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Ebrahim Raisi’s actions reflect strength of Iran-India ties

Ebrahim Raisi’s actions reflect strength of Iran-India ties

West Asian countries have refused to toe Pakistan’s hardline on Kashmir and the US is looking sufficiently disinterested in rocking the boat with India at Pakistan's bidding

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Last Updated : 24 April 2024, 05:53 IST
Last Updated : 24 April 2024, 05:53 IST
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Caught in the multiple crossfires of the volatile geopolitics in West Asia, Iran blunted Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s desperate attempt to bring the Kashmir issue to international focus during the visit of President Ebrahim Raisi to Islamabad to straighten up their troubled bilateral ties. 

During a press conference jointly addressed with Raisi, Sharif raised the issue of Kashmir, thanking the Iranian President for “support”.

Eschewing the bait, Raisi refrained from mentioning Kashmir and instead talked about Iran’s support for those fighting against oppression in Gaza. 

The sense of urgency shown by Sharif in putting the arc light of attention back on the Kashmir issue was evident while hosting the first foreign guest after assuming office.

But the stakes are quite high for Iran to tilt the scale in favour of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue in any discernible manner.

The Arab countries have refused to toe Pakistan’s hardline on Kashmir for some time now. The United States is looking sufficiently disinterested in rocking the boat with India at Pakistan's bidding.

That leaves Islamabad having to keep at it to ensure that the Kashmir issue which had once brought discomfort to India from the Islamic world is not put into deep freeze forever.

Trying it out with Iran, a close partner of India, made immense sense for the Pakistan government. However, it proved to be grossly mistimed for multiple reasons. In the need-based, demand-driven melee of international relations, Tehran and New Delhi are working to bring a new salience to their relationship dictated by exigencies of mutual interests and convergences.

Iran offers India entry into Afghanistan, Central Asia, and beyond, and sea access to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.

Considerable political will and resources have been put into the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), an alternative route to the Suez Canal, proposed in 2000 which will take Indian goods to Russia. The marquee Chabahar port project is on the right track.

For India, Iran is a stabilising force in the Persian Gulf, and the military and security co-operation between the two countries are on the rise.

Iran’s key adversaries — the US and Israel — are India’s close partners, but New Delhi very rarely irked Tehran to curry undue favour with Washington, except on occasions such as voting against Tehran in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2005 and 2009 when the India-US nuclear deal was being negotiated.

Soon after the Israel-Iran military flare-up, India urged both countries to de-escalate and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar spoke to both his counterparts.

Then, everything has a time and context ingrained in it. It's not that Tehran’s position on the Kashmir issue was a consistent gold standard. Iran exercised a great deal of political manoeuvrability over the issue, but never brought the matter to a breaking point or levels of sustained discomfort.

In recent times, barring some tough yet sporadic statements from spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei and an occasional deviation of a statement from political leadership here and there, Iran’s rhetoric on Kashmir never went beyond the manageable threshold.

If one takes the clock backwards, Iran came to India’s rescue at a crucial time when it effectively punctured Islamabad’s plans to amplify the Kashmir issue on the international stage.

New Delhi is indebted to Tehran for blocking a resolution of the Organization of Islamic Countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva in 1994, the last time Pakistan smelled a real possibility of bringing the Kashmir issue to the United Nations with some success. This is counted as one of the high points of Indian diplomacy under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. 

Tehran’s help was unmatched and timely. India was emerging out of a huge economic crisis, Kashmir was on the boil, and Pakistan was the US’ eyes and ears in the subcontinent. New Delhi even doubted its surest veto in the United Nations, Russia.

Russia’s then leader Boris Yeltsin, many believed, possibly could switch sides to the Western camp under pressure. Much of the Iranian anger against India’s vote at the IAEA was on account of India not being grateful when the tables were turned. However, what made Sharif think that Iran would be waiting to return India the favour remains inexplicable as both Iran and Pakistan are yet to be over with the mutual distrust over the recent spat.

(Jayanth Jacob, a foreign policy commentator, has covered the Ministry of External Affairs for over two decades. X: @jayanthjacob.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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