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Strikingly similar to the crisis that Iran faced at the IAEA Board meeting in Vienna [Images] last weekend, India too found itself in a tight spot in April 1994 at the United Nations Human Rights Commission's annual session in Geneva.
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Curiously, India and Iran found themselves entangled with each other then too, as of now -- but with an entirely different body language.
If there is a Shakespearean touch to the sense of betrayal that Iran is so evidently harbouring today over India's vote against it at Vienna, how much of that harks back to silent memories of what had transpired between the two countries in 1994, we shall never quite know.
Persians may find it to be in bad taste to be blunt and forthright on such delicate issues as trust and betrayal.
In April 1994, when the UNHRC was assembling in Geneva, India faced an ugly situation. We were just pulling out of a grave economic crisis (of our own making, though) and were extremely vulnerable to the goodwill of international financial institutions.
More importantly, the Kashmir valley was burning -- witnessing some of the bloodiest violence in its unhappy history. The country itself was panting and heaving from the bloodletting of communal violence -- hidden medieval passions were tearing it apart.
Back in 1994, India was not yet possessed with the swagger and all-knowing cockiness of its current middle class optimism -- or, for that matter, its frightening pragmatism that is determined to make every relationship outright profitable.
The politics of reciprocity
Internationally too, the climate was uncertain. Boris Yeltsin's Russia [Images] was lurching toward the West in drunken stupor, and there was a big question mark as to the availability of a 'Soviet' veto if the Kashmir file ever again got reopened in the UN's business dealings.
Technically, if the UNHRC in Geneva adopted a resolution condemning India for grave human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir [Images], a pathway would have opened for any of India's detractors (not only Pakistan) for referral of the 'Kashmir problem' to the UN in New York. The crisis was comparable to what could happen today if the IAEA indeed decided on a UN Security Council referral apropos of the Iran's 'nuclear problem.'
The assessment in the foreign policy establishment in Delhi [Images] at that time was that in the event of the Kashmir resolution coming up in Geneva, it had a strong possibility of getting adopted.
The draft resolution enjoyed the support of the 54-member states of the Organisation of Islamic conference and possibly some faraway countries in the Western world. Of course, Pakistan was its prime mover.
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>Thus it was that on a cold wind swept morning in late March in 1994 with the Elbruz Mountain still wrapped in sheets of snow that an Indian military plane landed in Teheran airport bearing the then Indian external affairs minister Dinesh Singh and three accompanying officials from Delhi as his co-passengers.
The minister was visiting Iran to deliver in person an urgent letter from Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao addressed to Iranian President, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rao was seeking Iran's last-minute intervention at the OIC with a view to ensuring that the Kashmir resolution did not pass through the UNHRC.
The OIC (like the IAEA) too had a convention that all decisions had to be arrived at through consensus. So, Rao shrewdly assessed that if a prominent OIC member like Iran were to abstain, there would be no 'consensus.' Rao was greatly averse to Dinesh Singh undertaking the mission, as the minister was seriously ill from the multiple strokes he had suffered a few months ago.
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But Dinesh Singh ("Raja Saheb") would have no one else undertake such a crucial mission -- and Rao reluctantly gave in. Sadly, that also happened to be the last mission undertaken by Dinesh Singh in a diplomatic career spread over five decades.
In fact, after one look at Dinesh Singh alighting from the aircraft, Iranian Foreign Minister Dr Ali Akbar Velayati, who was waiting at the tarmac, impulsively asked what on earth could be of such momentous importance for the minister to undertake such a perilous journey in such a poor state of health.
Dinesh Singh went through his 'Kashmir brief' diligently through the day's meetings with his Iranian interlocutors -� apart from Dr Velayati, President Rafsanjani and the Speaker of the Iranian Majlis Nateq-Nouri. The Iranian side politely noted the minister's demarche.
All in all, the business was transacted in a matter of 6 or 7 hours. Dinesh Singh left immediately for the airport for his return journey.
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As he was emplaning, Dr Velayati who had come to the airport, reached out and holding Dinesh Singh's hands together in his, said: 'Ali Hashemi (President Rafsanjani) wanted me to convey his assurance to Prime Minister Rao that Iran will do all it can to ensure that no harm comes to India.'
After the plane took off, Dinesh Singh and his three co-passengers pondered over the import of what Velayati said. Did it mean that Iran would get the OIC resolution watered down? Or, would the resolution leave out any outright condemnation of India that attracted the UN's wrath?
It took 72 anxious hours more for Delhi to realise that instead of a halfway solution, Iran went ahead with surgical skill and literally killed the OIC move to table the resolution at a UN forum. We heard later that as the Pakistani ambassador sought to move the OIC resolution, his Iranian counterpart in Geneva acted on directives from Teheran and made an intervention.
He said that for Iran, both Pakistan and India were close friends, and Iran would be loathe to the idea that problems between friends could not be sorted out between the two of them, and needed instead to be raised at an international forum.
That was the last time that Pakistan sought to get a resolution over Kashmir issue tabled at a UN forum.
Thus, when the head of Iran's National Security Council, Ali Larijani said last Tuesday with a palpable sense of hurt: 'India was our friend. We did not expect India to do so' -- he would have had much more in mind than the 'shock and awe' that India administered to Iran last weekend at Vienna.
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Larijani's erudite mind could not have missed the dramatic irony of it all -- that Teheran should have salvaged India's day at the OIC 11 years ago, and Delhi having a sudden, unexplained, inexplicable memory lapse in the IAEA.
And, on both occasions, it boiled down to how to kill a mocking bird -- how to keep a festering wound from being prised away for therapy in distant New York.
M K Bhadrakumar is a former Indian ambassador with extensive experience in handling India's relations with Iran
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