Why Iran's intriguing silence on Kashmir?

It has been a routine for diplomats from various countries stationed at New Delhi to visit Kashmir during summers. Since its co-sponsoring the UN resolution in 1948, the United States has been at the centre of the Kashmir narrative and has made its presence felt at all critical junctures. In early nineties diplomats from the US and European visit Kashmir more frequently than ever before. Compared to them diplomats from embassies of the OIC member countries have been taking less interests in the Kashmir affairs. Nevertheless, Iranian diplomats compared to Arabs counties are familiar with the political situation in Kashmir. 

A week back Iran’s Ambassador to India Ghulam Raza Ansari was in Srinagar in connection with a seminar on Imam Khomeni. It was not of any significance, at best it could have found a mention as a single column on back page.  Nevertheless, he created news only by maintaining an intriguing silence on Kashmir in his main presentation at a local hotel. Interestingly, the audience comprised “leadership” that sees Iran is an ardent supporter of ‘right to self-determination’ for people of state- and struggle for the same.  Iranian Ambassador sounded more like a broker when instead of recognizing resolution of the Kashmir dispute as means for bringing lasting peace in South-Asian he saw execution of Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline as solution of India-Pakistan disputes.  In his speech said, “The purpose of pipeline was not just to fulfill the needs of these countries but also to help them better mutual relations and resolve their domestic dispute”. Knowing Kashmir is the core issue between two countries, it could be construed from his speech that Iran has drifted away from its stand on Kashmir and it no more recognizes it as an “international dispute”.  

 If I am not reading too much in the statement. On the face of it sounds a paradigm shift in Tehran’s Kashmir policy. But the question arises, what prompted Iranian Ambassador to ignore Kashmir in his entire presentation.  To quote from the editorial of the latest issue of Seminar on India’s “External Engagements” for Modi having given “little thought to the global or regional strategic contexts”, Is Iranian government also confused about foreign policy of new government in Delhi. Or its Kashmir policy is hyphenated to its relations with Pakistan. 

Is Raza Ansari’s “ignoring Kashmir  connected with withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and  Iran looking for a partner in India for “squeezing   away from Pakistan literal, notional or strategic space” in Afghanistan.  To quote a Pakistani commentator Shahzad Chaudhry    “The Iran-Indian relationship can only go from strength to strength as India deepens the Chahbahar port in eastern Iran for handling heavy boats, and prepares to build a railway connection between the port and the hinterland along the Zaranj-Dilaram Highway that India has previously built to connect with Afghanistan’s Farah province and the Herat-Kandahar highway.” 

Much before coming to the question if Iran should hyphenate its Kashmir policy to its relations with India or Pakistan or look it as an important problem, a nuclear flashpoint in South Asia that continues to be on the agenda of the United National Security Council as the oldest problem there is need for relooking at its role during late eighties and early nineties. Traditionally, Iran has been supporter of right to self-determination for people of Jammu and Kashmir. In international forums, it largely sided with Pakistan on the question of Kashmir. 

In 1993, Kashmir was attracting screaming headlines across the globe. Many international and Muslim organization held conference for finding out solution of the Kashmir Dispute. “In Khartoum an international conference was arranged by ‘The popular Arab and Islamic Congress (PAIC) in 1993.  It   devoted several sessions to the plight and liberation struggles of Islamic minorities in Asia particularly in Kashmir’. Accusing India of human rights violations in the state and conference had supported Pakistan for supporting Kashmir struggle.’ Iran also had sided with Pakistan. Iran also had “looked at Kashmir crisis as one component of an all-out assault on Islamic world. That manifested itself in oppression of Muslim, “especially in Kashmir, Palestine, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.”  

Iran did not stop at expressing support to Kashmir at international forums but had also reacted very harshly. “To show its displeasure for human rights violation in Kashmir it once had asked Indian Foreign Minister, Mr. Inder Kumar Gujaral to postpone his visit to their country.”

‘In 1993, when Pakistan Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto had visited Iran. The country had extended full support to her on Kashmir. In the Joint communiqué issued at the end of the meeting between Benazir and Iranian President Rafsanjani Kashmir had been described as ‘source of acute tension in the region and had called for its resolution according to relevant UN resolution. It also had called for end of repression in the state.’ 

In 1993, after a gap of almost thirty years United States had proactively involved itself for finding a solution of the dispute. In this column, it is not possible to recap the statements made by the United State or role played by it for impressing upon India and Pakistan to resolve the Dispute.  The newspaper reports and columns of the period enables one to understand the embarrassment caused to GoI by the statements of the State Department during the period. Emboldened by the US support Pakistan introduced a resolution in 50th Session of Human Rights Commission. Iran was worried about increasing role of US in the region to checkmate US role, Iran President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjan offered to mediate between the two countries. On his assurance Pakistan withdrew the resolution and after withdrawal of resolution Indian Foreign Secretary K. Srinivasan categorically denied of having assigned role of mediator to Iranian leader and called it his own initiative.  In fact, it was after this diplomatic debacle Iran except some occasional ritualistic statements on human rights violations almost preferred not to even mention Kashmir dispute. And after 2010, it fully dovetailed Kashmir to its Pakistan policy- except supporting OIC resolutions on Kashmir