Troubled ties

The India-Iran relationship, long described as warm and cordial, seem to be souring. Iran’s supreme leader Ayotollah Ali Khamenei recently called on the Islamic Ummah to ‘sympathise and provide assistance’ to Kashmir. This offended India, which summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires in Delhi, to express its ‘deep disappointment’ over Iran’s questioning of India’s sovereignty over Kashmir. India has also hit back by abstaining over a UN resolution on human rights abuses in Iran. This marks a shift in India’s position. Since 2003, India had voted against the resolution. While the immediate trigger for the current spat is Khamenei’s comments, the souring relations have been fuelled by a series of developments in recent years. India’s growing proximity to the United States, its vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2005 and 2006 and Iran’s blocking of already contracted shipments of liquid natural gas on the grounds that the price needed to be renegotiated have contributed to roiling relations in recent years. An important issue that has contributed to fraying ties is India’s reluctance to join Iran and Pakistan on the pipeline project, which Iran believes was on Washington’s urging.

Through the 1990s, India and Iran co-operated and co-ordinated their policies and actions in tackling the threat posed by the Pakistan-Taliban nexus to their security. That threat has not gone away. With the Taliban’s robust resurgence, they need to co-operate now, much more than at any time in the past. It is a pity that at this critical juncture they are busy sniping at each other. Both Iran and India need each other. Iran is rich in oil and gas. It provides India with access to Central Asia. In a world where it has few friends, Iran cannot afford to lose India’s support. The fraying ties put these at jeopardy. It is therefore important that the two countries arrest the downslide in relations immediately.

India needs to assure Iran in words and actions that its relationship with the US will not affect the Indo-Iranian partnership. Its voting in global forums, its decisions on bilateral trade and investment, and so on should be determined by a careful consideration of its own long-term interests rather than by succumbing to American pressure. The countries the US considers its enemies do not necessarily pose a threat to India’s security or interests. India must engage in dialogue with Iran immediately and clarify issues.

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