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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 16, April 11, 2015

Yemen and the Nuclear Deal: Evolving Global Equations

Sunday 12 April 2015, by Uttam Sen

The bombing of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, by the Saudi-led coalition has exposed a bag of contradictions which are growing sharper with time. The coalition is battling the Houthi rebels hostile to the Sunni and pro-Saudi President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, more importantly, the Al Qaida and Islamic State (IS). In a sense this had to happen given the Saudi strategic vulnerability to a Shia dispensation to its south. Its oilfields could be threatened next and its own Sunni population, which is not numerically as forbidding or as overwhelming as its clout, could be potentially challenged by the Shia. There is additionally the Shia-Sunni archetype in Iraq and Syria and the attendant quandary posed to the external world running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

This was a bit of a story foretold. Iran holds the aces on the ground despite, or because of, its more volatile antagonists, and in the event of a successful nuclear deal will be relied upon to play the responsible stakeholder in regional stability. The unstated risks of nuclear conflict are rising and scientific-technological evidence is stressing the primacy of energy resources which do not deplete the earth any further. But the existing regional statusquo is under threat, manifested in the unabashed opposition to the nuclear deal. The framework agreement, to be confirmed in June, has breathed life into a sanctions-crippled Iran just as much as it has alarmed Israel and Saudi Arabia. Their enormous influence could still thwart a successful conclusion, dependent on inspections of the Iranian programme and restrictions on uranium usage through its centrifuges.

But if the new thrust of the Obama Admi-nistration’s thinking can be strengthened by reassuring Israel and its allies of their security, perhaps with the help of Europeans and Africans now bearing the brunt of the terrorist threat, life could change for the better. Public opinion in these countries could be alerted to an inevitable transition. Elements of that are manifested both in Africa furnishing the world with some of its most successful emergent economies and the growth pangs associated with it. West Asia could shift gear and the IS contained, through a joint consciousness of a desirable quality of progress. Admittedly a Shia Frankenstein could be in the making but not if power brokers were to restrain themselves from demonising and pushing to the wall important political classes who know the lie of the land. Discourse over the Arab media, in which scholarly Russian and American voices are also heard, is found to be in agreement on the perils of the “lazy” spontaneity with which ‘’1.5 billion Muslims worldwide” are being subjected to arbitrary deep state benchmarks as adversaries in an imagined “clash of civilisations”, without Sunni-Shia distinctions.

The world is looking for transformationin line with the rule of law to overcome the anarchy which has now taken over. This could be assisted by the increasing preoccupation with the new centre of global gravity further to the east.

But even more significantly for us in the sub-continent, the long-term possibilities include a diminution of the overstated sectarian alignments which are wreaking havoc in the north-west and a streamlining of skewed linkages. India’s access to energy-rich Central Asia is currently getting choked. At the time of writing Pakistan was already divided over acquiescing to the Saudi request for men and material which would incense the Shia comprising a third of its population. India also has one of the largest Shia populations in the world. But the point really is that the two fraternal communities would get a chance of reviving a constructive relationship which has undergone substantive enough progress to be taken solely for the bang-bang narrative of the rabble. Iran’s credibility could resuscitate the gas pipeline through Pakistan to India. India imports a major share of its oil requirements from Iran. Apart from oil supplies, global trade and banking would gain considerably, one reason for tacit European support to lift sanctions.

Similarly the weighty implications across West Asia would flow logically, if only Tehran and its allies can demonstrate statesmanship if and when the cookie starts crumbling for the adversary. Shia recklessness in post-Saddam Iraq was a prime illustration to the contrary. Globally it is now being heard that Iran and the US are natural allies, but the affinity can be extended to Russia and India, among others. Compromises by both sides to save the deal in the US Congress would be mutually invaluable.

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist.