India lobbied the US against imposing sanctions on Iran for trying to develop nuclear weapons, considered a US suggestion to put troops on the ground in Afghanistan and was concerned about Bangaldesh and the Gulf emerging as new terrorist routes into India, according to Wikileaks documents. The revelations have come in the latest batch of diplomatic cables sent by the US embassy in New Delhi to the US Secretary of State in Washington, in 2008.
Speaking to visiting US Senators Russ Feingold and Bob Casey in May 2008, India’s then National Security Advisor MK Narayanan warned against imposing any economic sanctions on Iran with which India had “civilizational links.”
“The imposition of sanctions punishes ordinary people, who then turn their anger outward.. We are cautious about adhering to a broad attack on Iran,” the cable, signed by the then American Ambassador to India, David Mulford, quotes Narayanan as telling the Senators.
Narayanan pointed out that India was home to the world’s largest Shi’ite population outside Iran and that Shia Muslims should not be bunched together with the majority Sunni Muslims. The Shia clergy are more “sophisticated and erudite” than their Sunni counterparts, Narayan said, according to the cable. He pointed out that sanctions will be counterproductive because the Shia have a tremendous capacity to absorb punishment. “Self-flagellation comes to them naturally,” Narayan is reported to have said in an obvious reference to the zanjeer zani ritual during Muharam.
Another cable, dating back to end of 2006, revealed that the US had bounced off the idea of Indian troop deployment in Afghanistan with noted diplomat and former Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan G Parthasarathy. Indians were cautious about the prospect — the first such deployment in many years for India and the first ever in Muslim country.
Parthasarathy, however, said India would be in “deep trouble” if the US withdrew from a strife-torn Afghanistan and the cost of losing the country to Pakistani influence would be “too great.”
“When asked if India would consider putting troops on the ground in northern Afghanistan, Parthasarathy responded that it would depend on “how it’s politically played,” acknowledging that the idea has some strategic value,” the cable, describing Parthasarathy’s meeting with US counter-terrorism official Virginia Palmer said.
India wanted a prosperous, friendly Afghanistan with an independent foreign policy, Parthasarathy said, adding that the US should first “get out of Iraq,” and then “get Afghanistan right.” President Obama has, since then, started the withdrawal from Iraq, while announcing that the US will continue to stay in Afghanistan to till it is sterilized of terrorists.
In another meeting, Dr Ajai Sahni of the Institute of Conflict Management warned Palmer that Pakistan, an ostensible US ally in its war on terror, was secretly hoping for the US to fail and then dominate the region. “”If you can’t handle a small country like Iraq or Afghanistan, you will leave the region alone.. If they are successful in exhausting you, they will seek to dominate the region themselves,” the cable quoted him.
Indian officials also expressed concern about the emergence of Bangladesh and the Gulf countries as transit points and bases for anti-India Islamist militants. It described AS Dulat, former head of India’s external intelligence agency (RAW) as concerned about growing contacts between the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Wahabi groups among Indian expatriates. “There are more than 3 million Indians in the Gulf alone, more than half of whom are Muslim,” the cable quoted him as saying, and adding that such links are more prevalent in Southern parts of India.
Palmer also met another RAW official, B Rama, who too had similar tales to share about India’s eastern neighbour, calling Bangladeshi government action “superficial at best. “Most of all the Bangladeshi government has done little against the madrassas that foment violence and extremism,” the cable quoted Raman as telling Palmer, adding that Raman felt the Bangladeshi
intelligence were either unwilling or unable to stop the terrorists.
Raman also said that India’s policy is to make insurgencies “wither away” in the long term instead of using “overwhelming force” like non-democratic countries. “As democracies, we can’t just use that kind of force,” the cable quoted the RAW official as saying, giving India’s example in successfully fighting the insurgency in Punjab. He added that Pakistan-based terrorist groups — including Lashkar-i-Taiba and Harakat-ul Mujahideen — are getting funding from the Gulf.
Dr Sahni of the Institute of Conflict Management also shared his disappointment with the Indian policing and judicial system claiming that “at the end of the day, you can’t punish a terrorist in India.” He said that there are no qualified police to do forensics, there are only two forensic labs, and there is no national database to track terrorists and “the judicial system is broken,” according to the cable sent in December 2006.