Friday, November 4, 2011

India and Pakistan's stance on Iran's nuclear program

It has been a while since I last updated this blog or wrote a commentary for the journals that I contribute to. Recently, an American graduate student contacted me with questions for his research project dealing with India and Pakistan's reactions to the hypothetical development of nuclear weapons by Iran . I thought to share my brief response to his question with the readers of this blog.

Theoretically speaking,  Iran currently maintains the technical capacity to enrich uranium to even weapons grade level if it wishes to. Iran 's sucess in enriching part of its existing stock of 3.5 percent level enriched uranium to 20 perecent level with relative ease for its civilian Research Reactor in Tehran  showed that it possesses the technical capacity to enrich uranium to higher levels as well . However, Iran has refrained from conducting higher-level enrichments because they have no applications in Iran's civilian nuclear program. The highest religious and political officials of Iran have reitrated many times that Iran does not pursue nuclear weapons on both religious and strategic grounds. As a member of the NPT, all of Iran's nuclear facilities are also under constant surveillance and inspection by the IAEA , a fact which makes the diversion of Iran's peaceful nuclear program to military purposes virtually impossible. 
As regards India and Pakistan's reactions to such a hypothetical scenario, it should be noted that Iran maintains friendly relations with both Pakistan and India, even though its relations with India had been strained in recent years as India had leaned more towards the US, lending its weight to that country in its international campaign against Iran's nuclear program. Although India would supposedly not benefit from a hypothetically nuclear-armed Iran, it does not have any serious security concerns about Iran becoming a nuclear-armed state either, as there are no fundamental conflicts of interest between the two countries over any issue and also given India's own nuclear deterrence capability and its geographical distance from Iran.

More recently, Indian leaders have been pursuing rapprochement with Iran as they have realized that their bandwagoning with the US over the past several years against Iran's nuclear issue has cost them loss of lucrative business opportunities in Iran's energy sector to the benefit of their regional rival China. Besides commercial interests, India and Iran also maintain largely common geopolitical interests in Afghanistan, which is centered around preventing the Taliban from seizing power and controlling that country. Recent visits by high-ranking Indian officials to Tehran and the planned visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Tehran all indicate that India is determined to mend its ties with Iran and shed its image as a US lackey in Iranian eyes.

Iran's relations with Pakistan has also improved in recent years as a result of developments in Afghanistan, as I have also made the case in my previous articles on Iran-Pakistan relations . Despite some tensions between the two countries in the past over Afghanistan, Pakistan, similar to India, does not have much to fear about a hypothetically nuclear-armed Iran. Pakistan's public opinion is in fact quite positive towards Iran and does not perceive a hypothetical nuclear-armed Iran as a security threat to Pakistan. Not to mention both India and Pakistan's own nuclear deterrence capabilities, common cultural and civilizational bonds between these two countries and Iran also preclude the possibility of occasional tensions in their relations turning into open confrontations with Iran.


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