The Rediff Special /J N Dixit
India needs Iran's friendship in its efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan
India and Iran appear to be moving closer towards a closer
relationship. Former foreign secretary J N Dixit continues his
series of exclusive commentaries on Indian diplomacy and strategic interests,
with this analysis of what such an equation means for India.
External Affairs Minister I K Gujral visited Teheran,
between February 21 and 24. Relations with Iran are of particular
geo-strategic and political importance to India, given India's
interests in West and Central Asia and the potential content of
Indo-Iranian economic co-operation.
The main purpose of the visit
was to co-chair the ninth session of the Indo-Iranian joint commission
and to guide the discussions of the sub-committees of the joint
commissions pertaining to trade, industry, petroleum, and natural
gas, consular, cultural, educational, science and technology,
transport and communications and agricultural matters.
however, had dimensions and objectives other than only those related
to bilateral relations. Indo-Iranian equations are a significant
evolving factor affecting regional politics in South and West
Asia. The political causations resulting in enhanced positive
interaction between Iran and India are worth recalling. Leaving
aside the truism of Indo-Iranian cultural, religious and political
relations going back to two millennia, international developments
since 1991 have generated new trends in Indo-Iranian co-operation.
The emergence into independence of the Central Asian Republics,
Iran's complex relations with the ruling power structures
in the Gulf, the attempt of the United States to isolate Iran
and the dilution of the assertive religious fervour of Iran after
the revered Imam Khomeini's demise have created new politico-strategic
circumstances leading to a convergence of interest between India
and Iran, which, in turn, has resulted in more frequent and closer
interaction between the two countries.
Iran needs friends as well
as co-operation with other countries to break out of its isolation.
India need influential friends in the Islamic world to temper
Pakistani hostilities and to preserve its sovereignty and territorial
integrity in the context of Pakistani claims on Kashmir. Both
Iran and India are interested in nurturing closer economic, political
and technological relations in the Asian republics stretching
from Azerbaijan in the West to Kazakhstan in the east.
geographical handicap of having a hostile Pakistan and de-stabilished
violence-afflicted Afghanistan, Iran provides the only practical
potential transit link for India to Central Asia. The logic of
mutual complementary of interests, therefore, provides a firm
basis for Indo-Iranian co-operation. More recent predicaments in
which Iran and India find themselves, necessitate closer Indo-Iranian
US policies of isolating and condemning Iran politically,
economically and technologically continue despite sections
of the US establishment and business community pointing out that
ostracising Iran is not good for Asian stability or even US economic
interests in the region. The support given by Pakistan, Saudi
Arabia and the United States to the Pathan-dominated Taliban militia
in Afghanistan has created strategic and political uncertainly
for Iran on its south-eastern frontiers.
The Taliban offensive
in Afghanistan has generated legitimate apprehensions in Iran.
An US-Pakistan dominated Afghan regime can also affect Iranian interests
in Central Asia. The rise of Shia-Sunni antagonisms and violence
have created tensions in Iran-Pak relations. India needs Iran's
friendship in its efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan.
Though both Iran and India will ultimately deal with whichever
government comes into power in Afghanistan, they share similar
concerns about the current developments in Afghanistan.
These are the impulses which created a pattern of high-level contacts
between Iran and India since 1991. Former prime minister Rao and
President Rafsanjani have exchanged visits and Foreign Minister
Velayati has been a regular visitor to New Delhi. This was the
only country which he visited after going to Central Asia in the
immediate aftermath of the Taliban's capture of Kabul in September
It was Iran's recognition of India's interest in Afghanistan
and Central Asia, it was Iran's political firmness which resulted
in Indian participation in the conference on Afghanistan in Teheran
and the working group meeting at the UN year despite Pakistan's
insistent opposition to India joining these discussions. It was
Iran's attitude which neutralised Pakistan's attempts to isolate
India away from Central Asia and Afghanistan.
India has been opposed to the isolation being imposed on Iran by the United Nations.
India also believes that strengthening Iran's economic wellbeing and socio-political stability is essential for peace and equilibrium in the Asian region. Iran's response to India's desire of expanding relations with the Central Asian Republics has been positive. The first memorandum providing for transit facilities for Indian
exports to Central Asia through Iranian territory was finalised during Narasimha Rao's visit to Teheran in September 1993.
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