Iran’s insistence to involve Islamic Revolutionary Group firm at Chabahar has strained ties with India

Map showing the sea route from Iran's Chabahar to Mumbai in India.
Map showing the sea route from Iran's Chabahar to Mumbai in India.

Iran has not officially announced dropping of India from Chabahar’s three-fold project. The buzz emanating from The Hindu newspaper is actually attributed to two middle rank Iranian officers but not to any senior official spokespersons. Hence, till date the buzz remains only a quasi-official rumour.

Why should Iran think of punishing a third country (India) at its own cost for failure to mend fence with the US? If that is the parameter of Iranian policy then India will look for available option to meet her oil requirements. And if Iran is willing to embrace the dragon who is hanging a US$ 400 billion carrot to her for taking over Chabahar and the ancillaries, well, it is her choice.

For long years Iran has been tenaciously defending her sovereign right over the waters of the strategic Persian Gulf, which Arabs call Arabian Gulf. Ever since Iran-US spat in the aftermath of Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has raised her voice of protest whenever an American naval ship made even a casual appearance in Gulf area.

But now Iran is reportedly reconciling to the massive presence of Chinese navy at her doorstep. It will be a matter of concern for India no doubt given the Chinese hostility towards India but more than that Chinese naval presence will be of greater concern to the littoral states, which, by and large, are under the protective umbrella of the US. As such, Iran will be inviting the two strongest navies of the world to fight a decisive battle for winning control over the Gulf from where two-third of world’s oil requirement passes in gigantic tankers.

The real reason for India to soft paddle over Chabahar is neither the American pressure nor India’s delayed funding. In fact India has completed part one of the Chabahar project and wheat consignments for Afghanistan were also routed through it sometimes back. The real reason is that Tehran insisted on getting Khatam al-Anbiya Constructions, belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps involved in the project. New Delhi expressed its reluctance to expose its own entities to the US sanctions because US has designated the Revolutionary Guard Corps (Pasdaran) of Iran a terrorist organization. This has resulted in the deadlock. Even China has been cautious in getting in the crosshairs of American sanctions. The common sense is that India’s acceptance of participation of Khatam al-Anbiya would mean legitimizing the notorious Iranian terrorist organization involved in conflicts within and outside Iran. The focus of the US’ allegation that Iran is promoting terrorism is precisely the militant organization called Pasdaran-i-Inqilab (Revolutionary Guard Corps) whose commander Osman Suleimani was killed in a missile attack in Baghdad some months bank.  

India is known throughout the world as a country that is fighting terrorism in all its forms and manifestation. As such, India will never lend any kind of legitimacy to the Iranian militant organization which is fighting in some spots in West Asian conflict zones. No democratic country in the world will be prepared to make a compromise with Iran on that issue.

Another irritant in Indo-Iran relations is India’s good relationship with Israel. Iran has been openly declaring her ultimate aim of destroying Israel and restoring the land to Palestinians. This is more a propaganda stunt than any symbol of real politics. A dispassionate analysis of Iran’s animosity towards Israel shows that Iran wants to extract political mileage from an emotive issue which is devoid of a cognizable basis. Arab countries including Saudi Arabia have always avoided being harshly critical of the State of Israel, obviously for political reasons. Israel has strong support of the US Congress where the Jewish lobby is usually predominant. This is the main reason why Iran pretends to be anti-US. Iran wants to show down the Arabs asserting that it is only Iran that is trying to accomplish the scriptural commandment of destroying Israel. As such, Iran thinks she has a better claim to be the leader of the Muslim world and not the Saudis. This is the typical Iranian clerical mindset which, evidently, betrays neither pragmatism nor logic.

India has been strictly following the internationally acknowledged policy of non interference in the internal affairs of Iran. Not only that, India even tried to help mend fences between Iran and the US during Obama administration. But Iran, swayed by revolutionary fervor and assuming that she is ordained by divine dispensation to speak for “the oppressed” (mustaz’afeen), has been interfering in the internal affairs of India. For example, only some months back Supreme Iranian religious leader President Khamenei issued a statement on Kashmir in which he criticized the Indian government for what he called “mishandling” of Kashmir issue. Our foreign office had to summon the Iranian mission in-charge and hand over to him a note of protest. Iran has been covertly and overtly trying to play the role of godfather to the Indian Shia population and particularly the Shia community in Kargil, J&K. We are aware that anti-India sentiments are allowed to be vented even loudly at times in the course of an interaction between Indian Shia leadership and Iranian mission functionaries in India. Indian government did not take any preventive measures as she would not want to give any cause of unhappiness to Iran.

It will be noted that during several skirmishes between the Pakistan border force with Jundullah Sunni terrorist activists in the vanguard with the Iranian border force in Balochistan-Sistan border, India never spoke a word. But Iran has not been desisting from charging Indian security forces of “overdo” in Kashmir. Needless to remind that during India-Pakistan war of 1971, Iran had allowed Pakistani Air Force to take off from East Iranian airports with a mission of bombing Indian targets.

Chabahar and the two ancillary projects are of vital importance to India. By falling in the lap of the dragon, Iran is inviting concern of the stakeholders in the region. Iran is under the wrong notion that she has a strong navy to police the Gulf. With China in the driving seat, Iranian navy, whatever it is, will pale into insignificance and additionally other big navies will put up their presence in a strong way at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the sea route from where two-third of the world oil requirement passes.

Iran’s dream for nuclear weapon has become her Achilles heel. Nobody denies her right to self-defence. But much before beginning a search for nuclear weapon Iran has been exporting Islamic revolution to some of the countries in the region. What is the agenda of Hamas and Hizbollah active in West Asia. What role is Iranian Pasdaran playing in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere? Iran may try to hide their activities but in modern technology nothing remains hidden. Osama bin Laden could be liquidated while in hiding and Osman Suleimani could be finished while travelling in a running vehicle.

Iran has three main targets against which she could think of using the nuclear bomb, the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Forget about the US and Israel. But before Iran decides to target Saudi Arabia, Pakistan will be forced to deter her. This is the understanding between the Saudi monarchy and Pakistan government. Iran thinks that she has won the confidence of Pakistan by writing off the Shia population of Pakistan that has become the recurring target of anti-Shia frenzy in Pak polity. Iran neither protests against the recurring massacre of the Pakistani Shia community nor demands a ban on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a terrorist organization of Pakistan with its declared agenda of destroying the Shias in Pakistan. Saner elements in Iran must revisit the nuclear policy of the theocratic regime. They need to be pragmatic and not emotional.

Finally, Iran the frontline non-Semitic Muslim state is a victim of split personality. No Muslim country denies her the right to be truly Islamic but no Muslim country will concede her the option of aspiring to be the leader of ummah. Even in the comity of non-Semitic Islamic nations, Iran does not enjoy the trust of other actors because of the history of factional feuds within the Islamic communities.

Indian foreign office is right in not making any comment on disquieting Indo-Iran relations. Iran is in deep turmoil and the voice of freedom is stifled in that country. Let Iranians first settle the score among themselves. Till then we need to wait and watch the saner voice prevailing in that country.

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