Beyond the claptrap of Ayatollah

By K.N. Pandita

Sections of Indian print media last week reported excerpts from a rather inflammatory statement by Iran’s supreme religious leader Ali Khamenei. In his Hajj message, the Ayatollah had called upon the Islamic ummah to engage in struggle and resistance against aggressions in some parts of Muslim world including Kashmir.

This is not the first time when Iran, despite a history of good friendly relations with India in post-revolution period, has given us cause for displeasure. Since July this year, Iran has on three occasions remarked supporting the “struggle” in Kashmir and bracketed the situation in the state with that in Gaza and Afghanistan.

Iran has regularly voted against India on Kashmir resolutions at the OIC summit meetings. However, outside the OIC conference hall, Iranian representative, like some others of the organization, have been assuring India of continued friendly bilateral relations. That is why India did not take Iran’s anti-India vote in OIC too seriously: she knows that deep differences exist among the 53-member OIC.

However, upset over persistently critical statements by Iran on Jammu and Kashmir, this time New Delhi has taken serious note of Ali Khamenei’s utterances. It summoned Iran’s Charge de Affairs, Reza Alaei, and issued a strong demarche expressing its “deep disappointment” over the remarks seen as “impingement of territorial integrity and sovereignty of India.”

For quiet some time, Iran is bogged with her nuclear development programme, which has earned her the ire of the US and displeasure of some western powers reflected in UN imposition of economic sanctions. India has been treading this ground with great caution because apart from being a nuclear power, India has good relations with Iran. She is the other country besides Turkey trying to reduce tension between Iran and the US, and India did ask Iran to fulfil her obligations as a signatory to the NPT.

But by overdoing its role and scratching Kashmir, Iran goes too far, and New Delhi found it unavoidable to react and even retaliate albeit only mildly. Noting that it was a matter of “serious concern”, the sources at External Affairs Ministry said these comments have also factored India’s decision to abstain from voting on the UN resolution, which was piloted by Canada and several other countries.”  India, for the first time, abstained from voting on the UN resolution on the human rights violations in Iran. In past, India had always voted against the resolution.

Actually there is not one centre of power in Teheran to guide her foreign policy. A deep-lying conflict between the liberal and conservative forces is clearly visible in Iran.  At times this becomes a compulsion for the theocratic regime to find solace in harping on the cause of the ummah. Its stance thus runs counter to the saner elements in the establishment.

Iran is angry with India over her shooting an Israeli spy satellite into space, which she believes could monitor Iranian nuclear activity. True, as a matter of her political philosophy, India does not appreciate Iran’s rabid anti-Israeli bellicosity. It is here that Iranian hardliners fail to realize the dynamics of bilateral relationship. India’s good relations with Israel do not mean these are directed against Iran or any other country just as Teheran’s amity with Islamabad is not distasteful to New Delhi. New Delhi is aware that Ayatollah Khamenei does not raise his voice against the massacre of innocent Shias and Ahmadis in Wahhabist Pakistan. He does not feel it necessary to raise human rights violation issue of the Baluchis.  But bringing in Kashmir is blatant interference in another country’s internal matters.

Obviously a distasteful message from the top Shia leader cannot go unnoticed by vast India Shia population. It impinges on India’s internal security. The separatist leaders in Kashmir have not waited to welcome the message of Ayatollah Khamenei. India will not retaliate by instigating Jundullah but she cannot take it lying low.
During his recent visit to India, President Obama’s speech in the Indian parliament in which he referred to the question of reducing nuclear arms proliferation in the world and made a specific mention of Iran, has not gone well with Iranian theocratic sections.
But notwithstanding casual freaks in bilateral and multilateral relationship, India and Iran have, over the years, steadily built very conducive and effective pattern of bilateral relationship to their mutual benefit. The basics of this relationship, historical and visionary, were best explained by the Indian Foreign Secretary Mrs. Nirupama Rao in a keynote address to the Indian Institute of Defence Study and Analysis (IDSA) on July 5, 2010 in New Delhi. She said. “The question often asked is how we define the importance of Iran for India in strategic terms. First of all, Iran is part of what has been defined as India’s “proximate neighbourhood”; secondly, it has a strategic position with a long coastline along the Persian Gulf, including the narrow entrance to the Gulf at the Straits of Hormuz – a region within the security parameter of India; thirdly, it is a major source of our energy and hydrocarbon supplies; fourthly, in a globalizing world where there are immense opportunities for Indian business and investment, and as both our societies seek socio-economic transformation, the scope for technical and economic cooperation with Iran is self-evident; fifthly, the threats we face from terrorism and extremism require intensified dialogue and cooperation between our two governments; and to round this off, we share many common interests in the multilateral sphere. The narrative of our relations against the background of our long-standing civilizational ties, is therefore one of fundamental complementarities and natural affinities.”

As in the case of all multi-faceted, constructive relations between old friends, it is natural that there may be differences on one or the other issue, but it will be seen that the areas of convergence far outweigh any differences. It is vital that we keep the larger picture of our relations in mind, in particular the strategic potential of our ties with Iran.

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