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The politics of reciprocity
September 15, 2003
In an age of acronyms, emoticons and colourful spelling, diplomacy stands out as a rarefied island. Words, any South Block mandarin will tell you, are at the heart of international relations. When the lights went out all over Europe in 1914 it was, as the German foreign minister was to rue, in defence of a nebulous word, "neutrality".
It was the nitpicking over Tibet's "sovereignty" and "suzerainty" that first permitted Jawaharlal Nehru to turn a blind eye to Chinese expansionism. And it was the novel interpretation of non-alignment that drove India to slavishly endorse the shenanigans of the evil empire and end up on the losing side of the Cold War.
"Reciprocity", he insisted, must constitute the basis of Indo-Israeli ties. In return for the Phalcon radar system and sensitive intelligence reports on terrorism, Israel has asked India to disavow anti-Israel resolutions in the UN and other multilateral bodies. More important, it has requested India to be mindful of Israel's security concerns before excessively cosying up to Iran.
As an island of grit, enterprise and democracy in West Asia, Israel may not be comparable to the oil-rich sheikhdoms that employ lakhs of Indians. But don't be blinded by the volume of remittances to Kerala and Hyderabad alone. It is fairly common knowledge that the bumpy road to Washington runs through Jerusalem.
In purely strategic terms, the friendship of Sharon is worth more than the mindless deification of Hamas suicide bombers.
Apart from being a major energy source, Iran is India's access to parts of Central Asia and, most important, Afghanistan. On top of that, Iran also borders Pakistan. It is an indispensable link in the encirclement of a hostile neighbour.
Consequently, as Indian officials have told both the US and Israel, our relationship with Iran is non-negotiable. It is grounded in the same pragmatic considerations as the US's benign indulgence of Pakistan.
Now, with the guerrilla war in Iraq presenting a wonderful opportunity to derail the internationalist fantasies of the Bush administration, a nuclear Iran can play havoc with geopolitics. Its ripple effects will even be felt in Kashmir. Already there are sections of the Hurriyat Conference that wants Iran to play a mediatory role in Kashmir.
For India, the greatest security threat is a Pakistan well versed in the art of manipulating Washington. Till this epicentre of terrorism is neutralised, India cannot endorse all of Israel's concerns, however legitimate.