By Syed Zafar Mehdi
Understanding Iran’s traditional position on Kashmir
July 3, 2018
Almost two months ago, the Supreme Leader of Iran, during a meeting with top government functionaries and foreign emissaries, spoke of myriad problems facing the Muslim world and emphasized the importance of resisting against the arrogant, oppressive powers. He referred to conflict-marred states like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Myanmar and Kashmir.
The mention of Kashmir, like always, raised a few eyebrows in New Delhi, since the Indian government deems Kashmir as an ‘internal issue’ and does not appreciate ‘outside interference’. The leader said the people of Kashmir will push back their enemies by unwavering resistance in the near future, the way he has repeatedly said Israel would be wiped off the map in next 25 years.
For those who think Iran has an ambiguous position on Kashmir and the Leader does not consider the issue of Kashmir at par with Palestine or Nigeria or Myanmar should pause and skim through his statements made over the years in the context of Kashmir’s freedom struggle.
His most powerful and widely-reported statement till date came on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr last year. Known to weigh his words carefully, the Leader spoke of “many wounds inflicted on the body of Muslim world” and urged the Ummah to “express its disdain for the oppressors”. He singled out Bahrain, Yemen and Kashmir, and said the Muslim world should “openly support” people in these countries.
The statement was, much to the chagrin of mandarins in New Delhi, welcomed in Kashmir. The octogenarian Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani hailed the statement as “timely and pragmatic’, while his Hurriyat counterpart Mirwaiz Umar Farooq expressed his gratitude to Iran for supporting the “just freedom struggle” of the people of Kashmir.
Was the Leader trying to send a strong message to New Delhi or was he merely reiterating and reaffirming what Imam Khomeini had quite unequivocally said decades ago? Why did he club Kashmir with Bahrain and Yemen? Who are the “oppressors” he was referring to and what did he mean by “open support”? These questions generated palpable buzz on social media after the statement was issued and reported by big media outlets.
Barely a week after the statement was made, the Leader mentioned Kashmir again, this time while addressing an important meeting of top judiciary officials in Tehran. Reaffirming his country’s support to Kashmir, he asked his country’s judiciary to support the “oppressed figures and people of the world, like Sheikh Zakzaky (of Nigeria), and the Muslims in Myanmar and Kashmir”.
Iran’s supreme leader is known to speak with clarity and precision. He does not beat around the bush neither does he make polemical arguments to reap paltry political dividends. So it is essential to deconstruct his statements and put them into context.
A former Indian diplomat, writing in an Indian news portal, said the Leader mentions Kashmir mainly to warn India against cozying up to the U.S. or hostile neighbors in the Middle East. That is a very simplistic way of reading his statements. There is no denying that the growing proximity between India and Israel would not be viewed favorably in Tehran but to suggest that it provokes Iran’s supreme leader to issue statements on Kashmir would be naïve.
The Leader has often issued statements of support and solidarity with the people of Kashmir and he mentions the “just struggle” of Palestinians and Kashmiris in every sermon. His plain-speaking has many a times put a spanner in Indo-Iran relations.
For instance, in November 2010, on the occasion of Eid ul Zuha, he made a passionate appeal to the Muslim community to support the “struggle” in Kashmir and put Kashmir in the same category as Afghanistan and Palestine. New Delhi took strong exception to his statement, which had come barely three months after Iran’s foreign ministry denounced the military crackdown on peaceful protests in Kashmir, and summoned the Iranian envoy to lodge a formal protest. India subsequently voted against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), almost five years after it had reported Iran to the UN Security Council for alleged violations of its NPT obligations.
Iran’s stated position on Kashmir, clearly spelt out by Imam Khomeini, has been consistent since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Imam, who according to some historians traces his roots to Kashmir, had once made it categorically clear to a visiting Indian delegation that the ties between the two countries would not improve until the bloodletting in Kashmir continued. His successor has followed the same line on Kashmir, which is reflected in his statements and sermons.
Even before these recent statements, the Leader had on several occasions raised the issue of Kashmir. In May 1990, he said Kashmir cause is about “truth and justice” and those who silence them “have an unjust cause”. In September 1994, he said the “issue of Kashmir is the issue of humanity” since people of the region are “subjected to oppression and tyranny”. In April 2001, he called for the political settlement of Kashmir as per the aspirations of the people of Kashmir.
In November 2016, he brought up Kashmir in a conversation with Slovenian president Borut Pahor, basically referring to West’s interest in “keeping wounds open”. “The Americans do not have a plan for uprooting Daesh (ISIS). Like the English who have kept the wound of Kashmir open since the era of colonialism in the Indian subcontinent,” he said.
I don’t think any Muslim leader has championed the cause of Kashmir as vigorously as Imam Khamenei has. Like Imam Khomeini, the Leader has deep love and affection for the people of Kashmir. He visited Kashmir valley in 1980, soon after the Islamic revolution, and delivered a historic lecture at Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid, in which he emphasized the importance of Muslim unity and brotherhood. He also joined congregational prayers led by then Kashmir’s chief priest Mirwaiz Farooq and met then Kashmir’s tallest spiritual leader Ayatollah Agha Yusuf Kashmiri. His official website has a detailed account of his visit to Kashmir by late Qalbi Hussain Rizvi.
The Leader’s statements on Kashmir illustrate the fact that Iran will never abandon Kashmir. They should not be seen as a knee-jerk reaction to India-Israel or India-US bonhomie, but reassertion of Iran’s stated position on Kashmir.