This Nam summit presents a great opportunity for India to get back into the drivers seat of the developing world, says Seema Mustafa.
India might be trying to downplay the importance of the Non Aligned Movement summit even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lands in Tehran for the 16th NAM summit but the gathering of "2 kings, 27 presidents, 7 PM's" and a 100 countries is bound to shake the US and Israel that were hoping to isolate the host country. The relevance of NAM is evident in the gathering of the member nations, who have defied a unipolar world order and the hegemony of the West and its allies to come together in Iran, despite the sanctions and the threats being issued on a regular basis by Washington and Tel Aviv.
Iran is not letting go of the opportunity to showcase the pressure it has been under for the past years. The cars of the three Iranian nuclear scientists assassinated in what have become fairly regular targeted killings for which Israel has been blamed worldwide, were displayed as exhibits at the conference site. In his opening remarks Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi placed the Palestinian issue up front saying, "We as the main part of the international community want a just policy to determine the fate of the Palestinians and oppose the illegitimate acts of the Zionist regime." He spoke of Israel's "blind terrorism, occupation and torture."
The second significant point raised by Salehi was his call on NAM to oppose the imposition of unilateral sanctions, in what was clearly a reference to the US led sanctions against his country and the threat to bring others under the same sanctions regime.
The third issue that was mentioned by the Iranian minister but will really provide the testing ground for Nam's efficacy and unity will be Syria, and the current developments in the Middle East. The summit is an opportunity for concerned nations to come together to ensure that Syria is allowed the freedom to make its own choices instead of being pressured and badgered by rebel forces supported by the US and Israel to bring down the Assad government.
There has been some behind-the-scenes movement to form a contact group with Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran on Syria so that a consensus respecting the latter's sovereignty can be hammered home. It remains to be seen how this works out during and after the NAM summit, particularly as Egypt's new leadership is playing a key role.
Referring to the peoples movements in the region Salehi warned, "foreign intervention in the wave of unrests that sweeps our region is unacceptable and would hinder the genuine and inborn democratic processes in concerned countries and the inalienable right to self determination of their respective nations." Progress on this front will depend largely on how hard the host country is able to push this through NAM, while preserving some levels of unity so that a workable consensus on Syria is reached within the developing world.
Despite ministry of external affairs briefings on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's departure for Iran whereby it was suggested that India prefers smaller group initiatives like G-20 and Saarc to Nam, there seems to be levels of serious intent in the non aligned world to bring back the focus on the agenda that had brought 100 plus nations together in 1961 to pursue an independent path. A boost was given to the process by Cuba earlier, with Iran now clearly in a mood to keep the momentum going.
Many eyes will be on the new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi who is expected to play a key role in resolving the issue of Syria, and taking it out of the US-Israel plate. Morsi is seen as very different from Hosni Mobarak, and his participation in the summit is extremely significant considering that Egypt and Iran still do not have full diplomatic relations after Egypt gave asylum to the deposed Iranian Shah in 1979 and established relations with Israel. Egypt will hand over the chairmanship of Nam to Iran at this summit.
It remains to be seen what position India takes on the issues that have already been placed on the table by Iran that is also proposing an agenda of Global Governance to cut into US hegemony. Prime Minister Singh will be meeting the top leadership of Iran and it does seem from initial briefings that the intention is to keep the dialogue economic rather than political.
Foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai has pointed to a possible trilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit, between India, Iran and Afghanistan, for the development of the Iranian port of Chabahar. This will work as an alternative gateway to Central Asia for India that will then be able to bypass Pakistan. There has not been a word from the Indian foreign office about Syria, and the fast paced developments in the Middle East with the strategy, if any, unfolding only in Tehran.
This Nam summit presents a great opportunity for India, the founding nation of the non aligned movement, to get back into the drivers seat of the developing world. It can strike a new path by reaching out for a consensus on Syria that is helpful to that nation and not the forces bent on its destruction; by bringing the Palestinian issue back on to the centre state of global discourse; and by insisting on a larger unity that takes the world away towards a truly non aligned and independent path.
But given the inability of the prime minister and the UPA government to lead from the front, it is unlikely that Dr Singh and his entourage will return from Tehran with the satisfaction of having further strengthened the organisation that can do so much, but has been restrained sufficiently by some of its members to do only so little.