By: Syed Zafar Mehdi

“India’s energy needs would imply not giving up on close relations with Iran under U.S. pressure”

July 1, 2018

Nitasha Kaul is a Kashmiri economist, poet, academic and novelist, based in the U.K. She teaches Politics and International Relation at the University of Westminster, London.

Q. A day after U.S. ambassador to UN Nikki Haley visited New Delhi, India's oil ministry reportedly asked refiners to prepare for drastic reduction or zero import of Iranian oil from November when the US sanctions against Iran take effect. Do you think India is buckling under the U.S. pressure?

A. Since the end of the Cold War, India has continued with paying lip service to Non Alignment Movement but has developed closer relation with the U.S. Because of U.S.-Iran tensions, India has often had to play a balancing act. While Iran does not make demands on India, U.S. does, this is the nature of U.S. as a world power. At a time when India ought to keep out of geopolitical conflicts such as that between Iran and U.S., India seems to be siding explicitly with the U.S. India’s energy needs as well as priorities in Afghanistan would imply not giving up on close relations with Iran under American pressure and yet this is what seems to be happening. To what extent it is due to ideological similarities between the ruling governments, both rightwing and Islamophobic, is something one needs to investigate further.

Q. Nikki Haley during her India visit said the world is united against Iran having nuclear weapons while Iran has consistently maintained that its nuclear programme is purely for energy purpose. Don't you think countries like U.S., Israel, India and Pakistan, - the nuclear powers who have not signed Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), pose greater threat to global peace than Iran which is a signatory of NPT?

A. Nuclear weapons are threats to world peace and yet, rather than working toward denuclearization of the entire world, we are witnessing what an IR scholar Hugh Gusterson calls "nuclear orientalism". U.S. is the only country that has actually used atomic weapons and killed hundreds of thousands and yet it is seen as the custodian of international community. Now, Israel, India and Pakistan have been involved in multiple wars and their nuclear weapons are taken for granted even though they are not signatories of the NPT. All this shows that the real issue is that "world peace" has become a convenient label countries evoke and discard depending on what their interests are.

Q. With India all set to cut its oil imports from Iran under U.S. pressure, do you think it will have any bearing on India-Iran relations, which had improved recently, and the ambitious Chabahar Port project?

A. Unless India offers something else to Iran in return for cutting the oil imports, or the U.S. makes substantial concessions to India of some kind, it will be a giving up of strategic leverage to little benefit.  Iran-India relations go beyond oil imports. The reality is that American sanctions will hurt the Iranian economy at a time when hostile neighboring states are keen on weakening Iran. Iran too needs a stable international environment to improve its economy. It cannot afford to downgrade its relations with India, though of course, China is a bigger trading partner that has maintained neutrality on this. As for India, cutting of oil imports is a short-term move that will bring no economic, geopolitical or security benefit to India. At a time when China is going ahead full steam with investments in Pakistan including in Gwadar, it is odd that India has risked the ambitious Chabahar port development.

Q. A latest study by Thomson Reuters Foundation has listed India as the most dangerous country for women, above Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. What's your take on it?

A. Whether a country is most dangerous or second most dangerous is not a matter of quibble and yet so many commentators close to the Indian government are rejecting the report by questioning its methodology as well as motives. The correct response would have been introspection and identification of reasons why India is so unsafe for all women in general, and Dalit, impoverished, marginalized and tribal women in particular. While media often focuses only on cases of rape, women are systemically marginalized through the use of everyday violence before birth (through sex-selective abortion and foeticide), after birth (female infanticide), while growing up (given fewer opportunities than boys in the name of "safety"), in work place, in de facto inheritance and property ownership, and in family. India does not even recognize marital rape as a crime. The issue of violence against women is not a question of national prestige or shame but one of basic safety and rights for all.

Q. Situation in Kashmir has alarmingly deteriorated in past few years with increase in civilian casualties. What factors are responsible for it?

A. Violence has been an integral part of Indian rule over Kashmir. While the upsurge of violence, including against civilians, is not of the same scale as the 1990s when in the name of counter-insurgency thousands of Kashmiris were killed, tortured, disappeared and incarcerated, it is much worse than the 2000s. One reason for this is the popular mobilizations and protests against Indian state that does not have the consent of the Kashmiris for its rule. The response of the state is further militarization and use of violent strategies to crush the mobilization. So, this is a sort of vicious cycle. Even peaceful protestors and non-protestors have been victimized by the state which feels it can get away with it because the wider Indian public does not know nor does it care about the denial of human rights in Kashmir. So, the factors are several - lack of popular sovereignty, role of the Indian media, routine dehumanization of the Kashmiri bodies, lack of any political will to create a just peace, denial of human rights violations that are blatant and ubiquitous.

Q. In recent months ISIS flags in Kashmir have stirred hornet's nest. While some believe the global terrorist group is trying to gain foothold in Kashmir, others have dismissed it as the work of Indian agencies. What do you think?

A. My guess is as good as yours. ISIS is a phenomenon rather than a coherent organization. This is a dangerous phenomenon and we should not simply ignore it. Whether ISIS presence is real or a case of a few extremist young men using the tag of ISIS to increase their own importance or encouraged by Indian state to divide Kashmiris further, we won’t know for sure. What is clear is that the possible presence of ISIS will indirectly strengthen the state by dividing Kashmiri resistance and destroying the international credibility of the Kashmiri movement for justice or self-determination. States in the region have played dirty games and with ISIS, it will get even messier.

Q. Kashmir is the world’s largest militarized zone yet it still receives less attention than other conflict areas in the international media. Why?

A. There are several reasons why Kashmir does not get attention the way some other conflicts do. India has been partly successful in presenting this as an insurgency against the world's largest democracy and as a proxy war waged by Pakistan. India and Pakistan both have made this into a proprietorial dispute between them on who has legitimate claim over the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmir movement has also had its limitations as it became mostly confined to the majority Muslims in Kashmir valley thus making it easier for Indian nationalists to brand it as Islamist. In a world where Islamist movements get associated with extremism and terrorism, it is doubly difficult for Kashmiri to gain international sympathy. Finally, international media is neither neutral nor caring about the rights of all; they have their own agenda. Kashmir is not important enough for anyone outside Kashmir-India-Pakistan to pay attention to. All these factors, and more, lead to the tragic situation where Kashmiri right to self-determination is denied, their lives become expendable under occupation, and no solidarity movement emerges in favour of Kashmiris.

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