years, India has been gradually dismantling its centralized economy and privatizing its main sectors under the wing of a battery of laws to protect Direct Foreign Investments, especially those from the United States that have now increased from US$76m to US$4bn.

The accelerated pace of the growing ties with Israel was another foreign policy point of criticism by Indian leftists and communists. On July 18 The Times of India reported a “crucial milestone in growing Indo-Israeli military ties” to lift-off from the space centre at Sriharikota an Israeli spy satellite called TechSar, weighing about 260 kg, by a four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Earlier there was the $2.5 billion project to develop a medium range SAM for use with India’s land forces and the Israeli Barak missile system $350 million deal, which the Indian Navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, strongly defended in a statement on May 15, saying there was “nothing comparable” to it anywhere in the world, which was objected to by none other than President APJ Abdul Kalam and claimed as its major victim former defense minister George Fernandes in a widely reported corruption scandal.

Communist – led Left on the Move

Reversing an historical trend worldwide, the Indian communists and leftists have been gaining more ground and making progress in a very hostile political and economic environment where globalization – oriented liberals are ruling and responding to the strategic overtures of the United States, the leader of globalization, irrespective of the their affiliation to the Congress or the Janata parties.

At least economically the dividing lines between the mainstream parties of the Congress and Janata have become blurred since 1991 when the leading member of the Congress, Manmohan Singh, became the finance minister of the Janata – led government of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, long before securing his party’s nomination for premiership in 2004, a position he still occupies ever since.

An economist by profession and a veteran of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as his country’s central bank, Singh, the first ever Sikh prime minister of India, is considered the most educated and one of the most qualified and influential prime ministers in India’s history, mainly because of the liberal economic reforms he initiated in 1991 and the Indian economic liberalization, which have become established under his premiership since May 22, 2004; he got rid of several socialist policies and opened the nation to foreign direct investments, thus paving the way for stronger relations with the U.S. and Israel, the biggest and the most controversial achievement of his legacy.

Most likely because of the context of this hostile environment, the Indian communists and leftists, who have been closely involved in the presidential and vice presidency elections on July 19 and in August respectively, are gaining ground and making progress while at the same time opposing both the political and economic strategic opening to the U.S. and Israel as well as standing up to the victimization of millions of Indians by the official opening to globalization by the government’s liberal economics.

Ironically the Indian cornerstone of liberal economics and U.S. and Israeli –oriented politics, that is the government of Dr. Singh, is uplifted to survive only by the 61 legislative votes, representing more than 120 million voters, of the Left Front in the federal lower House of parliament. Today, for the first time in India’s history, the federal government in New Delhi remains in power thanks to the Left Front, who decided to support the coalition government led by the Congress from the outside.

This anti – “Red Scare” realpolitic fact of Indian politics is a credit to the world’s largest democracy, which compares positively with the second largest democracy of the United States, where communists and leftists are still screened to deny them employment in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the administration, in line with the 1950s McCarthyism that is supposed to be a defunct “security” practice a long time ago.

Lost in the lively turbulent diversity of the Indian pluralistic society — where monotheistic and non-monotheistic religions and sects sometimes violently clash and other times indulge in dialogue within or outside the limits of secular jurisdiction, national languages in the hundreds coexisting with that of the British colonialist who was “non-violently” forced out leaving behind his English tongue, the unjust four – sect social system that is ironically a national trade mark of the world’s largest democracy, the economic widening gap between the rich and the poor, the continental contradictory landscape between the heights crowned with snow around the year and the arid land of deserts in a country sliced here and there by “sacred” rivers overlooking the Indian Ocean that took its name from her — the outsider often misses the important fact of life of a political system whose democratic credibility allows communist endeavors to prosper in the sea of a national capitalist liberalism swimming in an ocean of globalization after the collapse of the international communist system.

In West Bengal, the communist – led Left Front last June celebrated the 30th anniversary of being successively elected to govern more than 80 million Indians since June 21, 1977, a record electoral success not only in India but also in any parliamentary democracy worldwide. “Consolidate This Alternative,” the People’s Democracy urged on June 24 in an editorial, which MP Sitaram Yechury, the leader of the parliamentary group of The Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M) and member of the party’s Politbureau, told this writer that he had written.

The Left Front also governs in the states of Kerala and Minipur. The communists are partners also in the ruling left fronts in Tripura and Tamil Nadu but have no cabinet ministers of their own. On grassroots level they lead mass organizations like the All India Trade Union Congress, All India Youth Federation, All India Students Federation, National Federation of Indian Women, All India Peasants Organization and the All India Agricultural Workers.

The Communist Party of India – Maoist is outlawed, but the CPI-M and the CPI are recognized by the Election Commission of India as “national parties,” and to date, they are the only national political parties that have contested the mainstream Congress and Janata in “all the general elections using the same electoral symbol.” They lead what is known in Indian media as the Left Front, which supports the Indian National Congress – led UPA coalition government in New Delhi, but without taking part in it; their support is conditional on committing to the Common Minimum Programme that pledges to discontinue disinvestment, massive social outlays and an independent foreign policy. (Wikipedia)

Communists are old hands in India. They set up their party early the 1920s, but were outlawed by the British colonial power until Britain allied herself with the former Soviet Union during the WWII and lifted the ban on Indian communists. After the independence in 1947 they resorted to “armed struggle” against local kings and sultans and their people’s army and militia briefly ruled the Hyderabad kingdom before they were brutally crushed out to drop violence ever since. They were the first opposition party to win state elections and rule in Kerala in 1957, an achievement that was criticized by their Chinese and other international comrades. The Indian Chinese war in 1962 split them between “internationalists” and “nationalists.” The split was institutionalized in 1964 with two party congresses.

Foreign Policy is another area where the Indian and American “democracies” diverge, noted Teresita Schaffer, director for the South Asia Program with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the former US deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia and former ambassador to Sri Lanka: “Both nations have different views about how their common democratic heritage should affect foreign policy. For Americans, it is natural to want to advance democracy. For India, however, democracy is not necessarily a product suitable for export. Democratic institutions are a source of great pride, deeply ingrained in how Indian government, politics and society work, yet one aspect of India’s anti-colonial history that remains strong is its passionate commitment to maintaining and respecting national sovereignty. India not only resists external interference, but is reluctant to make a public issue of other countries’ systems of government.”

Non-Alignment on Balance

The divergence on foreign policy between the world’s two largest democracies emanates from India’s anti-colonial legacy, which led New Delhi since independence to strictly tiptoe delicate “non-alignment” policies during the “cold war” era of the bipolar Soviet – U.S. world politics. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union India embarked early in the 1990s on her liberal economics and pragmatic foreign policy, but nonetheless remained honest to her anti-colonial policies to carefully avoid being dragged into the U.S. – led global war on terrorism in a way that could embroil her in the American overseas military adventures and in what many Indian diplomats still condemn as “imperialist” endeavors. Indian foreign policy accordingly is still committed to her traditional solidarity with the world’s national liberation movements.

However the Indian independence advocates of all political spectrum, with the communist and leftist third mainstream political movement in the forefront, are now pondering for how long New Delhi could resist the realistic outcome of the interaction between her globalization – oriented liberal economics and her pragmatic foreign policy. India’s traditional non-alignment is on the balance with potential strategic implications: “A flourishing Indo-Israeli relationship has the potential to make a significant impact on global politics by altering the balance of power, not only in South Asia and the Middle East, but also in the larger Asian region,” Harsh V. Pant wrote as early as December 2004 in volume No. 8 of the Israeli MERIA.

India’s traditional solidarity with the Palestinian people is the best example of a wider solidarity with the world’s national liberation movements, but, “With India-Israel bilateral engagement deepening, New Delhi’s status as a friend of the Arabs is being steadily eroded. Although India continues to maintain a ‘studied neutrality’ between Israel and the Palestinians, it is doing a balancing act. And even a balancing act is a significant shift, given India’s unambiguous support to the Palestinian cause for many decades,” Sudha Ramachandran wrote in Asia Times on June 26, 2002.

Indian communists are very well aware of their historical responsibility to preempt the potential alignment of their country’s non-aligned foreign policy; they are careful to maintain their ideological and international solidarity relations with their comrades worldwide as well as with the national liberation movements, in particular the Palestinian national struggle. On the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories in Israel’s 1967 “war of aggression,” Sitaram Yechury, member of the CPI-M’s Polit Bureau and leader of his party’s parliamentary group accepted the joint invitation of the Communist Party of Israel and the Palestinian (formerly communist) People’s Party for a three – day programme in Jerusalem on June 4, named “the Jerusalem Initiative,” which was also attended by 27 international delegations from 12 countries including 7 women organizations and representatives of the communist parties of the U.S.A., Britain, Italy, Portugal, Greece and France, the Socialist Left Party of Norway, Red-Green Alliance of Denmark, The Left Party of Germany, AKEL of Cyprus and RJD of India.

Yechury returned to India to educate tens of millions of communists and leftists on the Palestinian national struggle for self-determination in lectures, conferences and three articles published by the party’s “People’s Democracy” and republished or reported by a network of communist and leftist media. He told this writer, who met with Yechury in the Palestinian West Bank town of Ramallah and in New Delhi, that his party and friends collected hundreds of thousands of dollars as a donation to the Palestinian people to help them survive the suffocating two-year old economic siege imposed on them by the Israeli occupying power and her strategic U.S. ally.

*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine; he is based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli – occupied territories.

Indian – Israeli Ties Could Neutralize Delhi’s Palestinian Policy

July 12, 2007

By Nicola Nasser*

A seminar on “Palestine: 1967 and After” organized by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and the mission of the League of Arab States (LAS) in New Delhi on June 22 highlighted India’s still unwavering historical support for the Palestinian people, but failed to address the potential political effects of the growing Indian – Israeli ties on New Delhi’s more than ten – decade old policy on the Arab – Israeli conflict in Palestine.

Only the criticism of those ties by the participating Indian intellectuals, university professors and journalists made up for ignoring the factor of the Indian – Israeli ties by the major speakers like the Indian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for West Asia and the Middle East Peace Process, Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, the Director General of the ICWA and the newly – appointed ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Talmiz Ahmad, and M.P. Sitaram Yechury as well as the Secretary General of the LAS, Amr Moussa, whose contribution was read by ambassador Ahmed Salem Saleh Al-Wahishi.

Similarly all attending Arab and non – Arab ambassadors and diplomats, except for the Palestinian ambassador Osama Mousa Al-Ali, also diplomatically avoided raising up the issue, which could not but affect positively or negatively India’s role in any Arab – Israeli peace process, which was the main concern of all speakers.

Diplomats of the Palestinian embassy in the Indian capital proudly showed this writer a four – dumum plot of land in the diplomatic corps neighborhood of New Delhi donated by the Indian government as a “present from the Indian people to the Palestinian people” to build a complex for the embassy of the “state of Palestine.”It was part of a package of a $15 million grant donated to the Palestinian Authority during the visit of President Mahmoud Abbas to New Delhi in May 2005. $ 2.25 million of the grant was allocated for building the complex and the rest went to infrastructural projects in the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories, Palestinian ambassador Al-Ali said.

In addition to political and diplomatic support, $20 million volume of bilateral trade and several shipments of medical supplies for Palestinian hospitals, India was careful to cement her Palestinian ties culturally and had completed two – Indian aided projects in the Gaza Strip, namely the Jawaharlal Nehru library at Al-Azhar University and the Mahatma Gandhi library at the Palestine Technical College in Deir Al-Albalah; a third project, a center of Indian studies, is also being planned at Al-Quds University.

Historically India’s Palestinian policy has been drawing on the ideological guidance set by the world’s spiritual leader of non-violence and the father of Indian independence, the Mahatma Gandhi, who consistently rejected Zionism over a period of nearly twenty years despite unrelenting Zionist lobbying, because according to Paul Power: “First, he was sensitive about the ideas of Muslim Indians who were anti-Zionists because of their sympathy for Middle Eastern Arabs opposed to the Jewish National Home; second, he objected to any Zionist methods inconsistent with his way of non-violence; third, he found Zionism contrary to his pluralistic nationalism, which excludes the establishment of any State based solely or mainly on one religion; and fourth, he apparently believed it imprudent to complicate his relations with the British, who held the mandate in Palestine.” (1)

Although his sympathies were all with the Jews, who as a people were subjected to inhuman treatment and persecution for a long time, Gandhi wrote, “My sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me… Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?”

“Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home,” he wrote in a widely circulated editorial in the Harijan of 11 November 1938, which was a major statement that has decided the Indian foreign policy on Palestine and the Jewish question to this day.

Accordingly, India was among 13 nations who voted against the UN General Assembly resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine in 1947. In the same year, as a member of the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), India proposed a minority plan which called for the establishment of a federal Palestine with internal autonomy for the Jewish illegal immigrants. She was also among the first non-Arab nations to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974 and the first non-Arab country to recognize Palestine as an independent state in 1988; in 1996 India opened a diplomatic representative office with the autonomous Palestinian Authority.

Talmiz Ahmad’s reference in his opening remarks of the New Delhi seminar to the “resurgence of imperialism” in West Asia would undoubtedly assure Arabs that India would continue Mahatma Gandhi’s heritage of dealing with the Palestinian – Israeli conflict within the context of the international national liberation movements against colonialism, but the pragmatism which marked the Indian foreign policy in dealing with Israel, particularly since 1992, would potentially compromise this approach sooner or later. Arab and Palestinian strategists should not underestimate this possible strategist shift in the foreign policy of the world’s largest democracy, which a CIA study in 2005 envisaged as the second rising world power after China during the next two decades.

New Delhi is very well aware of her rising international status and that’s why she has been vying with Japan and Germany for a permanent seat at the Security Council of the United Nations. “The most important development of the 21st century will be the rise of Asia. India’s independence from colonial rule and the gradual evolution of a strong, stable, dynamic and democratic India has also contributed to Asia’s resurgence… Our Government has re-activated the Indian Council of World Affairs and has offered support to other think tanks to invest in the study of Asia, Africa and our neighbourhood… We have imparted new energy to our “Look East Policy”, launched in the early 1990s. This has contributed to a comprehensive re-engagement with Asia to our East,” said the incumbent Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, when his book, “The New Asian Power Dynamic,” was released recently.

An indicator of the new Indian strategic shift is the Indian focus on the Palestinian – Israeli peace process more than on the struggle of the Palestinian people for liberation, a development that was highlighted by the appointment of the veteran diplomat and former assistant to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, C. R. Gharekhan, as India’s Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process.

Accelerated Pace of Ties with Israel

Since Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao decided in January 1992 to establish full and normal diplomatic relations with Israel, Indian diplomats felt it necessary to “brief” Arab ambassadors in the Indian capital at regular intervals of India’s ties with Israel, but India is now Israel’s second largest trading partner in Asia after Hong Kong and Israel is now India’s second largest supplier of military equipment after Russia.

Official Israeli figures show that Israeli exports to India valued $1.270 billion in 2006 and imports $1.433 billion, to double the bilateral trade to more than tenfold since 1992. India’s Ambassador to Israel, Arun Kumar Singh, said recently that Israeli investments in India top $1b. Agricultural, water and IT technologies in addition to fertilizers and diamonds are major mutual trade concerns. The State Bank of India (SBI) became in June the first foreign bank to open a branch in Israel’s diamond exchange.

However both countries are careful to remain discreet about the defense component of their relations and trade. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Limited is looking for Indian partners to build two types of aircraft and jets in India and set up software and aeronautical engineering companies in Bangalore, according to The Hindu on July 2. The Times of India on June 14 reported that a top-level Israeli Army delegation, led by Israeli deputy chief of general staff Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky, was to visit Jammu & Kashmir after wide-ranging discussions with the top Indian military brass.

In August 1994, Israeli Defense Ministry’s Director-General David Ivry visited New Delhi and Indian Defense Secretary T. K. Banerji visited Tel Aviv. In March the following year the Israeli Air Force chief visited India and his Indian counterpart was in Israel in July 1996, one month after a strategic visit by the leading defense scientist, Abdul Kalam. In April 1996 the first Indian defense attaché, an air force officer, arrived in Israel. Prolonged cooperation between India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, is also reported; the RAW reportedly arranged in the late 1970s a visit by former Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan to India.

Defense also figured high on the agenda of visits by President Ezer Weizman in December 1996 and the then Foreign Minister (now President) Shimon Peres in May 1993. Comatose Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to visit New Delhi in 2003. However, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat used for decades to visit New Delhi on a two-hour notice.

Several factors contributed to the Indian pragmatic shift in foreign policy. Internally India in the early 1990s started her “look Asia policy” towards West and East Asia. Internationally the collapse of the former Soviet Union, which led to the emergence of the United States as the unipolar world power and globalization were the most prominent factors. Regionally the nuclear and technological race with China and Pakistan made New Delhi more responsive to more opening to the US, Israel and Japan. The Indian – Pakistani conflict was another regional factor. Except for the Baath-led Iraq and Syria, most conservative Arab governments were leaning towards Pakistan; the historical visit to New Delhi of the Saudi monarch King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in 2005 had however balanced their imbalanced policy.

Diplomats of the ruling Congress party like to blame the Israeli shift policy on the former ruling conservative Janata (“people’s” in Hindi) party and the war with Pakistan in the Kargil district of Kashmir in 1999, when Israel reportedly promptly supplied the Indian army with much needed military equipment, including night vision devices, thus kicking off a growing defense cooperation ever since.But in September 1950 Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1947-64), a founding father of the Congress, granted Israel de jure recognition. A few months later, Israel opened a trade office in Bombay which gradually became a consular mission, and the first Israeli consul took over in June 1953; in early 1952, Nehru expressed his willingness to establish diplomatic relations. Another Congress leader, Rajiv Gandhi (1984-89), initiated a few direct and indirect contacts with Israel. (2)

Arab ‘Green Light’

Arab and Palestinian diplomacy’s ambivalent refrain from publicly warning against the growing Indian – Israeli ties could be interpreted as a refrain from demanding from friendly countries what Palestinians and Arabs have “green-lighted” for themselves when they collectively chose the Arab Peace Initiative as their “strategic option” with Israel in an Arab summit meeting held in Beirut, Lebanon in 2002; non-Arab countries could not be more Arab and Palestinian than Arabs and Palestinians themselves. It is noteworthy that the Indian – Israeli relations accelerated pace in 1992, a year after the Arab – Israeli peace conference in Madrid, Spain.

However the presence of more than five million strong expatriate Indian labor force in Arab countries, three million of whom are to be found in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the more than $25 billion value of Arab – Indian trade, including 60 percent of Indian oil and gas imports worth $20 billion, are enough pragmatic reasons not to be politically compromised by the newly-found pragmatic approach of Indian foreign policy.

“When we recognized Israel and normalized relations with her we did that after taking the approval of the Palestinian leadership; we said, after you agree we’ll recognize (Israel) … the Palestinian leadership told us: There are signed accords between us (and Israel) and we are now talking to the Israelis; your establishing relations with Israel helps us,” the Indian representative to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Zikrur Rahman told the London-based Al-Haqeq newspaper on May 12, 2007.

Zikrur Rahman is a grandson of the Indian Muslim Mujahed Muhammed Ali Al-Hindi who died in battle in defense of the Palestinian people against the British mandate-protected Zionist paratroops early in the twentieth century, before Israel was created. His burial place alongside the graves of other Arab and Palestinian prominent freedom fighters is still standing as a symbol of Indian solidarity and friendship in the backyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site in Jerusalem.

*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.


(1) Quoted by Professor A.K. Ramakrishnan, “Mahatma Gandhi Rejected Zionism”, Released August 15, 2001, The Wisdom Fund, Website:

(2) P.R. Kumaraswamy, “India and Israel Evolving Strategic Partnership,” Begin – Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Israel, September 1998.