Here are some steps on how to kill energy security. When potential partners send positive signals, snub them. Where aggressive diplomacy and tight inter-agency coordination can deliver results, don’t take any steps. Finally, always display obsequiousness and “respect” to a declining great power. And voila! You will run out of oil and gas pretty soon.
India has taken all these steps with two key hydrocarbon-rich countries, Iran and Myanmar. Iran has 137,200 million barrels of proven oil resources, second only to Saudi Arabia in the West Asian region. It also has the second largest reserve of natural gas in the world (29.61 trillion cu. m). One does not ignore such a country, more so when it is in one’s vicinity.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Yet that is precisely what we have done. Indian private companies have shied away from any dealings with Tehran, fearing sanctions from the US. But that is not all. India has also voted against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency, has dragged its feet on the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline and has shown remarkable lack of interest in that country.
In the case of Myanmar, matters were, admittedly, more difficult. But there was a good chance that creative diplomacy coupled with strong political will would have delivered results. Again, a botched effort is there for all to see.
In both cases, China has gone in and “conquered” these countries. As minister for external affairs S.M. Krishna travels to Iran next week, one pious hope is that he can turn the tide in India’s favour. That seems unlikely. For one, there are no clear signs of serious Indian engagement with Tehran. All that can be seen are listless visits by officials in the ministrty of external affairs and the odd ministerial visit. The key marker of serious overseas political involvement in the United Progressive Alliance–II’s chemistry, intervention by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is absent.
That is understandable. At one level, India now takes its cues from the US, in spite of a rather unfriendly administration in the White House. US rhetoric on Iran, which was expected to change after Barack Obama took over, has remained constant and hostile as ever. While India professes an independent foreign policy, what is puzzling is why it is not engaging meaningfully with as important a regional partner as Iran.
The consequences of this drift, if calculated ignorance of countries can be called that, will be expensive. China will not only invest in investment-starved Iran, but will also provide it political support in forums such as the United Nations Security Council. In turn, it will walk away with oil and gas.
Has India lost the plot in dealing with oil-rich countries? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org