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Iran deal | The Indian Express

If the army feels it requires continuation of the AFSPA to discharge its responsibilities, no other agency is qualified to credibly challenge that view. A fortnightly column on the high politics of the Af-Pak region,the fulcrum of global power play in Indias neighbourhood. Two events this week are likely to have much bearing on the evolution of the security environment to the northwest of India. On Wednesday,Iran and the major powers are gathering again in Geneva to clinch a preliminary agreement that will help build mutual confidence and open the door for a resolution of the extended nuclear dispute with Tehran. On Thursday,Afghan elders are meeting in a Loya Jirga to review the Bilateral Security Agreement between Washington and Kabul that sets the terms under which the residual US forces would operate in Afghanistan after the bulk is withdrawn in 2014. The odds against a positive outcome on both fronts,however,appear to have lengthened in the last few days. After US President Barack Obama responded positively to the charm offensive by the new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani,the prospects for a nuclear reconciliation seemed close. Negotiations between Iran and major powers earlier this month were widely expected to produce a breakthrough. Last minute hiccups,however,delayed the deal. The problem is only in part about technical detail. It is the political impact of a potentially historic accommodation between Washington and Tehran that is producing a back lash. The prime minister of Israel,Binyamin Netanyahu,has called the nuclear agreement a mistake of historic proportions. The Saudis,locked in a bitter regional and sectarian rivalry with Iran,are even more nervous that the deal might strengthen Tehrans standing in the Middle East. In America,decades of Irans demonisation have made it quite difficult for Obama to sell a nuclear understanding with Tehran to the US Congress,which has been more hawkish than the Obama administration and is contemplating additional nuclear sanctions. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have reportedly been lobbying the Congress to scuttle the administrations engagement with Iran. Some US allies like France believe Obama has gone wobbly on Tehran and are demanding that Washington take a hard line in the current round of talks. ZERO OPTION? If Obama is having trouble convincing his allies and mobilising Congressional support for the reconciliation with Iran,his problems with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in negotiating a bilateral security agreement seem intractable. Karzai has yielded ground on a number of issues,such as offering immunity to US forces in Afghanistan after 2014 and letting America keep control of the Bagram airbase outside Kabul. But he has refused to give US forces the freedom to conduct raids on Afghan homes that have generated much national resentment. The Afghan president knows that without a formal security agreement,Obama might pull out all US troops from Afghanistan the so-called zero option and scale back economic aid after 2014. Without some international troops and substantive external financial assistance,the chances of regime survival in Kabul are likely to become bleak. Some analysts say Karzai is merely playing hardball with America to improve his domestic position. Others,however,insist that missteps by Washington and Kabul could result in an irreversible breakdown of relations between Karzai and the international community. DELHIS HOPES. For its part,New Delhi would want to see an early reconciliation between the US and Iran and a prolonged international commitment to the stability of Afghanistan. US hostility to Iran and dependence on the Pakistan army have complicated the conduct of Indian diplomacy in recent years,especially in the pursuit of energy security and other regional interests. Any nuclear deal between Washington and Tehran will immediately bring down oil prices,relieve the current macroeconomic pressures on India,and improve Delhis energy security calculus over the longer term. A US-Iran rapprochement will help strengthen Afghanistan against the Taliban and Pakistan and expand Indias room for regional manoeuvre after 2014. If Obamas Iran initiative falters and America turns its back on Afghanistan,Delhis ability to secure its interests to the west of India will become a lot more challenging. While India must hope for the best,it must. also prepare for the worst. Whatever the outcomes of US negotiations with Iran and Afghanistan,Indias north-western neighbourhood is unlikely to remain the same. The nature of great power relations with Afghanistan and Iran,the balance of power in the Middle East and Southwest Asia are bound to alter in significant ways. Preparing for this transformation will be one of Indias biggest strategic challenges in the coming years. The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation,Delhi and a contributing editor for The Indian Express
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