India-US relations at the best of times have been testy and uncertain despite the evolving US-India Strategic Partnership. The chief reasons are that the United States national security establishment, despite 60 years of double-timing by the Pakistan Army, has been in a state of denial about the perfidy. In the last six years the Indian Prime Minister has allowed himself to be coerced by the United States to modulate India’s Pakistan policy to suit US strategic priorities. By the same token the United States has been less than forthcoming in accommodating India’s special relationship with Iran and the existence of a strategic partnership. The United States has forced India to make a U-turn in its traditional policies towards Iran.
India’s foreign policies in the Seventies and thereafter were successful in weaning away from its proximate relations with Pakistan, which was a big gain in terms of India’s national security interests. Iran agreed not to allow use of its air force bases as sanctuaries and springboards for the Pakistan Air Force against India in any future conflict.
India’s energy security was doubly assured by its special relationship with oil-rich and natural gas-rich Iran. This gave flexibility to India’s energy security as India did not have to rely solely on Arab oil-rich countries and also obviated the necessity to traverse chokepoints on its energy lifelines.
Iran and India enjoyed a strategic convergence of interests on Afghanistan and in particular not letting Pakistan to get a stranglehold there through its Taliban protégés. Even when India started wavering on the UN sanctions issues against Iran under pressure from the United States, Iran still was accommodative of Indian strategic interests in Afghanistan
Pakistan has constantly denied land routes access to India for its reconstruction programs in Afghanistan. This despite the fact that India’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan were as a backup to the US overall strategy. The US also seemed helpless in prevailing on Pakistan to permit land access to India to Afghanistan.
Under such challenging circumstances it was Iran which came to the rescue of India. India’s billions of dollars reconstruction programs for which it has won international acclaim would not have materialized had Iran not allowed India the use of its ChahBahar port to funnel its men and materiel to Afghanistan,
It is therefore open to debate whether the foreign policies of the Indian Government in the last few years were crafted in a manner which could be termed as appreciative and grateful for what Iran has done to assist India’s strategic interests in Afghanistan even at the cost of annoying a fellow Muslim neighbor Pakistan.
The Indian Prime Minister has to take a tough call now on whether Indian foreign policies need to be subordinated to US strategic requirements or India should follow an independent strategic stance on Iran which safeguard India’s national security interests.
India’s changing stances on Iran has not been without reverberations in Iran. Lately Iran sensing the wading away of India from its traditional policy positions on Iran has moved closer to Pakistan. Pakistan has gone ahead with signing the pipeline contract with Iran. Iran was no longer willing to await Indian policy vacillations mindful of US stances on the issue
As the US-Iran confrontation gets more intensified India would be under tremendous pressure to be more mindful of US stances against Iran. Can India afford to continue with such policy stances? The Iran factor in India-US relations has all the potential to complicate India’s foreign policy if the Indian Government spells out to the United States that when it comes to regional policies especially, India would have to pursue its own strategic interests.