A diplomacy in flux
Iran’s changing stance towards India likely emanates from its changing global priorities and the ever-increasing strength of Indo-US relations
Of late, Iran seems to have been steadily changing its stance towards India. So, it looks to impair age-old historic ties between the two countries, right from the days of Persia. Coincidentally or otherwise, the developing fissures have come to notice after the abrogation of Article 370 in J&K and the introduction of CAA. The large population of Shias in India, many of whom have natural allegiance towards India, also appear confused over these developments, especially raising their apprehensions in the wake of the killing of General Qasem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) by the US forces and growing Indo-US strategic cooperation. Such misgivings may be misplaced yet analysts feel that these perceptions linger, perhaps calling for a redressal sooner than later.
Importantly, on the CAA, protests were seen against the Law in Kargil, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Meerut. In Muzaffarnagar, UP, Maulana Syed Ali was arrested and alleged police atrocities while in custody. Lucknow has rarely seen Shias protesting against the establishment. There had, of course, been a record of sectarian violent clashes in the state capital, especially on the occasions of Muharram but hardly against the government. This trend is worrisome. Equally worrisome are the anti-India protest demonstrations in Tehran, organised allegedly at the behest of an Indian who visited Tehran in the aftermath of CAA coming into force. It is further suspected that some Shia elements in India are developing links with the PFI and Jamat zealots to further their agenda. They may be numerically less but they merit caution, lest they drift towards extreme religious forces and prove detrimental to Indian security interests. This trend is more visible after Turkey and Qatar have started coming close to Iran and a new equation between them is emerging.
In the meantime, there are fresh indications of Iran being increasingly inclined towards Pakistan. That apart, Iran is constantly trying to expand its regional and international footprint. At the recent Kuala Lumpur Islamic summit, the President of Iran made his country's presence felt by presenting many proposals to the Islamic world, obviously to show that Iran is still a force to reckon with. One of the proposals presented was the creation of a 'KL joint venture fund' to provide special capital to finance technical cooperation between various Islamic countries. Under this joint fund, Iran has also offered the creation of a joint research centre in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to use the movement of new and emerging know-how that Iran claimed will help extricate the Islamic countries from their existing colonial mindset.
It is more than evident that Iran now wants to play the role of a prime leader in the Islamic world and it is trying to
send signals to other Muslim countries that Iran is on course for modernism with science and technology as the driving engine. At least, the optics of its activities say so. This seems noteworthy. Also, Iran proposed the issue of the exchange of currencies in the field of the digital economy and the corporate market scheme amongst the Islamic countries. Iran is also trying to protect itself from its dependence on the oil economy and the Dollar in a bid to head towards a new direction, possibly for a new identity.
Very significantly, in another Iran related development, a spate of false news against India appeared in the Iranian media last year. These inputs look sponsored and inspired by vested quarters. The propaganda tirade directed against India alleged that Indians living in Iran had expressed their unhappiness over Kashmir related developments and the CAA and claimed to have represented these grievances to the Indian External Affairs Minister. However, this was found to be untrue. On the contrary, it came to light that Indians living in Iran for the last several years are experiencing difficulties in getting their Residence Permits and sadly they are forbidden from buying any property in Iran. Such grievances were duly presented to the Indian EAM. These were problems that were confirmed by one Barinderjit Singh, member of the General House Committee, Gurudwara Singh Sabha, Tehran. There are 70-75 Indian families, mostly Sikhs who are living in Tehran and Zahedan areas, who are affected by these hardships and it is unbecoming of the Iranian fort to act in this brazen manner.
Iran is at crossroads with internal dissent showing signs of desperation with the US tightening its noose. It would, therefore, appear in its own interest to have at least one trusted ally and in this regard, who could be a better associate and friend than India? This will also help wean it away from Pakistan which must be trying its best to drive a wedge between Indo-Iranian ties by unnecessarily attempting to woo Iran. The offensive media propaganda in the Iranian press targeting India by encouraging the planting of fake stories must stop forthwith. Possibly, a section of pro-Iranian lobby active in India can play a positive part in this regard to neutralise such moves.
Shantanu Mukharji is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst, a columnist and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are strictly personal