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India surveys the energy war
February 15, 2007
The Indian strategic community and the media have come perilously close to being left behind by the country's political leadership.
The media has an innate talent to reshuffle pace and swiftly adapt to changing times. But their sheer ponderousness keeps strategic analysts from being nimble enough.
And the danger is, unless they move with extraordinary swiftness of thinking, they may incrementally get consigned to irrelevance. It is a tragedy, and a waste, that can happen.
Time stood still in the Indian strategic thinking in the post-Soviet era. And when last week Russian President Vladimir Putin articulated on the tensions that have come to prevail in the international system, many were rudely surprised.
Actually, these tensions have been accumulating over the past 10-year period. Indeed, they were inevitable.
They are implicit in the inability of the newly emerging power centers in the 21st century world order -- such as Russia, China , India, Brazil , etc -- finding themselves unable to reconcile with any imposition of a 'unipolar' world order.
Simply put, these power centres are too conscious of their own tryst with destiny.
Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee's recent visit to Iran calls out from the rooftop that the Indian strategic community has a lot of catching up to do. See the timing of the visit.
The United States has been stealthily finessing a pretext for launching a military attack on Iran. It has been prevailing on close allies and friends to stay clear of bilateral political exchanges with Teheran. Isolation and containment of Iran and a 'regime change' in Iran have become the leitmotif of US foreign policy.
At any rate, New Delhi acted in its best interests when Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee paid a two-day visit to Teheran on February 6-7.
In sum, Mukherjee made out with great poise and resoluteness that New Delhi has its own independent foreign policy toward Iran.
Clearly, Mukherjee's visit had a single-minded purpose -- to set a political climate in India's bilateral relations with Iran that will be conducive to the advancement of energy cooperation between the two countries.
Much is at stake here. The proposals for a gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan and a 25-year deal on liquefied natural gas have been languishing. Difficulties still lie ahead. Meanwhile, we are running against time.
Indeed, there are larger dimensions. India-Iran energy cooperation forms a crucial vector of emergent Asian security.
Two working groups were constituted to examine both upstream cooperation (access for Indian participation in the funding, exploration and development of oil and gas fields in Russia) and downstream cooperation (participation by Russian companies in marketing oil products and LNG in India).
Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, who accompanied Putin to New Delhi, stated, 'We are pegging big hopes on the Gazprom-GAIL [Russian and Indian gas companies] strategic partnership, including joint efforts in building the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.'
For receiving the gas coming through the $7 billion pipeline, infrastructure development within India alone will generate business close to $40 billion.
Energy security is a subject where politics mixes with economics. India is keenly watching the tectonic shifts in the Eurasian gas market. Iran has proven gas reserves of about 28 trillion cubic meters, while its gas output increases by 10 per cent annually. Iran's export capacity is poised to grow dramatically.
The outcome of the Russian-Iranian energy dialogue in the recent months naturally assumed great importance.
To be sure, New Delhi estimates that the prospects for the merging of Russian and Iranian gas-transportation networks have distinctly brightened.
Velayati alleged that Washington is trying its utmost to disrupt the emerging Russian-Iranian strategic cooperation in the transit of energy, as it will impact phenomenally on international security.
Major Asian gas consumers like India (and China) seek to optimally exploit the opportunities arising out of the matrix of Russian-Iranian energy cooperation.
Last June, the Beijing Morning Post gave a detailed description of China's prospective plan for developing its domestic gas-pipeline network during the next 20 years in anticipation of gas supplies from Russia and Central Asian countries. According to the report, China 's 24,000-kilometer gas-pipeline grid will be expanded to 36,000km by 2010.
In comparison, the Indo-US nuclear deal will have a long gestation period. Nuclear energy will remain marginal to the Indian economy in the foreseeable future. In the geo-economic context of energy security, therefore, Indian and US interests are far apart.
Whereas the US favours European projects for diversifying gas supplies that will reduce the West's dependency on Russian supplies, India has a definite interest in Teheran's preference to direct the bulk of its gas resources to Asia.
India cannot attach credibility to the US counsel to trust the market instead of trying to 'lock in' energy supply, while Washington is actively promoting various oil and gas-pipeline projects heading toward the European market from the Caspian and Central Asian regions.
Significantly, a meeting of the foreign ministers of India, Russia and China in New Delhi set for February 24 closely follows Mukherjee's visit to Iran.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said in Beijing that the three foreign ministers will discuss cooperation in the economic field and that their meeting will 'help the three countries to expand common ground and push forward trilateral mutually beneficial cooperation'.
Again, while Washington can be expected single-mindedly to try to scuttle Indo-Iranian energy cooperation, Moscow will encourage such cooperation and offer to be party to it.
History, after all, didn't end with the Cold War.
We now know with the hindsight of de-classified archival papers in the chancelleries of the great powers that the rhetoric of Winston Churchill's famous Foulton speech heralding the 'Iron Curtain' concealed a grim East-West struggle over the control over the Middle East's oil.
Mukherjee realises that the tectonic shift in the geopolitics of the Middle East and the American dance of death around Iran currently are rituals from the past.
But do the Indian strategic analysts hear and recognise the cymbals and the drumbeat of the pantomime in the Persian Gulf?