The Case for Kurdistan

 

In making the case for Kurdish independence, the author reviews the favorable prospects of the Kurdish state. He explains that “the West must support Kurdish independence to right the wrongs of the past and create stability in the Middle East.”


By Hawar Shawki, 22nd August, 2014

Straddling the borders where Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria converge in the Middle East, the Kurds constitute the largest number of people in the world without their own independent sovereign state. Long a suppressed minority, the wars against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and 2003 resulted in the creation of a semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the Federal Republic of Iraq. The KRG has inspired the Kurds elsewhere to seek cultural, social, and even political autonomy, if not independence. Kurdish history has seen many nationalist movements, but a fully independent sovereign state has yet to come to fruition and be recognised by the United Nations and other nation-states.

Continue reading

Iran: The Waiting Game

As talks have resumed over Iran’s nuclear program in Almaty, the failure of the sanctions regime raises serious questions about mainstream diplomatic commonplaces. Far from being the favour it is portrayed to be, the rapprochement effort towards Tehran from the P5+1 is borne out of necessity.


By Gulshan Roy, 8th March 2013

“Iran won’t retreat one iota from its nuclear program” was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s declaration on Iranian national television on the 9th of November 2011. The Iranian President is used to defiant flourishes as evidenced by his repeated promises to ‘finish off’ Israel. To his credit, however, his resolve not to sink in the face of gradually increasing pressure from the West has been steadfast. His country is weathering a deadly sanctions regime that has all but crippled the Iranian economy. Last week, the two sides met in Almaty, Kazakhstan in a desperate attempt to salvage the worsening situation. And as a beaming Mr Ali Baqeri (Iran’s deputy chief negotiator) left the fruitless round of negotiations with the P5+1 (the five permanent Security Council members and Germany), sanction-fanatics in the West were uncomfortably loosening their ties and scratching their moist foreheads. They ought to.

Continue reading

‘Iranian Mothers for Peace’ Alert the World on Sanctions and Shortage of Medicines

“The right to health and access to medical treatment and medication is one of the fundamental human rights anywhere in the world. Please do not allow the killing of our sick children, beloved families, and fellow Iranians from the lack of medicine, caught in instrumental policies of coercion and power.”

“Iranian women for Peace”, a human rights organisation in Iran have written an open letter to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, and Dr Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organisation alerting them to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Iran as a result of the shortage of vital medication due to US/EU led sanctions. In this letter by Farid Marjai and Mehrnaz Shahabi, the intentions of Iranian Mothers for Peace are explained as well as the plea to the UN to respond.

by Farid Marjai and Mehrnaz Shahabi, 4th February 2013. Continue reading

The Impact of Sanctions on Iranian Society and Artists

Economic sanctions are not only shattering the lives of the Iranian people but also strangling Iran’s social and cultural development. Iran is headed for a humanitarian catastrophe unless steps are taken to avert it.

[This article is based on a talk presented by independent researcher Mehrnaz Shahabi on November 17 at the Nour Festival of Arts in London, which seeks to celebrate, explore and promote culture and arts in the Middle East and North Africa.]


By Mehrnaz Shahabi, 17th December, 2012

For 33 years now, since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran has been the target of US economic sanctions, which have increased in scope and severity over time. The impact of sanctions on populations is not always quantifiable and can be contradictory. Despite their negative impact in isolating and hindering Iran’s economic progress, and the tragic loss of life due to the boycott of spare parts for the aging Iranian airline, in so far as necessity is the mother of invention, sanctions in many instances have acted as an impetus for technological progress; and the experience of success and survival through adversity has infused a collective sense of empowerment and self-confidence.

When I was asked in July to talk about the impact of sanctions on Iranian society, the idea was to place some emphasis on the arts and artists. Since then, the reality of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding as a result of the economic warfare on Iran has shifted the emphasis, by necessity, from the artists to their audience, since it is inconceivable to think of arts separately from the audience at which it is directed. Continue reading

Resolving Iran’s nuclear stand-off with the west

By Alireza Ahmadian, 7th August, 2012

The two days of talks in Moscow between the representative of P5+1 (US, UK, China, France, Russia and Germany) led by Catherine Ashton, the European Union High Representative and Dr. Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, ended with no major breakthrough and the possibility of further negotiations in Istanbul in July. “It remains clear that there are significant gaps between the substance of the two positions,” commented Ashton.

Concerned about uranium enrichment in Iran and the possibility of weaponization of its nuclear programme, the United Nations Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions, resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1929 on Iran asking the country to “suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.” Moreover, The US House of Representative passed a resolution on May 11, 2012  asking for “the full and sustained suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.” Jalili, on the other hand, has repeatedly stated  that “enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes in all levels is an inalienable right.”

Continue reading

Iran Should Not Allow the Talks to Be a “Success” If …

In this post, Shirin Shafaie offers a policy recommendation paper for Iran ahead of the Moscow talks between the P5+1 and Iran.


By Shirin Shafaie

Iran should not allow the Moscow talks (18 June, 2012) to be announced, declared or referred to as “successful”, “positive”, “constructive” or even “promising” by the other party or the Western media in the absence of absolutely concrete and tangible concessions from the West in terms of sanctions relief and normalisation of Iran’s nuclear file in the IAEA. I explain why.

Continue reading

Addressing the Asymmetry in Negotiations between Iran and P5+1: a critical review of Oxford Research Group’s briefing

In this article, the author presents a critical review of the briefing, “Iran´s Nuclear Impasse: Breaking the Deadlock”, published by the Oxford Research Group on 1 May 2012. As negotiations over Iran´s nuclear programme stall, the author criticises the lack of neutrality of the briefing by the Oxford-based think tank, and calls for a review of the same in order to avoid some of the mistakes of the past, when pro-war think tanks played a key role in manufacturing consent for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.


By Mehrnaz Shahabi, 10 July 2012

The Oxford Research Group’s briefing, Iran’s Nuclear Impasse: Breaking the Deadlock (1 May 2012) [1], published before the second round of negotiations between Iran and P5+1 (permanent Security Council and Germany) in Baghdad on 23 May, whilst proposing some positive principles for a successful outcome of the negotiations – such as Iran’s right to enrichment, “reciprocity”, “defining endgame”, and “taking regime change off the table” – suffers serious drawbacks, which have become even more glaringly clear with the result of the recent Moscow negotiations.

Continue reading

Non-Proliferation: Are we heading in the right direction?

In this article, the author reports from the first session of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee conference being held in Vienna, Austria. The international community, including Iran and the US, have gathered at the IAEA headquarters to discuss next steps while non-participants Israel, India and Pakistan follow the progress of the conference from the comforts of distance.


By David J. Franco, 2nd May, 2012

Ignored by the mainstream media, the world’s nuclear weapons and energy problems are being tackled by the international community gathered in Vienna. Attended by a gallant but tiny band of NGOs the meeting witnesses states from Iran to the US engaged in the debate, while the non-participants Israel, Pakistan and India cast a shadow over the proceedings.

On Monday, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, of the Philippines, declared open the first session of the Preparatory Committee of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. Ambassador Cabactulan led a successful process that culminated in the 2010 NPT Action Plan agreed with the consensus of all states parties to the NPT. After his opening statement, in which he emphasized the need to build upon pass success, Ambassador Cabactulan declared elected Ambassador Peter Woolcott, of Australia, as the Chair-designate for the first session of the 2015 NPT review conference cycle.

Continue reading

Time to reframe the debate on the Iranian nuclear programme

In this article, Paul Ingram* argues it is time to reframe debates on the Iranian nuclear programme. If we want to solve the current impasse, we need to move from a pervasive rhetoric based on security threats and mutual accusations to a cooperative framework more apt for negotiations. 


By Paul Ingram, 25th April, 2012

All too often the story around the Iranian nuclear issue is framed as our effort to contain the wild ambitions of a delinquent revolutionary state that with nuclear weapons given half a chance will threaten the stability of the world. This frame sticks for two key reasons: firstly because it plays into some of our greatest fears, and second, because there is enough of a hint of truth to it that people forget the qualifications, the underlying causes and the contrary evidence. In short, we fail in the face of complexity to understand the challenge, and the role of both sides in creating it. And in fact, many of the accusations made against Iran are mirrored in Tehran in things said about the West.

Western intelligence agencies continue to confirm that there is no strong evidence to back up the claim that Iran is engaged in a technical sprint to fulfil an ‘ambition to attain nukes’. Postulating reasons why Iran might want such capabilities is all very well, but such approaches are fraught with analytical and cultural traps. There are equally persuasive explanations for Iran’s programme that it would be equally dangerous to depend upon, such as the idea that Iran is caught up in an effort to demonstrate its modernity through the development of cutting-edge technologies, or that it is pursuing an energy-mix that both brings in foreign exchange and provides for an ever-increasing energy-hungry economy. The truth probably includes a balance of many explanations, including the fact that its technology development gives the administration a future option for nuclear deployment that may be seen as valuable in itself.

The talks in Istanbul last weekend between the E3+3 and Iran were best summed up by Guardian journalist Julian Borger as a play for a score draw, at least for now. Emerging without recriminations was in itself an achievement. But of course the challenge is how we get beyond this to reaching more substantive agreement in Baghdad on 23 May, when there have been so many factors in the way. Over the coming months, Iran faces some pretty severe additional sanctions, on top of crippling ones recently imposed. When previously people may have accused them of playing for time this is no longer be the case. In fact if anything it was Catherine Ashton, lacking a mandate, who last Saturday was playing for time when Jalili was looking for a deal that would soften impending sanctions. The best way of securing stocks of material in Iran is by negotiating access, not by threats, which only provide Iran an incentive to continue. Israeli protests over Iran’s increasing ‘immunity’ to attack ignores the fact that Iran has every right to protect themselves against illegal military threats. As Peter Jenkins, former UK Ambassador to the IAEA puts it, Iran bought itself immunity from attack by being a member of the United Nations and a signed up member of the NPT. Israeli military threats only make it more difficult for Iranian politicians and diplomats to sell any deal to their constituents.

There are plenty of frameworks out there to negotiate on that take the parties step-by-step in the direction of a technical agreements whilst the underlying trust essential to lasting improvement can be built up. Indeed, this is the only approach that holds any promise of working in negotiations. It will require parties to drop preconditions and talk with a view to understanding the other side’s perspective. Each step will need to involve net gains for both sides, as well as a clear sense of where the process is going. There will need to be maximum exploitation of common interests in other security areas – such as counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics activities. Positive signals such as those given recently by both President Obama and Ayatollah Khameini will need reflection, and negative, hostile rhetoric scaled back.

But we will also, in parallel have to tackle some of the deep-seated fears and attitudes that prevent progress. One such on the western side is a deep-seated exceptionalism around sovereignty that pervades the majority view. How much do we all share the attitude that we have a right to demand unlimited access and control over others’ nuclear programmes whenever we have our own suspicions? We have every reason to develop international systems based upon agreement and universal application, but we cannot force others into agreements, and certainly not those we are not willing to submit ourselves to. As a nuclear weapon state Britain is unwilling to seriously consider abandoning the highly expensive practice of keeping a nuclear submarine at sea at all times, or to share such a practice with France, for example, because we have such a powerful attachment to the concept of British sovereignty based upon the ability to threaten massive retaliation against any other state on the planet. This is bound to drive proliferation, sooner or later. Regionally, the inconsistent focus on Iran without any clear plan to address Israeli possession of a nuclear arsenal cannot be justified by a legalistic appeal to Israel’s non-membership of the NPT. As non-signatories the Israelis may not be directly breaking the law, but if we are to claim that the health of the international community depends upon a strong ethic of non-proliferation, then Israel cannot remain an out-law.

We cannot continue to have partial approaches to dangerous technologies. Did you know that India’s successful missile test this week broke a UN Security Council resolution, just as North Korea’s failed one last week did? Few have reported it.

On the Iranian side, it’s time they evolved the rather male pig-headed pride so ably illustrated in last year’s prize-winning film ‘the Separation’, an approach that too often characterises (though not uniquely) Iranian diplomacy and politics. Standing on one’s rights or maintaining an inflexible position can harm one’s own interests in fundamental ways, and destroy one’s position within the community, international or otherwise. International communities require trust, empathy and reassurance. They also depend upon a level of transparency and responsibility. Iranians have to recognise that for a variety of reasons they have a long way to go to build the trust of their neighbours, the sort of trust that will enable them to overcome the isolation they have suffered, isolation that threatens to deepen as the Syrian government goes down and their allies in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories start to look elsewhere for sponsorship in the context of the Arab Spring.

But the deeper choices lie in the international community’s relationship to nuclear deterrence, and how power has in the past been mediated by possession of nuclear arsenals. If we cannot break free from Cold War theologies that place such magical powers in the possession of nuclear weapons, we will only have ourselves to blame when the weapons spread, and those we fear most acquire the magic we have sought to invoke in defence of our privileged positions.

The views expressed in this article solely reflect Paul Ingram’s personal perspective.

____________________________________________________________________________________

*About the author: Paul Ingram is Executive Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) where he develops BASIC’s long-term strategy to help reduce global nuclear dangers through disarmament and collaborative non-proliferation, coordinating operations in London and Washington. He is also a weekly talk-show host on Iranian TV. This article was first published in Open Democracy on 23 April 2012 (the original article can be accessed here).

Will Iran be accorded its rightful place in the world?

In an inspiring analysis, Peter Jenkins analyses the current state of affairs over Iran’s nuclear file in advance of the April 14 meeting in Istanbul between members of the international community (the P-5 + Germany and the EU) and Iran. Jenkins warns that the scope for any process on nuclear talks with Iran to founder on distrust, misunderstanding and political in-fighting in both Tehran and Washington remains formidable. Furthermore, he sees the wider political realities surrounding the Iranian case as ‘disturbing’ and calls for a more active role from the BRICS, especially India, in helping resolve the conflict. Iran’s nuclear programme is a symbol of a geostrategic shift, he argues, and the global family has an interest in Iran’s neighbours according Iran a say in the affairs of South West Asia.

This article was first published by Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations on 10 April under the title ‘Iran: An opportunity for BRICS‘.


By Peter Jenkins*, 12 April, 2012

The winter months saw the controversy over Iran’s nuclear programme become dangerously heated. Western media were encouraged to interpret recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) findings as proof that Iran is bent on making nuclear weapons, despite the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community remaining that a weapons decision has not been taken and is in no sense inevitable.

The U.S., UK, and European Union (EU) used the concern aroused by media reporting to justify a further sharpening of their attack on the Iranian economy, while Israel pressed for a different sort of attack, to wipe out Iranian nuclear facilities before the programme enters a so-called “zone of immunity”. Iran reminded its adversaries that it could retaliate by closing the Straits of Hormuz to oil and gas shipments.

As spring has come, passions have cooled. U.S. President Barack Obama seems to have felt able to tell Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu that a military attack is unnecessary at this juncture, even though the U.S. President is vulnerable to Israeli influence on U.S. public opinion in an electoral year. The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, the EU and Germany have agreed to talk to Iran’s nuclear negotiator despite the latter’s failure to commit Iran to full implementation of the resolutions passed by the UN Security Council since 2006 (Notably these require Iran to suspend all production of the enriched uranium that can be converted into reactor fuel, but which Iran could divert to military use if it decided to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], or to ignore its NPT obligations).

There are signs that the U.S., UK and Germany, if not France under President Sarkozy, are moving towards the Russian and Chinese position of accepting Iranian enrichment as long as Iran offers the best possible guarantees that all its nuclear material will remain in non-military use.  Public diplomacy has moderated rude aggression yielding to civility and reason.

The risk of disruption to oil and gas shipments has receded – for the time being at least – although recent U.S. and EU measures are causing problems for some of Iran’s traditional customers, and are hurting consumers everywhere through their effect on prices.

So it is not irrational to hope that when the eight parties – Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S., the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, the EU and Iran – meet on 14 April in Istanbul, they may find some way of launching a process that can, over time, lead to agreement. At long last, perhaps there can be concurrence on handling Iran’s nuclear ambitions in accordance with the treaty to which Iran is a founder-party, the NPT.

An NPT deal would recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium and would accept its taking advantage of that right, in return for Iran placing all nuclear material in its possession under IAEA safeguards and renewing its commitment to refrain from manufacturing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons.

In one sense, the West approaches these talks from a position of weakness. The Iranians have shown no sign of buckling under the pressure of ever-tighter sanctions. They know that the West’s military option is deeply unattractive to any of sane mind.

In another sense, the West has many good cards in its hand.  Sanctions are hurting Iran and it has an interest in having them lifted provided the price is not intolerable.  Abandoning its enrichment plans would be intolerable; volunteering full access to IAEA inspectors, and other measures that can allay the concerns aroused by the clandestinity of some of its past nuclear activities, need not be.

To say that hope is permissible is not to say that the odds on yet another disappointment are long.  In 2007 a promising opening vanished when Iran’s chief negotiator clashed with President Ahmedinejad.  In 2009 it was President Ahmedinejad’s turn to be thwarted by domestic rivals; and President Obama, under pressure from hawks, withdrew his negotiators rather than wait for the Iranians to sort out their differences. In 2010, the timing of Iranian assent to a confidence-building proposal brokered by Turkey and Brazil cast doubt in Western minds on Iran’s sincerity.

In other words, the scope for any process to founder on distrust, misunderstanding and political in-fighting in both Tehran and Washington remains formidable. Equally disturbing are the wider political realities.

Since 1992 both leading Israeli parties, Likud and Labour, have sought to convince Washington that Iran is a mortal threat to U.S. interests in South West Asia. This they have done in order to maintain Israel’s value to the U.S. as an ally in a post-Cold War Middle East and to avert a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations that they fear might entail a cooling in U.S.-Israeli relations.  For these Israelis, Iran’s nuclear programme, and especially its undeclared activities prior to 2003, has been a gift from heaven.

Iran’s transgressions are a matter for persuading Americans that Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, that these weapons will be used to destroy Israel, they say. Iran’s programme, if left unchecked, will precipitate nuclear proliferation in an unstable region, leading Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey to acquire similar capabilities. U.S. conservatives, in thrall to dreams of re-shaping the Middle East and regime-change in Iran, have been eager echoers of these (highly questionable) arguments.

These constituencies, Israeli and American, have no interest in the normalisation of the Iranian nuclear case through an NPT deal.  On the contrary, they have every interest in making it as politically difficult as possible for any U.S. administration to arrive at such a deal.

Saudi Arabia has been even less transparent than Israel.  It is not obvious that the Saudis have been poisoning the wells of American opinion to thwart a deal with Iran.  But Saudi-Iranian rivalry, multifaceted and acute since the advent of an Islamic Republic that challenges the legitimacy of Saudi occupation of the Holy Places, seized from the Hashemites in 1924, and which shows up the undemocratic nature of the Saudi monarchy, is well-documented.  There have been veiled threats that Saudi Arabia will ignore its NPT obligations if Iran is left in peace to exploit nuclear technology that the Saudis themselves are decades away from mastering without outside help.  Saudi Arabia too has an interest in thwarting any deal that leaves Iran in possession of enrichment plants.

There are additional factors.  Ever since the NPT opened for signature in 1968, U.S. officials have found it hard to accept that the treaty allows non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) access to technologies that can serve both civil and military purposes. There’s been a 44-year itch to close what Americans see as a loop-hole, despite all the evidence that many NNWS are unready to concede a back-door renegotiation of a carefully-balanced instrument.

There is also in the U.S. a tendency to blind self-righteousness that can lead Americans to treat non-Americans as miscreants when the latter err. Iran’s failure to respect its NPT safeguards commitments prior to 2003, ill-disposes American officials to accord Iranian representatives the respect the latter crave.  There’s a risk Iran’s negotiators will be made to feel like criminal suspects invited to engage in plea-bargaining.

For their part, the Iranians have a tendency to give way to the temptation to retaliate when instead keeping a stiff upper lip would be wiser. For instance, they retaliated for the 2006 reporting of their IAEA non-compliance to the Security Council by ceasing to allow the IAEA the access it needed to arrive at the conclusion that there are no undeclared nuclear activities or material in Iran.  They retaliated for recent UK sanctions on financial dealings by trashing the British embassy in Tehran, an act of vandalism ill-calculated to make it easier for the British government to accept their enrichment activities. Will they be able to resist the urge to retaliate if some indignity is inflicted on them while negotiations are underway?

These wider factors suggest that India, Brazil and South Africa could play a part in resolving this controversy if they chose.  They could act as auxiliaries of their BRICS partners, Russia and China, whose role in a negotiating process will be to help narrow differences.  India could use its influence in Washington and European capitals to urge patience and the turning of deaf ears to special pleading from Israel and Saudi Arabia. It could draw attention to the way in which Western slowness to accept evidence that the Iranian nuclear threat had been exaggerated, has damaged Indian economic interests.

India could also stress the unacceptability of any attack on Iran that has not been authorised by the Security Council, both on legal grounds and on account of its probable consequences for Indian living standards. It could draw on 2,500 years of cultural affinity with Iran to offer advice on Iranian sensibilities: the dos and don’ts that matter in any negotiation.

The underlying need is for the BRICS to make their voice heard on this issue, to counter-point the tunes composed by the West’s Middle East allies. The BRICS are qualified to argue against seeing Iran’s nuclear programme in isolation. They can point out that the programme is a symbol of a geostrategic shift: Iran is slowly returning to the ranks of Asia’s greater powers.

This shift is unwelcome to some of Iran’s neighbours, it seems.  They have sought to prevent it by distorting Western perceptions, by encouraging Western governments to assume the worst of a state whose intentions the West finds it hard to fathom, and by playing on the negative prejudices that are the legacy of past clashes with Iran.

But this kind of shift cannot be prevented without a conflict that would entail hardship or suffering for most of mankind. So the global family has an interest in Iran’s neighbours accommodating what can hardly be prevented, and according Iran a say in the affairs of South West Asia – what the Iranians see as their rightful place in the world.

_________________________________________________________________________________

*Peter Jenkins is a former British diplomat who worked on the Iranian nuclear issue when ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (2001-06).

   

The Israeli Embassy Vehicle Attack in New Delhi – Reactions in India

In this article, the author explores the reaction among the media, the government and the people over the attack that took place on the Israeli Embassy vehicle on the 13th of February, 2012. 

_________________________________________________________________________________

By Siddharth Singh, 15th Feb, 2012

In the aftermath of the bomb blast targeting an Israeli embassy car in central Delhi, the reaction of the people and the press has largely revolved around three themes: one, outrage that yet another attack has taken place in India and the condemnation of the current government over its inability to stop such attacks. This perception is strengthened by the “weak” verbal responses by the concerned Indian ministers. Two, pointed criticism that the government couldn’t prevent an attack which is a stone’s throw away from the Prime Minister’s residence. Three, surprise – by people mostly – that Iran is in any way related to this attack. Bomb blasts in India have so far been popularly and officially blamed on home grown terrorist groups and those supported by or originating from Pakistan.

The First Theme: Outrage over the attack and ridicule of the official response

The near-universal condemnation of the United Progressive Alliance government under Dr. Manmohan Singh is a recurrent theme that follows every bomb blast in a big city in the country. While it is true that India is a rather large country with multitudes in a politically and socially unstable neighbourhood, it is equally true that the government can do a lot more to improve the security situation in the country without resorting to the controversial measures such as the U.S. government has. Indeed, the government has failed to put in place effective counter-terror and law-and-order mechanisms.

For instance, the Ministry of Home Affairs is overburdened with non-security related tasks such as “implementation of the official language” – Hindi – and welfare of freedom fighters from the pre-Independence era. The long proposed Internal Affairs Ministry has not been set up yet, even though it is an idea accepted by officials on Raisina Hill. Comprehensive police reforms too haven’t seen the light of the day in spite of being on paper for several years.

Additionally, the establishment of an Internal Security University – which would provide long term research and analysis on the internal security scenario in India, apart from providing better trained policemen and administrators – has not been established yet, in spite of being passed by the Cabinet years ago. Currently the officials in the ministry are over burdened with day-to-day crisis management and do not have time to research and plan for the longer run.

The image of the government as an ineffective unit, however, largely comes from the lack of effective communication from the government, in particular its ministers. While the government response is typically greeted with disdain, this time around, it was met with ridicule. One of the reasons is that unlike previous attacks, this one did not result in deaths, making mockery acceptable. The people and media resorted to ridiculing the government over what they referred to as a “cliched, disinterested and monotonous” official statement. This time around, they got to see on their favourite prime time news shows on TV – in the form of Israeli ministers, including Prime Minister Netanyahu – give decisive statements on how such attacks cannot be tolerated and the perpetrators will be hunted down. The Israeli administration was also hasty in blaming Iran for the attack, at a time when the Indian officials were sticking to the story of an “incident” caused due to “unknown circumstances.” The reaction to the blame on Iran will be addressed later in this article.

While this author does not believe that hawkish statements are constructive in the aftermath of such bomb blasts, it is true that the government’s reaction is often trite, and are often replays of every official reaction after every major attack the country has seen in the past many years. This fits into the popular narrative of the government, which lacks effective communicators at the top of the administrative setup. The leader of the political coalition – Sonia Gandhi, the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and External Affairs Minister, among others, are not exactly known for their oratory skills. In a hyperactive news TV era, this has become a burden on the political establishment. The media and people in India yearn for effective communicators who can sell governance as much as they can effectively govern in the first place. Even though transparency has been legislated via the Right to Information Act and other instruments, there seems to be opacity in the verbal communication at the top of the administration.

This narrative is popular and cannot be easily undone by the government without a major cabinet reshuffle. It is an issue the government will have to accept and work around.

The Second Theme: Outrage over the location of the attack

The second theme of the reaction has been specific to this incident: the bomb blast took place on one end of Aurangzeb Road, which is a posh neighbourhood in the Lutyens Bungalow Zone (where all the ministers, officials, parliamentarians and chiefs of military reside) in New Delhi. The location of the attack was a stones throw away from the Prime Minister’s official residence at 7, Race Course Road.

Unsurprisingly, this became a talking point, and many commentators and the general public have lamented about the lack of security even in such a high profile area. One news TV host in partcular was at his hyperbolic best when he commented that even the Prime Minister could hear the bomb blast (adding later that it would have been possible only if the Prime Minister was home. The police eventually revealed that the blast wasn’t a loud one).

The Prime Minister’s residence is on the Race Course Road, which is open to the general public. Pedestrians freely walk along the sidewalks on the road, and motorists are free to use this road for their daily commute. This fact once brought praise by a friend from a subcontinental neighbour who lamented that common people in his country couldn’t even step in the neighbourhood of the most important ministers.

The entire Lutyens Bungalow Zone is fully accessible to the public, as it rightly must be. However, this also means that it is easy for a motorist to – say – bring explosives in close proximity of the Prime Minister’s home. The PM, of course, is safe in his multi layered security setup. In fact, he uses a different road (which is fully secured) from the other side of his home for his daily commute.

Lutyens Delhi cannot be made exclusive to the residents of the area. Not only does this area house the representatives of the people, it has the headquarters of the political parties, and several markets where the poor find employment. There is no practical way to fully secure this area. Commentary on this theme of the location of the attack is hence misplaced. The location is immaterial here: that it happened at all is the issue at hand.

The Third Theme: Surprise and confusion over Iran’s involvement

What has been more interesting, however, is the sense of confusion among people and a few reporters about Iran’s alleged involvement in the attack. The only foreign nation Indians are used to hearing get linked to attacks has been Pakistan. (To a much lesser extent, Bangladesh was once on this list too, but now makes headlines for partnering India in its fight against militancy).

Natanyahu’s assertion that Iran had a role in the attack even before the Indian authorities could confirm that it was an “attack” rather than an “incident” came as a surprise to many. Many in the media termed this as a hasty reaction without credible evidence to back the claim. A few in the public commended such naming tactics, recommending India do the same with Pakistan.

Importantly, however, this holds important implications on India’s foreign policy. In case Iran’s role is directly or indirectly established, it would mean that India will have to re-draft its policy in the region, which has so far been fairly neutral so far (barring for a few strategic decisions against Iran on the nuclear issue and the Iran-Pakistan-India Natural Gas Pipeline).

Historically, Iran has an image of a cultural “ally” in India. In recent years, the Ahmedinejad administration has brought criticism of official Indo-Iranian relations among those who advocate a more realist foreign policy. However, there is a general acceptance of Iran as an energy supplier nation which can help India meet its growing energy demand.

Indians are in general unaware of the growing tension between Iran and Israel. Reports on the stand off between Iran and the United States are often buried deep inside new papers and have nearly no mention on TV. For these reasons, the very mention of Iran has caught many by surprise. People still don’t fully grasp why India has emerged as a battlefield in the Iran-Israel stand off. The set of challenges for policymakers are profound, and it will be interesting to observe how the foreign policy and security discourse evolves from here.

Iranian-American Relations: Explaining the Recent Allegations against Iran

US agents state that a "significant terrorist act" linked to Iran which would have included the assassination of the Saudi US ambassador Adel al-Jubeir (seen here seated with former US First Lady Laura Bush and King Abdullah) has been foiled recently.In this article, the author argues that the recent allegations against Iran have been largely shaped by America’s perceptions of, and prejudices against Iran, which were shaped by the changes in their relations post-1979.


By Aryaman Bhatnagar, 19 Oct, 2011

The most recent American allegations against Iran accusing it of plotting the assassination of the Saudi Ambassador in Washington and the Iranian dismissal of such allegations as being baseless have once again revealed the endless cycle of blame that characterises Iranian-American relations. This latest round of allegations and subsequent denials originates from the perception that America has of Iran.

The Quds Force (QF), a special branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has been accused by the United States of America and Saudi Arabia to have been part of the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. However, Iran’s alleged complicity in this plot has met with strong scepticism within the diplomatic community and from foreign analysts specialising in Iran. Moreover, the lack of evidence to indict the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini or the Revolutionary Corps in this plot does not help America’s claims. Despite this, the Americans are adamant that the plot had been sanctioned by the QF or directly by Khameini himself. The Americans are calling upon the international community to strengthen sanctions against Iran and have not completely ruled out the military option as retaliation for Iran’s “flagrant violation of international law”.

This has not been the first time that Iran has been accused by the Americans without any concrete evidence. Iran had been accused of bombing the American embassy in Beirut in 1983 and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, which was home to American troops at that point. Years of investigation failed to prove Iranian involvement but even this has failed to dispel American suspicions, who continue to believe otherwise. Similarly, Iran has been accused of providing aid to al-Qaeda and the Taliban in order to destabilise American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although, there has been evidence to suggest that Iranian weapons have been used by insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan, there is nothing to prove that this is part of a deliberate policy. However, such allegations have been used by America to exclude Iran from all the major projects concerning the region.

The reasons for the continuous demonization of Iran in America can be traced back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a watershed for American-Iranian relations. The revolution changed the image of Iran from a modern ‘westernised’ ally of America to one of America’s most formidable foes in the Middle East, which was ruled by ‘Mad Mullahs’. The Islamic Republic’s use of ideology in its foreign policy and an alternate vision for the world social and political order were seen as a threat to the American-led world order. It was the hostage crisis of 1979, which shaped the image of Iran as an irrational actor and left a lasting impact on the American impression of the Islamic Republic. From this date onwards, Iran became synonymous with worldwide terrorism and the source of all evil. Thus, irrespective of where terrorism was committed, the finger was automatically pointed at Iran. Even if there was lack of evidence, it was assumed to be something that Iran was capable of doing and were, thus, condemned for it.

Such a negative perception of Iran has become institutionalised in the political culture of America. As a result, the US policymakers have found it extremely difficult to shed their prejudices against. This is most evident in case of America’s response to Iran’s nuclear programme. Although, there is strong evidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is meant for peaceful purposes, America is convinced that it is meant to cause harm to them. A nuclear weapon in the hands of religious fanatics is believed to be dangerous for the entire world. It is interesting to note that America had been instrumental in starting the nuclear programme in Iran prior to the occurrence of the revolution. Their paranoia then clearly is an outcome of their perception of the nature of the Iranian regime than the actual dangers posed by the nuclear weapons.

The US’ differences with Iran are also motivated by their different strategic interests as both want to establish their primacy over the Persian Gulf region. Moreover, USA’s alliance with Israel and the bitter Iran-Israel relations also act as an obstacle for normalising the Iranian-American relations. But USA has managed to work around such issues and resolve its differences in the past with other countries. It is the perpetuation of the perception of Iran as an inherently anti-American nation, which is always looking for an opportunity to subvert them that has not only prevented USA from reconciling with Iran but also encourages speculations about its intentions.