By Sajjad Shaukat

Recently, differences arose between Iran and India when Tehran threatened to stop oil supply to New Delhi. In this regard, the Indian Central Bank said import payments to Iran would have to be settled outside the existing Asian Clearing Union (ACU) mechanism.

Indian officials announced that the problem of oil payments for the export of Iran’s oil supplies to the country has been solved and there has been no disruption in supply since the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issued new payment guidelines.

Last week, India’s Petroleum Secretary S. Sundareshan said, “There has been no disruption in supply since (Reserve Bank of India) RBI issued new payment guidelines.”

In fact, Iran wants the choosing of payment in currency such as the Iranian Rial, Dirham and Yen which are not susceptible to US pressure.

The Reserve Bank of India said last month that oil trade payments to Iran could no longer be settled using a long-standing clearinghouse system run by the central banks. So the dispute has not yet been resolved.

India imports 80% of its oil, and buys about 16% of its imported oil from Iran. This is a very important matter for India. The United States is pressurizing India to participate in economic sanctions against Iran and that has caused greater difficulty in the India-Iran oil trade. The short version is that Iran wants some certainty that it will be paid for the oil; it wants the trades cleared through a non-western bank, or to be guaranteed by the Bank of India.

However, Indo-Iranian divergence is not confined to the recent oil payments row; it is part of strategic differences which also include a number of other issues. In this respect, Iran-India-Pakistan (IPI) natural gasproject was conceived in 1995 and after almost 13 years, India finally decided to quit the project in 2008. India walked out of the 2,775 km. pipeline project due to American pressure. As regards the gas pipeline projects of the region, US which has opposed the IPI pipeline project strongly supports the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) project. However, in that background, Islamabad and Tehran signed the IPI without New Delhi’s participation as the latter was reluctant in this context owing to its pro-US tilt.  

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America which signed a nuclear deal with India in 2008, intends to make India a mini-super power of Asia by containing China and destablising Pakistan as well as Iran. In this connection, Indian secret agency, RAW with the backing of US and Israel has continuously been sending weapons to the Baloch separatists and anti-Iranian group Jundullah (God’s soldiers) so as to cause lawlessness in the province and related region of Iran.  

It is notable that on October 18, 2009, a deadliest suicide attack had killed dozens of officers including the deputy commander for the Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier General Nour Ali Shoushtari in the Sistan-Baluchistan. Jundullah, the Sunni militant group which is pro-active against the Iranians, claimed responsibility for the incident.

In that respect, Iran directly accused US and Britain for their alleged patronage and funding of that type of terrorist attacks for creating instability within Iran. Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani had blamed the US, saying, “We consider the terrorist attack to be the result of the US action. This is the sign of America’s animosity against our country.”

Tehran had also lodged a strong protest with Islamabad over the failure of its law enforcement agencies to dismantle the Jundullah network in its part of Balochistan, while remarking that plan was prepared in Pakistan. Some reports suggested that in confusion; even some Iranian leaders had expressed apprehension on some of Pakistan’s officials in cooperation with the Jundulluh regarding that suicide attack. This is what the US, India and Israeli wanted.

While taking cognizance of the Indo-Israeli plot against Islamabad and Tehran, on October 20, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said that the suicide attack in Iran’s Sistan was a conspiracy against brotherly relations between Pakistan and Iran. He further added, “It is obvious that the same forces that are working in Pakistani Balochistan are also working in Iranian Sistan.” In the recent past, a suicide attack also killed a number of persons in Iran.

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The fact of the matter is that since the US-led NATO forces occupied Afghanistan after 9/11, stiff resistance of the Taliban militants which created unending lawlessness in the country has made it a most conducive place for India which has been preparing conspiracies to fulfill secret strategic designs against Iran, Pakistan and China. In this regard, Washington has repeatedly accused Iran of sending arms to Afghan insurgents, while RAW has been doing this job so as to implicate Tehran. For this purpose, under the pretext of Talibinisation of Afghanistan, secret agencies like American CIA, Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad have well-established their networks in Afghanistan.

Indo-Iranian differences cannot be seen in isolation because the same are part of the strategic move in the region. In fact, Pakistan’s province, Balochistan where China has invested billion of dollars to develop Gwadar seaport, and which could link Central Asian trade with rest of the world irritates both Washington and New Delhi.It has even shifted the central gravity of the Great Game to Pakistan.

On 16 August 2007, during the annual summit, leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which includes Russia, China and four Central Asian states displayed their strength against the rising dominance of the US in the region. Calls for a multi-polar system in the world were repeated by their leaders. Russian President Putin  had proposed defence cooperation among the member states. Pakistan and Iran also participated in the summit as observers and are expected to get permanent membership. The SCO is seen as anti-western club against the United States as well as the NATO military presence in Afghanistan, near the region of Central Asia which is replete with oil and gas. 

There also exists Indo-Israeli secret collusion not only against Pakistan and China, but also against Iran. Both India and Israel takes Iran’s nuclear programme which is also negated by the US—as a threat to their collective interests. Nevertheless, this similarity of interests has brought the two countries to follow a common secret diplomacy. In this context, in his interview, published in the Indian weekly Outlook on February 18, 2008, Israel’s ambassador to India, Mark Sofer explained regarding India’s defence arrangements with Israel by disclosing, “We do have a defence relationshipwith India, which is no secret” and “with all due respect, the secret part will remain a secret.”

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Although whole of the Islamic world is target of Indo-Israeli secret collusion, yet the same has intensified in case of Pakistan, China and especially Iran. In this regard, US-led some western countries including Indo-Israeli strong lobbies which are clandestinely working in America and Europe have also been supporting the Indo-Israeli nexus overtly or covertly.

Moreover, Sino-Iranian close ties in diversified fields also irk the eyes of New Delhi which though does not openly opposes their relationship, yet it disfavours the same secretly—and it is continuosly trying to sabotage the same through manipulation.

It is owing to the Indo-Iranian strategic differences that in the recent past, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki clearly said that Tehran was ready to start anytime the IPI “peace pipeline” project and China might replace India. Manouchehr Mottaki seems to suggest that this development is a win-win situation for Pakistan, Iran and China.

Linking Iran, Pakistan and China via pipeline is natural process of hooking up the ECO allies with China. Expanding trade with China is a natural consequences of the deep military and economic relations between these three countries. In this respect, exporting Iranian gas to China will aid energy starved China and help Pakistan get access to Iranian energy resources.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations