Some Indian and Iranian antiquarians might nostalgically speak about the commonality of their ethnocultural origin but in practical dealings, these long-forgotten and outdated pleasantries hardly play any meaningful role. Yes, for a very short duration of the Pan-Iranian movement spearheaded by the founder of Pahlavi ruling house, Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iranian academics and pragmatic scholars did conduct valuable researches in the phenomenon. However, Indians seem to have given only lip service to it.
A partial freeze in India-Iran relations set in as early as 1979, when, in the aftermath of the ouster of monarchy, Teheran passed into the hands of orthodox ecclesiastical fraternity. The Ayatollahs, reminiscent of the Zoroastrian mobid (clerical) hierarchical structure— no doubt a significant social entity— had, hitherto, remained apolitical, or at the best, played a minimal advisory role if and when domestic exigency so demanded. The difference is that following the Islamic revolution, the Iranian clergy cleverly sidelined the Iranian Left, the real vanguard of the revolutionary movement, and directly grabbed political power. It ruthlessly attuned the entire Iranian polity to its time-hardened pro-Islamic stereotype. Keeping clear of religious tag, Indian political arrangement only sullenly watched the history of the region shaping quite differently.
With the introduction of the rule of the Iranian Islamic Republic in 1979, Indo-Iranian trajectory of relations shifted from benign intimacy to disgusting caution. India strictly followed the international norm of non-interference in the internal affairs of a state. Under the guidance of Imam Khomeini, the hero of the Islamic revolution, the Ayatollahs set forth an effective mechanism for a quick shift from Pan-Iran-ism to Pan-Islamism. A large number of Pan-Iranian fans, staunch nationalists and upholders of Iran’s civilizational permanence left their native land and sought refuge in western countries, especially the US, to escape persecution. The long drawn conflict between reason and dogma reappeared in its new avatar.
Obviously, in ideological terms, Islamic Republic of Iran was bound to enter a phase of deep skepticism and hostility towards the Arab world in general and Saudi Arab monarchy in particular, an institution Iran stubbornly refused to recognize as the epicentre of Islamism on the globe.
Iran is a
nation that does not easily untie the accumulated baggage of loathing against
its adversary. The Ayatollah’s antagonism against the US is that (a) it
supported monarchical rule in Iran and suppressed populist movements especially
of the Jibh-e-Milli in the 1950s (b)
it offers solid support to the State of Israel against Palestinians (c) it
protects and manipulates monarchy in Saudi Arabia and through it controls the
vast oil reserves and the strategic routes in the Gulf.
Iran’s animosity against the State of Israel is rather amusing and without any cogent reasons like (a) Iran wants to shame the Arab states for their conciliatory attitude towards a people who have been castigated in the Islamic scriptures. Iran wants to send the message that it, a non-Semitic nation, is more Islamic than the Semitic Muslims (b) Israel is no less than canker eating into the vitals of Islamic body in the Middle East, and (c) Israel is a modern military power with the potential of exerting large scale influence on the history of the region, something that minimizes the stature of Iran.
Iran is at loggerheads with the Saudis for these reasons: (a) Arabs have been the historical dominators of Iran (b) there is a great ethnolinguistic and cultural divide between Iran and the Arabs and Saudi is considered the leader of the Arab world (c) Ayatollah Khomeini had declared that monarchy was disallowed in Islam and hence Saudi monarchy is void of legitimacy. (d) The Saudi ruling house cannot and is not the custodian of the twin holy shrines, the Mecca and Medina. Iran does not recognize it as the custodian.
It will be recollected that when anti-Saudi monarchy sentiment was at its height, nearly four hundred Iranian Hajj pilgrims were killed in the riots that erupted within the precincts of the sanctum sanctorum of the Mecca. Calling herself more Islamic than the Arabs, Iran wants to be recognized as the leader of the Islamic world. That seems wishful thinking because Muslims, despite the slogan of Islamic fraternity, are sensitive to factionalism.
Obsessed with these political-cum-regional paradigms, Iran, under the Ayatollahs thought of going nuclear to cow down Israel and also obtain an edge over the entire Arab world, particularly the Saudi. The take of Saudi Arabia and Israel from Iran’s nuke ambition was that they could be vulnerable to Iran’s nuclear-rattle, and, therefore, ganged up with the US to subvert Iran’s nuclear undertaking. Washington had earlier done it in Iraq, though after the destruction of that country no tangible proof of late Saddam Hussein coming anywhere close to making the dirty bomb was found. Destruction of Iraq and not Iran or Pakistan will be discussed for long by historians as one of the controversial decisions of US military strategy planners.
When Washington rushed to impose sanctions on Iran on the nuclear count, it showed that the US was not fully prepared to talk to the Iranian side without doing the exercise of sabre-rattling. Iran is a very tough country to negotiate with and the Americans have very little experience of dealing with a nation of split personality like Iran.
What do we mean by split personality? By and large, most countries including ours, engaged in business with Iran have little knowledge of a historical reality. The non-Semitic Muslims anywhere in the world, especially in the Asian continent, all have a split personality. They have never been able to come out of the delusion whether Islam brought them something more useful and viable in comparison to the cultural ethos to which their elders had tenaciously remained glued millennium after millennium. This is true not only of Iran but also for Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and India including the Kashmiri and even the Central Asian (Turkistan) and Eurasian Muslims.
It is only among the non-Semitic Muslim societies that the debate about true Musulman and pseudo-Musulman has been raging with unabated intensity over the centuries. In the eyes of the Arab Muslims all non-Semitic Muslims are more or less spurious Muslims. This is the reason why the non-Semitic Muslims have invariably resorted to the destruction of all cultural symbols of pre-Islamic times in their lands. The revolts surfacing in Muslim countries in our times in the shape of protests, violence or militancy is, in fact, the reflex of that split personality and a struggle for finding out how the gap can be bridged over? A glaring example is of nearly two crore mohajirs of Pakistan desirous of returning to their parent land – India.
Chabahar Port and India
While the American pressure and India’s compulsions thereof can be considered as the primary reason for pressure on India to withdraw from the Chabahar project in the Straits of Hormoz. Whether Iran’s pre-planned deal with China discussed during President Xi’s visit to Tehran in 2016 could possibly result in dropping India from all the three components of the deal, the fact is that if India is excluded it will be is a big loss to her in economic and strategic terms.
If India closes its our stakes in Chabahar, we will also lose out the Chabahar-Zahedan rail link of 680 km and the Farzad-B gas exploration and exploitation project which was originally discovered by the Indian gas giant ONGC. India cannot escape the blame of soft peddling with the projects in terms of finances and technological infrastructure. I was part of PM Narendra Modi’s team during his official visit to Tehran in 2017 and the Iranian side repeatedly desired that India keeps the time frame for the completion of the projects. They were sceptical, nevertheless.
India should seriously consider that it was with great persuasions that the US allowed a waiver on Chabahar. As such India must make the hay while the sun is shining. India should expedite import of requisite machinery and equipment from European countries by impressing upon them that India had to work under a waiver which might be withdrawn at any time given the unpredictability of the ruling apparatus of the two hostile countries. India is giving Iran a cause for concern because Teheran cannot wait indefinitely as she has to recover fast from economic crunch imposed by the sanctions.
Now Iran has embraced the dragon, rather she has been forced to do so. As per reports, Iran has bitten the $400 billion deal with China for developing the Chabahar port with the option of connecting it with Gwadar. This brings solace to Pakistan because it changes the security strategy scenario in the region to India’s disadvantage. Iran had been raising a hue and cry over the US naval ships making their presence felt in and around the Gulf. But now with reports coming in about Iran handing over Chabahar and the water channel leading to it to China, Iran has willingly given herself in the tight embrace of the dragon. By this embrace, Iran has made the Gulf a bone of contention that poses a threat to the littoral states besides endangering its own independence.
It is time that India revisits the narrative and makes some pragmatic changes in her policy towards Iran and the Gulf, without losing sight of peculiar traits of Iranian character. Even if New Delhi has some unknown assurances from Washington, these should not be allowed to influence adversely the essential contours of her foreign policy particularly towards important neighbours like Iran. It is no strong logic to presume that Chabahar will have very limited intake capacity because no major trade transactions to the CARs (Central Asian Republics) will take place through Chabahar–Sirakhs-Turkmenistan corridor. With Indian presence in Chabahar, not only Afghanistan, Iran and the littoral states will feel more secure but the vast region called Central Asia will find access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and the most crucial world’s naval route of trade and transportation. If India abandons Chabahar it will be a big setback to the cordial Indo-Afghan relations as well.
should galvanize into action her topmost diplomatic expertise to re-negotiate
the deals with Iran and simultaneously prevail upon the European Union to work
towards softening of American sanctions on Iran so that India-Iran link up is
not disrupted and the dragon is kept at an arm’s length. This will go in the
interests of the stakeholders. The US should be dissuaded from performing an
act that amounts to making India suffer for the sins of others. The world’s
strongest democracy has to be strongly disposed towards the interests of the world’s
largest democracy. Matured diplomacy does not mean wielding the whip all the
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