Friday, May 11, 2018

Does Xi's Bid to Tighten His Grip Signal the Potential For Impending Instability in China?

terse announcement published in Xinhua news agency on Sunday says “The Communist Party of China Central Committee (CC) proposed to remove the expression that the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms” from the country’s Constitution.”
It is not clear when the meeting of the CC occurred, probably at the second plenum of the CC in January, but it is obvious that the target of the announcement is the 13th  session of National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s equivalent of Parliament, which opens for its annual session on March 5.

Chinese President Xi Jinping raises his hand as he takes a vote at the closing session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China October 24, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee

Xi Jinping was given a second term as general secretary by the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) Congress in October 2017, now the NPC will confirm him to a second term as President in March 2018. Once the new amendment is approved, it will give Xi Jinping, aged 64,  the institutional authority to remain President beyond 2023, when he should have retired, having completed two terms. In other words, Xi could well be President for life.
Other amendments could see the Xi Jinping Thought being written into the state constitution as well as the establishment of a new anti-graft body called the National Supervisory Commission (NSC). This last named body will be one of the biggest institutional changes in recent times. 
Currently,  the Central Commission on Discipline Inspection (CCDI)  monitors party members, while the NSC will supervise all public workers, including those in government, courts, as well as doctors, academics and teachers. Wang Qishan, the powerful head of the CCDI, who retired at the party congress last year, was elected as a delegate to the NPC in January, suggesting that may be appointed head of the new NSC.China has a complicated parallel system where the Communist Party and the Chinese State, both with their own constitutions, coexist. While the CPC runs the military through the Central Military Commission, other ministries and departments are run through the authority of the  state constitution. It has its own institutions like the President, NPC, the State Council headed by a Premier, state councillors, ministries, etc. who are all largely party members. In other words, the state constitution and state law are made by “the people” through the NPC  under the leadership of the CPC.  Usually a minister not only heads the ministry, but is also the secretary of the ministry’s party committee. So, as minister, he reports to the state Premier, in this case Li Keqiang, and as party secretary, up the chain to the general secretary who is Xi Jinping.
Xi Jinping wears three hats – the general secretary of the CPC, president of China and the chairman of the Central Military Commission. Note that he was elected general secretary in November 2012, months before he became president at the annual NPC meeting in March 2013.
The signs of Xi continuing beyond his term in 2023 have been visible for some time now. In 2016, Xi was officially designated by the CC as “the core” of the leadership, a title he shares with Mao Tse Tung, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. More recently, two prominent newspapers conferred the title lingxu on him. This word means leader, but one of the highest calibre in contrast to simply being a leader or lingdao,  and this designation he shares with Mao and Deng only.
Xi has also used the institution of Leading Groups to take direct charge of a range of areas. He is the chairman of the Leading Groups for comprehensively deepening reforms, on military and civilian development, internet security, financial affairs, foreign affairs, defence and military reforms and the national security commission. These Leading Groups comprise core officials and party members and call the real shots in the Chinese government system.
The party constitution is vague on the issue of term limits of its general secretary. In the past two years, there have been hints at the scrapping of age limits. In October 2016 , a senior party leader Deng Maosheng said that the concept of term limits were “pure folklore.” There have been several other instances of the age limits being revised for senior leaders.
However, the 19th Party Congress in October 2017 stuck to the established convention by retiring leaders who had crossed or were approaching the age of 68. Among these was CCDI chief Wang. Significantly, the new politburo standing committee did not see the promotion of any leader who looked likely to succeed Xi in 2023. This was a departure from the post-Deng norm where successors were more or less  identifiable well in advance.More germane to the current issue, the party constitution was amended to introduce  Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. By juxtaposing it with Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development, it virtually made Xi’s pronouncements as the working guide of the party in this era.
This was a huge departure from the party norms set by Deng Xiaoping to stabilise the Chinese system after the ravages of the Mao era. This means that Xi, as long as he is alive, is the dominant figure in the party because his theory guides it in the new era. Now, with the authority of the Presidency as well, Xi is set to be the supreme ruler of China into the foreseeable future.
China today is the strongest it has been since the 18th Century and is set to become even more powerful in the coming decades. Xi has already set the benchmarks— a moderately prosperous country by 2020, fully modern socialist society by 2035, and attain the China Dream of being a “prosperous, powerful, democratic, harmonious and beautiful socialist modern country” by 2050.
But by extending his term into the future Xi is putting personal power over the institutional process that has been working quite well in China for the past decades. By taking all the reins of power in his own hands, Xi assumes enormous personal responsibility for virtually everything happening in China, good or bad. Taking more and more titles and power may actually be a sign that he is not being able push through his policies in the manner he wants.
Experience around the world, whether in democracies or authoritarian systems, is that leaders usually begin to pall after about a decade and so, this development could actually signal the potential for instability in China in the coming period.

No, Justin Trudeau's India visit was not a failure

The media must take some blame for the controversy surrounding the recently concluded visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Of course, the Canadians too, need to explain as to why they needlessly hyped up the visit to the extent that they did.
This was an important visit. Trudeau is a charismatic figure. But to parade him and his family everywhere in grotesque costumes was way over the top. Fortunately, some sanity was restored in the last leg of his visit where he had important meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indian officials.Khalistan issue
Much has been made of the Khalistan issue poisoning the visit. But commentators have not noticed that Canada agreed to a far-reaching Framework for Cooperation between the two countries on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism on February 14, three days before Trudeau even landed in India.
Released only on February 23, this provided a far-reaching Canadian commitment to collaborate with India on a range of areas to stop cross-border terrorism, terrorist financing and countering radicalisation. It specifically named groups such as the al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Babbar Khalsa International and International Sikh Youth Federation.
This was probably Ottawa's way of making up for its past sins, which include a shoddy probe and trial of those involved in the bombing of Air India Flight 184 Kanishka in 1984. But the Canadian intent was clear as well as its commitment which has gone further than any other country.
An entirely bogus controversy was created on the issue of Modi not going to the airport to receive Trudeau. Now, it is a well-established practice that foreign heads of state and government are received by relatively junior figures at the airport with their formal reception taking place in the Rashtrapati Bhavan fore-court.
Breaking protocol to receive a guest personally is entirely the personal prerogative of the PM. Usually, he does it to signal his personal/ideological fondness for a leader, as was the case of Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu, or to reciprocate a gesture, as was the case with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed who is neither head of state or government of the UAE, or of course, when the visitor is the President of the United States. Trudeau fell in neither categories and protocol-wise, it was the right thing to do, since Modi had also been received during his visit to Canada in 2015 by a protocol officer. This gesture was then spun out to argue that Modi was snubbing Trudeau because his Liberal Party supported Khalistani Sikhs in Canada.
The last and really important official leg of the visit did seek to correct the impressions. While Trudeau was warmly received (and hugged) by Modi and his ministers, Canada went out of its way to reassure India on the issue of terrorism and both sides agreed to respect each other's "sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity".
Both countries know that good relations between them will have important payoffs for their people. As it is, India is bound to Canada through diaspora ties, as well as the presence of more than 1,00,000 students. Canada is a rich country with vast natural resources, but it is also a major industrial power with a strong research and development base.Despite its small population base, it stands at number 10 in GDP rankings as compared to India at number 7.
Crying terror
All this talk about terrorism is a needless diversion. In part it reflects the immaturity of the Indian media and in part, the Indian government's over-the-top approach to an issue that no longer has much salience.
The Khalistan movement may be a factor in domestic politics of the British or Canadian Sikhs, but it is as dead as a dodo in Punjab and the credit for this goes to the people of the state whose rejection of extremism led to the destruction of the movement. As the record shows, Khalistani conspiracies, when they do occur, are quickly unravelled and there is little evidence of any popular support for them.
New Delhi makes a big fuss over terrorism because the ruling party seeks to keep up the tempo of its critique of Pakistan as a means of seeking domestic political dividends. India has not suffered a major terror strike since the Mumbai attack of 2008, but Modi has positioned himself as the number one global anti-terrorism warrior. All this means that instead of focusing on economic issues which could yield developmental dividends for the country, the energy of the government is wasted on fighting the phantoms of the past.
Mail Today February 26, 2018

Donald Trump’s review could help India nuance its nuclear doctrine

The Trump disruption continues. Now, it is reaching into the area of US nuclear policy. The new American nuclear posture review (NPR) comes on the head of a series of decisions taken by the Trump Administration that has brought a more combative edge to the American nuclear strategy.
Late last year, Trump ordered the Department of Energy, which oversees the US nuclear weapons programme, to be ready to conduct a nuclear test within six months, if ordered. As it is, he has authorised a $1.2 trillion programme to overhaul the nuclear weapons complex and authorised the development of a new nuclear warhead, the first time in 34 years, according to Time magazine. All this has led to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moving their famous atomic clock 30 seconds forward towards Doomsday.
None of these developments affects India directly, but many of the dilemmas that Trump is responding to have a resonance in India. Primarily, adversaries who believe that they can use low yield nuclear weapons to lower the nuclear weapons use threshold and create a shield behind which they can conduct hostile activity.
The Americans are reacting primarily to Russia which it says is developing low yield or tactical weapons to gain coercive advantage in a crisis. The new US NPR is aimed at meeting the Russian challenge and preserving deterrence stability. Even while emphasising that it will not enable “nuclear war-fighting”, the Pentagon claims that it will give the US new options for which it seeks to develop new weapons. The aim is to raise the nuclear threshold so that Moscow does not perceive any advantage in limited nuclear escalation.Pakistan’s development of Theatre Nuclear Weapons (TNW) has often been explained by the argument that they seek to offset the increasing gap in their conventional capabilities. In reality they are a means to give Pakistan a shield against an Indian response to terrorist attacks carried out by its proxies. This is a dangerous game. But it does pose a conundrum for India’s nuclear doctrine which speaks of No First Use and eschews Tactical Nuclear Weapons. In a 2015 conversation with former US official Peter Lavoy, Lt Gen (retd) Khalid Kidwai, who had steered Pakistan’s strategic plans division from 2000 to 2013, said that the rationale for Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons was India’s Cold Start doctrine. He claimed it was “Pakistan’s defensive, deterrence response to an offensive doctrine”. He bragged that through tactical nuclear weapons, “we have blocked the avenues for serious military operations by the other side.” Only after some prodding he responded to the point in everyone’s mind—that India’s so-called Cold Start doctrine is the product of the frustration of dealing with Pakistan’s use of terrorist proxies. However, Kidwai claimed that terrorism and militancy were consequences of India’s refusal to allow self-determination in Kashmir and the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan was merely a victim, taking steps to preserve itself.
Hindustan Times Feb 25, 2018

Expect greater rivalry between India and China in South Asia

s China’s economic and military power expands, and as it seeks to position itself at the center of the world stage, it is seeking to become the regionally dominant actor, east, south, north, west.
In South Asia, long thought of by India as its back yard, Beijing is already a significant economic actor and military-aid provider, and is now emerging as a diplomatic player. This is manifested by its increasing willingness to get involved in resolving disputes between various parties in the region.
In the past, China elevated a globally self-centered approach into high principle by declaring that “China does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries or impose its will on others.” This reflected as much on the Chinese inability to do so as the fact that often their interests have been better served by not doing so. In this way Beijing befriended a clutch of unsavory regimes and dictators and avoided taking a stand on a range of burning issues of the day.
But now China has developed economic and political interests across the globe and finds it much more difficult to sidestep issues. Indeed, to protect and further its interests, it is involving itself in dealing with local tensions and conflicts.
In South Asia in the past two years, Beijing has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan, and between Bangladesh and Myanmar, and is already involved in resolving issues between Myanmar and its ethnic rebels, as well as between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
China is the largest trading partner of India, Pakistan and Myanmar and has growing ties with others in the region. It is the principal supplier of military equipment to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Under the rubric of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it is emerging as a major investor in infrastructure projects.
This month, China rejected United Nations intervention as a way of settling the Maldivian crisis. But it offered to mediate between the various parties. During the official briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “China is willing to maintain close communication with the relevant parties in Maldives so as to promote and restore normal order in the Maldives as soon as possible.” China now has a dominant role in the Maldivian economy, with large investments in the infrastructure and tourism areas.
In Myanmar last year, China not only put up money to support the peace process but continued its two-pronged efforts to resolve Myanmar’s complicated ethnic quarrels. In 2016, it had persuaded three rebel groups – the National Democratic Alliance Army, the Union League of Arakan Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army – to participate in a biannual Union Peace Conference run by the Myanmar government.
Simultaneously, it also helped create the rebel-backed Federal Political Negotiating and Consultative Committee, which has sought to negotiate with the Myanmar government.
Myanmar is, of course, a strategically important country and neighbor of both India and China. It offers Beijing important access to the Indian Ocean. A gas and oil pipeline already links Kunming to Kyaukpyu, where China is building a deep-sea port and an industrial zone, though plans to build a railway line are in abeyance for the present. China is the dominant investor in Myanmar, focusing on infrastructure connecting to its own southern provinces.
In April 2017, China offered to help resolve the Rohingya crisis by mediating between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Its special envoy Sun Guoxiang traveled to both countries to explore the process. By the end of the year, the Chinese had offered a three-point plan to resolve the issue and also provided relief materials for the refugees.China is establishing a strong presence in Bangladesh, building roads and power stations there, in addition to its arms-supply relationship. In 2016, Xi Jinping made a visit to Dhaka, the first by a Chinese president in 30 years, and deals involving US$24 billion of Chinese funding were signed.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh and CPEC

China has also stepped up to the plate in Afghanistan as a mediator. Earlier it was part of the now-defunct Quadrilateral Coordination Group along with the US and Afghanistan. In mid-2017, China began a formal process to mediate to ease Pakistan-Afghanistan tensions.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi shuttled between Kabul and Islamabad and managed to hammer out a two-point agreement that saw the establishment of a crisis prevention and management machinery and a trilateral dialogue among China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, whose first meeting took place last December. The outcome of the effort was to signal China’s readiness to play a role in Afghan-Pakistani relations and also give a commitment to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor into Afghanistan.Kabul hopes that Beijing will use its clout to get Islamabad to stop using its territory to provide sanctuary to the Taliban, while Pakistan is hoping that China’s greater commitment to Afghanistan will help reduce India’s influence there. As for China, it views the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan as being vital for the security of Xinjiang.
India, the largest state in South Asia, cannot avoid being the context of many of these activities. Pakistan has long been the means through which Beijing has been able to contain India in South Asia. Now, China’s compulsion is greater. As it seeks, in the words of Xi Jinping, to “take the center stage,” it needs to subdue or overawe regional actors like India that have their own local interests.

‘Constructive role’

In keeping with its image as a benign player in South Asia, China has also offered to mediate between India and Pakistan. Last July, in response to a question, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang noted that China was “willing to play a constructive role in improving relations between India and Pakistan.” He was speaking in the context of the ongoing India-Pakistan tensions on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir state.An increasingly assertive Beijing is in two minds about India. At one level it sees itself as above the fray and a great power that seeks to have good relations with all the states of the region. On the other, it sees New Delhi, in alliance with Tokyo and Washington, as a peer competitor that must be checked at every step.
Writing in the Global Times last year, commentator Hu Weijia noted with reference to the Rohingya issue that the rise of China had provided it an increased ability “to mediate in conflicts outside the country.” Adhering to the principle of non-interference was important, but Beijing also had to protect the overseas investments of Chinese enterprises.
Indeed, he said, given the “massive investments” made in the BRI, China “now has a vested interest in helping resolve regional conflicts including the dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan,” which he said was the toughest challenge in dealing with regional issues relating to Chinese overseas interests.
China’s new-found activism has confounded India, which has long worked on the assumption that not only was South Asia a part of its sphere of influence, but it was also a security provider to the states of the region. But for the smaller countries of the region, China offers a way of offsetting India’s overwhelming presence, as well as being a source of significant investment and aid.
India is singularly favored by geography in its region and has been a significant provider of aid and credit to its neighbors. But it lacks China’s heft on this score. Likewise, being an importer of arms, it cannot match Beijing’s ability to win friends and influence countries through military aid.
Asia Times February 23, 2018

Is Rawat shooting from the hip on Assam issue?

By now you should know that Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has a tendency to shoot from the hip. You always get off a shot faster this way, but it is usually less accurate. And so it is with his latest shot on the issue of migration into Assam.
In recent remarks, the general claimed that the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by Badruddin Ajmal had been growing faster than the BJP in the state and implied that this was on account of Muslim migration from Bangladesh, encouraged by Pakistan and China to destabilise India.
Is Rawat shooting from the hip on Assam issue?
The comment as such was over-the- top and downright ignorant. Rawat  had no business to make a public assessment of the politics of Assam. Just why a party grows faster than another is dependent on a variety of factors, not in the least the possibility that it is gaining at the expense of another party in the region.
Making sense of election results is a complex job that confounds the best of analysts and politicians. The results of the Assam State Assembly in the last three elections show the fluctuating fortunes of the Congress, the AIUDF and the BJP. The Congress  got respectively 31, 39 and 31 per cent of the votes polled in 2006, 2011 and 2016. The AIUDF got 9, 12.6 and 13 per cent. And the BJP got 12, 12 and 29.5 per cent.
The once-powerful AGP is the one that faced a meltdown from 20 per cent of the votes in 2006 to 16 per cent in 2011 and 8 per cent in 2016. Likewise the support of the Bodo People’s Front halved from 3.9 per cent of the votes in 2011 to 6 per cent in 2016 and the Communist parties have virtually vanished.
What these figures tell us is that the rise and fall of political parties have more to do with election dynamics than any insidious migration. This is not to say that there has been no migration. Assam and Bengal were part of the same polity under the British rule, so, there was nothing remarkable about migration which was encouraged by British administrators. In the post 1947 period, there have been various allegations tossed about and as per agreement, India has accepted all migrants who came before the 1971 war to be Indian nationals. In the 1980s, the Assam movement led by the Asom Gana Parishad sought to expel alleged migrants but nothing came of it.
The Army chief or anyone else has zero proof that  Pakistan and China were master-minding the alleged influx. As such the entire Bangla border is fenced and patrolled and if he has questions on its porosity, he would do well to take it up officially with the Border Security Force and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
There are virtually no circumstances in which Bangladesh will accept large-scale repatriation of these alleged migrants. So, the one part of the general’s statement that made sense was his acknowledgement that since nothing could be done now efforts should be made to properly amalgamate the alleged migrants into the polity and isolate the trouble-makers. Currently there is a process underway to identify illegal migrants but this is a fraught issue which is not in the remit of the Army. No matter how it pans out, it will require sensitive handling rather than “shoot from the hip” comments.In January the General generated controversy by calling for a revamp of Jammu & Kashmir’s education policy. He wanted the state to bring madarsas under its control as they were spreading disinformation. Now, the Army is operating under special circumstances in the state. But it is not yet under martial law where the Army could dictate its educational and other policies. There is, as we all know, an elected state government, indeed a coalition between the BJP and the PDP, and again if the general has complaints, it would be best to take them up quietly with the Minister of Defence who could take it up with her Cabinet colleagues or even the Prime Minister.
Early in 2017 Rawat had triggered yet another storm when he declared all protestors in Kashmir to be “overground workers of terrorists”.  This deliberate conflation of violent civil protestors with violent armed insurgents has not been particularly helpful. It  has seen a steady rise in the deaths of Kashmiri militants, but it has also a rising  toll of the security forces. If anything the hardline has led to young Kashmiris joining the armed militancy in steadily growing numbers. In a written reply in the J&K Assembly the state government said that some 126 young men joined the insurgents in 2017 as against 88 in 2016 and 66 in 2015.
Likewise, despite the tough words of the general, infiltration across the LoC guarded by the Army had also gone up. The MoS Home Ministry Kiren Rijiju told the Lok Sabha earlier this month  that as against 223 cases in 2015, the number was 454 in 2016 and 515 in 2017 . This was also borne out by the number of infiltrators killed—64, 45 and 75 respectively. As such Army personnel have all the right to discuss politics and have views, strong or otherwise. But their conduct rules are strict about making public comments on political issues. Senior officers are often called on to speak on various issues in seminars and conferences. But, they are usually careful in their comments. Sensitive issues involving politics can be taken up with the proper civilian authorities but this is best done through official channels away from the media.
The repeated instances suggest that General Rawat seems to revel in making these  politically loaded remarks. One conclusion of this is that he is not being adequately supervised by the government of the day. The other is that the general is pushing the envelope with an eye on a post-retirement political career. Neither are a happy commentary on the state of affairs today.
Indian Express Online February 22, 2018

Iran-India chapter

President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to New Delhi is a confirmation of India’s balanced approach to the West Asian region. It comes amidst a flurry of visits by Indian leaders to the region, and key West Asian players like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now the Iranian president to New Delhi.
The outcome of the visit is fairly routine. The agreements signed are  mundane and along expected lines, including the lease in Chah Bahar. No doubt, there will be issues that have been untangled such as that of India’s oil imports and the Fazad B gas field. But we will know of them only later.
India’s interests in Iran are fairly easy to outline. First, it is geographically the most proximate source of petro-energy resources for India. Already, it is a major supplier of oil to India and is a potential supplier of natural gas as well. Second, it offers India a major means of avoiding the Pakistani blockade and developing rail/road links to Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond to Europe. Third, it is a major market for Indian products, ranging from agricultural produce to engineering goods and pharmaceuticals. Fourth, it is an important destination for Indian corporates wanting to invest abroad. Fifth, Iran with a large middle class, is the source of a vast trove of human resources in terms of trained engineers and software specialists. Companies like eBay, Google, YouTube, Dropbox, Twitter, have been founded or given leadership by Iranian-Americans who are more numerous than Indian Americans.
But there are many potential obstacles that hold back the relations from reaching their full potential. American unhappiness with Iran going back to the days of the 1979 hostage crisis is a major issue. Subsequently, it involved sanctions brought on by Iran’s nuclear programme between 1995-2016.  India was directly affected by the sanctions which drastically reduced our oil trade with the country. Now, it is bedeviled by the Trump Administration’s stance on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme which has been accepted by the Obama Administration and the other P5 countries plus Germany. 

The Iranians are difficult negotiators and India has found itself tripped up on the issue of the Farzad B gas field that Indian companies helped discover under an exploration contract. India has complained of   the Iranians shifting the goalposts on the deal at will. Many questions arise about whether Iran is even serious about exporting natural gas. Its aim is to remain a major oil exporter and gas is often used to flush the now ageing oil fields.
The third issue of concern are Iran’s geopolitical ventures in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria, which have brought it into conflict with the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iran, of course, has the right to act in the region as per its perceived national interests. Contrary to perceptions, Iran is driven by nationalism, rather than any desire to promote Shia Islam. Here it finds itself at odds with the US and the Arab world. Contrary to appearances, Iran is driven by pragmatic concerns which have led to it cooperating with the US and others to defeat the Islamic State.  
The fourth matter which we must navigate is that of Iran’s internal politics. There should be no doubt that despite some trappings of democracy, the country is ruled by a mullah regime. The President and the secular government system is severely constrained. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) which acts as an enforcement arm for the mullahs, has an unhealthy spread in the corporate and business life of the country. But its branches like the Quds Force also play a significant role in Iran’s security policy.  
In all this, there is need to put the Iranian nuclear programme, the issue that is roiling its relations with the US, in perspective. It has two drivers, the first being regime safety for the mullahs who are aware that the US and the West successfully toppled governments in Iraq and Libya which were alleged to have nuclear programmes, but are hesitating to do so in the case of North Korea which has a proved nuclear weapons capacity.
But equally important is the perception of security in the minds of the average Iranian. In 1980 encouraged by the US, Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded Iran. In the bitter eight-year war Iran’s casualties were 200,000 dead, though some estimates put it at twice that number, and this in a population base of around 30 million. Iraq also used chemical weapons against the Iranians. All the big powers backed Iraq and the US also helped it through a variety of ways.
It is true that Iraq no longer offers the kind of threat it did under Saddam, but with continuing US hostility and containment policies, Teheran’s insecurities have only grown. The Iranian help to the Hizbollah in Lebanon and the Hamas in Gaza is, as Vali Nasr put it, a form of forward defence.  
Whatever it is, India has to step nimbly over these minefields to move ahead. The payoffs are, of course, significant. Iran is a huge country, some two-thirds the size of India and a strategically located one. Not surprisingly, we face considerable competition there with the Russians and the Chinese. The latter are a major presence in Iran which has been the largest recipient of Chinese aid between 2000-2014.
With the lifting of the sanctions in 2016, Chinese investments have been surging in a range of areas from railways to hospitals while other western investors are still hesitating to go in. In February 2016, the first train from an east coast city in China arrived in Teheran, signalling its role in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Greater Kashmir February 19,2018