The news that India is training Iranian sailors need not push up eyebrows. As reported in this paper, Defence Minister AK Antony informed Parliament last week that 496 personnel from 25 navies, including that of Iran, were undergoing training in India. This is not surprising as the Indian Navy routinely offers one-year training courses in gunnery and missile operations, anti-submarine warfare and navigation to interested naval personnel from any country. That said, the presence of Iranian sailors on board Indian warships will probably evoke much more than curiosity from Western countries, especially the US, whose relationship with Tehran is at an all-time low.
The US strongly believes that Iran’s announced plans for producing civilian nuclear energy are just a pretext to develop nuclear weapons. Washington also accuses Iran of sheltering top al-Qaeda leaders and attempting to destabilise post-war Iraq by trying to position a pro-Tehran Shia regime in Baghdad. As a result, Iran’s international isolation has increased tremendously with major States trying to toe the US line in their dealings with Tehran. India’s apparent decision to remain a vocal defender of Iran and augment bilateral ties with the Islamic Republic is significant. For one, it bears out India’s consistent stand that its foreign policy is not predicated on bilateral ties with any one country. Non-alignment seldom acquired so much significance even during the Cold War days, as the same navy that is hosting India’s biggest naval war games — in which warships from four other countries including the US are participating — is also training Iranian sailors.
By augmenting its relationship with Tehran regardless of Iran’s nuclear standoff with the US, India is demonstrating leadership on a crucial issue on which it has a unique perspective. The potential this has for conflict resolution — with India possibly playing a mediating role in bringing the US and Iran back from the brink of open confrontation — is unmistakable.