All is not well

India must help in ratcheting down Gulf tensions

All is not well

The killing, by a US drone, of Iran’s top general set off alarm bells across the globe. The elimination, rather assassination, of the high-ranking serving Iranian military officer in Iraq was highly provocative. The de-escalation from what could have triggered a major conflict is primarily due to the restraint shown after the drone attack. Iran mounted a largely symbolic attack on US bases in Iraq and after that US President Donald Trump said: ‘All is well,’ while backing away from further military action.

No credible justification has yet emerged for President Trump lighting a match in the highly volatile West Asia, and the immediate aftermath has not been favourable to US interests. General Qassem Soleimani’s position as the virtual No. 2 in Iran was well known. The massive funeral procession is a testament to his widespread popularity. The drone attack united a fractious public in Iraq, with its parliament passing a resolution asking for US troops’ withdrawal. In Iran, it resulted in various factions that were challenging the regime coming out in support of the government.

The Iranian missile attack and the US response to it may not mark the end of the engagement. The fear of escalation of the conflict is well-founded. India is delicately poised at this critical juncture. President Trump did reach out to Prime Minister Modi after the Soleimani killing. New Delhi can, and should, play the role of a peacemaker, something that the Iranian ambassador said he would welcome. India has a long history of diplomatic engagement and a significant strategic interest in the region that hosts over 60 lakh Indians. Of course, any rise in oil prices, inevitable when tensions are high, costs us dearly. West Asia is, however, a tricky place to be, with competing agendas to negotiate and many non-state actors to keep in mind. All is certainly not well. India needs to keep its finger on the pulse of the present conflict, even as it seeks to find ways to help build bridges that enable further de-escalation.

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