December 4, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5555

Veteran Indian Editor M.J. Akbar On Geneva Deal: 'America Has Set Free A Genie Called Iran From Three Decades Of Isolation'; 'The One Thing A Genie Will Not Do... Is Return To The Bottle Which Was Its Prison'

December 4, 2013
Special Dispatch No. 5555

M. J. Akbar is a veteran editor and columnist

Following the Geneva agreement, signed by Iran and the 5+1 group led by the U.S. on November 24, 2013, veteran Indian editor and columnist M. J. Akbar authored a column analyzing the likely consequences of the nuclear deal for regional players, including Pakistan, Russia, China, India and countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The column, titled "U.S.-Iran nuclear deal is good news for India", was published by The Times of India newspaper and widely quoted on social media. M. J. Akbar is author of several books on Islam and Pakistan, and is known for launching and editing several newspapers in India.

While noting positive implications of the Iran deal for several countries including India, Akbar also warned: "America and its West Europe allies cannot afford to fail in a process that they started with eyes wide open. If Barack Obama, undermined by the U.S. Congress, falters, America risks damage to an alliance over Iran sanctions it has fostered with much effort."

Following are excerpts from Akbar's article:

"This Geneva Deal Is Extremely Good News – For India; It Eases, And Could Over Time Even Eliminate, America's Dependence On Pakistani Space In Its Crucial Battles With Taliban And Its Myriad Terrorist Associates"

"The sequence is established. You first release the genie, we are reliably informed by Middle East folklore, and then it grants your three wishes.

"America has set free a genie called Iran from three decades of isolation within the world's most congested conflict zone. Over the next six months we shall find out whether Iran will grant America's three wishes, or actually one wish written in three codes: forget the bomb. The one thing a genie will not do, however, is return to the bottle which was its prison. Whether Iran's nuclear ambitions get punctured, or deposited into some storehouse of mind and memory for revival at some later date, the Geneva deal between America, five other major powers and Iran has already begun to redraw the strategic map of the region and beyond.

"This Geneva deal is extremely good news – for India. It eases, and could over time even eliminate, America's dependence on Pakistani space in its crucial battles with Taliban and its myriad terrorist associates. It cannot be a coincidence that the historic agreement came on the eve of America's withdrawal from Afghanistan. America is trying hard to establish distance between retreat and defeat. It knows that the war against Taliban must continue; and its generals are now convinced that Pakistan's army is a dubious, if not duplicitous, ally against extremist Islamist militants driven by a frenzied conviction that they can recreate Sunni empires of the seventh century. There are no on-the-record statements yet, but the obvious does not need advertising. Iran is potentially a more reliable ally than Pakistan in this conflict, since the Sunni jihadists hate Shias as apostates. Witness the recurrent anti-Shia violence in Pakistan.

"For four decades Pakistan, with subdued but compliant American acquiescence, has ring-fenced India out of a region vital to India's security interests. For the region, 2014 marks not the end of war, but the beginning of a variation on an old conflict. There is already talk in Taliban and terrorist circles of a plan to flood Kashmir with fighters on a scale comparable to 1947, with the Pakistan army providing safe passage for this offensive."

"Israel and Saudi Arabia... Are Leading The Challenge Against Any Final Agreement [With Iran]; The Saudi Angst Is Ideological (In Islamic Terms), Geopolitical And Visceral... It Cannot Forget Iran's Challenge To The Saudi Monarch's Prestige As Custodian Of The Holy Cities Of Mecca And Medina"

"The jihadi narrative is resurgent. It can claim to have driven out both the superpowers of the 20th century from Afghanistan, the Soviet Union first and NATO next. Pride is contagious. There will be an influx of fresh recruits. But India is not the only target of 'liberation' from 'infidel occupation.' China's only Muslim-majority province, Sinkiang, is also within their assault zone. China is not oblivious to this danger. And Russia is worried about the consequences for Muslim regions of Central Asia, including its own border territories. Russia, China and India will need Iran as much as Iran needs them; all three have kept their relations with Tehran alive through years of sanctions.

"The strategic advantage, therefore, could shift slowly, imperceptibly, to Iran as negotiations begin to turn the Geneva deal into a pact. America and its West Europe allies cannot afford to fail in a process that they started with eyes wide open. If Barack Obama, undermined by the U.S. Congress, falters, America risks damage to an alliance over Iran sanctions it has fostered with much effort. Russia, China and India will not feel any great need to cater to the demands of American politicians influenced by parish compulsions in voting districts. Sanctions cannot be effective without multilateral unity. The four big purchasers of Iranian oil – China, South Korea, Japan and India – were required to curtail their imports further this year. This has already become irrelevant. But if what is perceived as a quibble by the international community prevents the logical culmination towards a final pact, these countries could place their national needs above international commitments.

"Israel and Saudi Arabia, as odd a couple as there could be conceived, are leading the challenge against any final agreement. The Saudi angst is ideological (in Islamic terms), geopolitical and visceral. Apart from schismatic fervor, it cannot forget Iran's challenge to the Saudi monarch's prestige as custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Riyadh has also invested heavily in a Pakistan-Talib Afghanistan-Gulf-Saudi bulwark against the Shia line from Herat to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel, under Benjamin Netanyahu, has propagated an existential fear of the future, with Iran as the epicenter of such dread. But Obama has flexibility. Washington is no longer dependent on Saudi oil, and American public opinion, tired of multiple confrontations, is in favor of rapprochement with Tehran. The coming year could become a swivel moment in history.

"Barack Obama rubbed the lamp; he must now ensure the genie grants his wish. A genie in the sky can be a dream come true, or a nightmare."

Source: (India), December 1, 2013. The original English of the article has been mildly edited for clarity and standardization.

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