Chances are that ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) is likely to put the brakes on its hydrocarbon development projects in Iran. As reported in Mint today, OVL has a 40% stake in the Farsi natural gas block that is estimated to hold 21.68 trillion cu. ft of natural gas. OVL was recently given legal advice that cautioned it against operating in Iran as US sanctions may hit it in case it continues to do so. The situation is piquant: Iran is subject to Western-inspired international sanctions and India cannot be seen as defying such sanctions for they have the garb of a UN mandate. At the same time, India has had friendly relations with Iran for long. It is, however, a friendship that is under threat. India has often taken steps that are considered unfriendly by Iran and the latter has, of late, made noises about Kashmir to India’s annoyance.
Withdrawal from projects in that country is only going to create more problems for India. On the one hand, it affects our energy security and, on the other hand, the move is fraught with geopolitical risks. Iran neighbours Afghanistan and Pakistan, a volatile region where India has vital stakes. If the situation in Kabul and Islamabad continues to destabilize, as it seems it will, New Delhi will need to coordinate much better with Tehran to keep matters from getting out of hand. With ties between the two countries under strain, this appears difficult with every passing day. Chances are that, short of friends in the region, Tehran may simply walk into China’s lap, if it has not already done so.
That would ice the cake of India’s diplomatic failures in the region. China’s “string of pearls” around India will then look more like an albatross around New Delhi’s neck. It will have no one but itself to blame. The larger question here is that how did India get into such a cul de sac. This is not the first time that China has stolen a march over us. Nor does the US care about sanctions or alleged sensitivities about its friends when it comes to relations with key states such as Israel. By the time our sleepy policymakers wake up to changed realities, it is likely that the chessboard would have been cleaned of important pieces. No marks for guessing who took out the bishops and the rooks. There is another lost victory that is building up. It will happen in Juba, south Sudan, where, one can be sure, Chinese diplomats are waiting to cut deals with the oil-rich province that may soon become a new nation. Lost bishops and rooks: Has India been outplayed?