Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

January 2001 (Vol. XXIV No. 10)


Indo-Iranian Relations 1947-2000
By Farah Naaz, Associate Fellow, IDSA



India and Iran have interacted with each other since time immemorial. During the post-independence period, their relations passed through strains. During the 1950s, Indo-Iranian relations remained cool because of Iran's alignment with the West and India's policy of non alignment. Their relations however started improving during the 1960s and 1970s, except during Ayatollah Khomeini's period.

After the end of the Cold War, common security threat perceptions brought India and Iran closer. Iran was deeply concerned with the US ties with the Arab states, and unstable states to its north. As a result Iran wanted to promote regional ties. India's main security dilemmas arose from international pressures and regional rivalries. All this led to the convergence of their interests, the main areas being—energy, Afghanistan, Central Asia and business. As their interests coincide the two started making concious efforts to improve ties by keeping up high level contacts, which was followed by very important visits, particularly, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao's visit to Iran in 1993 and President Hashemi Rafsanjani's visit to India in 1995.

The Indo-Iranian equation is a significant evolving factor affecting regional politics in South and West Asia. Both the countries have realised that their relations were not determined only by the issue of Islam but extend much farther. The mutual desire for friendship and cooperation has lessened the misunderstandings and both the countries can now look forward to a more stable relationship.

The rulers and the people of Iran and India have interacted with each other since time immemorial. The continuity of these age old interactions was broken for a time after the British conquest of India in the early 19th century, 1 but they were revived after the departure of the British from the subcontinent in August 1947.

Even before independence, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru supported the Iranian demand for the withdrawal of the Russian forces but he desisted from any direct criticism of the Soviet Union. There was a vague perception in Iran, that a leading Indian leader, (Nehru) though supportive of Iran, seemed to have a soft corner for the USSR, yet Iran remained well-disposed towards India. Iran also participated in the first non governmental organisation convened 'Asian Relations Conference" held in New Delhi in March 1947. At this forum, the Iranian delegate extended his country's friendship and good wishes for India's independence. 2

During the post-independence period, due to the changed international relations system, there was a qualitative difference in the Indo-Iranian relationship. By 1947, both Iran and India experienced a complex fall-out of World War II. Iran found itself deeply involved in the throes of the Cold War. The Iranian people interpreted communism as a potential threat to the territorial integrity of the state, their social system and to the regimes security. 3 The Shah feared that the Soviet Union had a design to destabilise his regime through its ideological protégé the Tudeh party which had close links with the USSR. A definite policy predicated on close, even intimate, relations with the United States, rabid anti- communism and the systematic expansion of Iranian military power was pursued deliberately by the Shah from that time on often causing domestic opposition to the policy. 4

While Iran aligned itself with the West, for India, the post-World War II period brought about the culmination of its independence movement. The Indian government after independence, sought to avoid foreign entanglements by not joining one bloc or the other. Nehru said, "we will not attach ourselves to any particular group. That has nothing to do with neutrality or passivity or anything else...neither of these big blocs looks on us with favour. They think that we are undependable, because we cannot be made to vote this way or that way." 5 India's policy of non- alignment and Iran's policy of alignment with the West determined the Indo-Iran relations in the post-war period to a great extent.

Besides these policies of alignment and non-alignment there were other factors that determined Indo-Iranian relations.

Nasser Factor: Nehru's endorsement of Gamal Abdel Nasser as the leader of the Arab world and of his policies did not go down well with the Shah. Similarly, Nasser's crusade against monarchies and his attempts at the unification of the Arab states, like the formation of the United Arab Republic (UAR) by the merger of Egypt and Syria only tended to increase the Shah's sense of insecurity. 6

Islam and Pakistan as Factors: The Shah's response to the perceived threats from these challenges (Arab radical Republicanism/ Nasser) appeared in two counter-moves. Firstly, he sought to use Islam as a counter ideology in order to neutralise Nasserism. That was why he supported the Islamic bloc. 7 It was because of this that the Shah attempted to organise the Islamic conferences particularly in the 1960s. Secondly, the Shah intensified his efforts to shore up Iran's isolation by cultivating non- Arab countries in the region as well as Pakistan. It may be stressed that the Shah's motives in taking interest in Islamic solidarity and befriending Pakistan was basically political and not Islamic. Thus the Shah cultivated both Islam and Pakistan as a counterpoise to Nasserism and a possible Arab domination of the region. However, Iran's reason to befriend Pakistan due to its security concerns failed to convince the Indian policy makers. The Indian policy makers did not seem to realise that the West Asian considerations were more important to Iran than its considerations towards India. Iran's tilt towards Pakistan was not directed against India.That was the main reason why commercial relations between India and Iran remained by and large steady.

Pakistan, right from its formation, carried on propaganda in a sustained manner against India in the West Asian and North African States in order to establish an Islamic bloc and to internationalise the Kashmir issue. 8 This had an impact on Indo-Iran relations because Iran was well disposed towards Pakistan. This was evident from the fact that Iran was the first country that extended recognition to the state of Pakistan and established diplomatic relations with it in May 1948. Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan of Pakistan visited Iran in May 1949 and the Shah visited Pakistan in March 1950 and the Treaty of Friendship was signed between Iran and Pakistan the same month. 9 The overall relationship, by and large remained cool and low key.

Formal diplomatic relations between India and Iran commenced in March 15, 1950. One year after the formalisation of bilateral relations Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq of Iran nationalised the Anglo-Iranian oil company. India's reaction to it was found to be equivocal. "The Iranian government has taken up a very strong and unbending attitude and perhaps it may be criticised to some extent... But I have ventured to suggest to the Iranian government, as well as to the British government, that it is in the interests of all concerned as well as of world peace to have a peaceful settlement." 10

The regional alliances like the Baghdad Pact and SEATO were not seen by India with favour. In his speech Jawaharlal Nehru stated: "It is clear that the approach of military pacts, like the Baghdad Pact and SEATO is a wrong approach, a dangerous approach and a harmful approach... The Pakistan newspapers and the statements of responsible people in Pakistan make it perfectly clear that they have joined this pact because of India ... They have joined the Baghdad Pact and SEATO essentially because of their hostility to India... people enter into these pacts with different motives. I am quite sure that the other members of the pact have no hostility to India..." 11 The Baghdad Pact was also instrumental in bringing Iran and Pakistan closer.

It is important to note the motives of both Pakistan and Iran for joining the alliance. Pakistan of course joined the alliance so that it could count on the support of Iran and other pact members on the Kashmir issue both at the UN and outside. Iran however joined the Baghdad Pact for its own security reasons.

Iran aligned to the West and non-aligned India were not politically on the same wavelength. Trade between the two was not significant enough to fill the void created by the diametrically opposite positions of the two in the Cold War. Just four months after Iran's adherence to the Baghdad Pact, the Shah paid his first visit to India (February 16 to March 9, 1956). The Shah tried to assure the Indian Prime Minister that Iran's closeness to Pakistan was not directed against India and that it was not at the cost of friendship with India. No joint communique was issued at the end of the visit and the bilateral state relations could at best be described as cool and correct. Nehru paid a return visit to Iran in September 1959 but that only highlighted the political gulf. 12

There was very little in common between India's non alignment and Iran's alignment with the West. That was the reason why Indo-Iran relations during 1950s, were confined to non political spheres like trade and commerce. 13

The 1960s witnessed certain changes in the international environment, the repercussions of which affected Indo-Iranian relations. The diversification and expansion of trade during this period tended to bring India and Iran closer and improve their relationship. By the 1960s, India was in a position to share its experience and expertise with other developing countries due to the importance that India attached to technical and commercial collaboration with them.

Due to the changes in the strategic environment, Iran was compelled to redefine and enlarge its role as a regional power. The détente between the superpowers had started and by 1964-65, the US strategic interest in the area had shifted from the land mass of the northern tier to the Indian Ocean. The changing American perceptions had serious implications for Iran. For example, the US policy towards Iran tended to be a little more relaxed and America was reluctant to aid Iran in case of threat from sources other than the USSR. The Shah realised the limitations and conditional nature of external assistance in safeguarding Iran's security and integrity and its basic unreliability. 14 As a result, the Shah started looking beyond the Persian Gulf and Pakistan for understanding and support in favour of Iran's new regional policy. In other words, Iran began to follow a more independent foreign policy to emphasise both the end of a client relationship to the United States and to restore, as much as conditions permitted, normalcy in its relations with the Soviet Union. As a consequence, on September 15, 1962, it assured the Soviet government that it would not grant any foreign nation the right of possessing any kind of rocket bases on Iranian soil. Since then Soviet-Iranian relations and mutual cooperation substantially improved and expanded. 15 Hence, the détente allowed more relaxed and uninhibited relationships between countries like India and Iran.

The Shah had also lost faith in CENTO. The trend in Iran was to play down the importance of CENTO, to deemphasise its military side and instead to stress economic and technical cooperation among its Asian members. It was in line with this policy that Iran, Turkey and Pakistan signed a pact establishing the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD). 16 Initiated by President Ayub Khan in 1964, the RCD was a by-product of the growing disenchantment of Pakistan, Iran and Turkey with their ties with the Western countries. The RCD partners could see that the USA and USSR were emerging towards a relaxation of tension, reducing the value of military pacts. 17

Economic development and political stability brought more independence in the foreign policy posture of Iran. Iran also started deepening its relations with India. It led to better technical and commercial cooperation and signing of agreements between India and Iran. Despite that, Iran's posture towards India, during this decade was a sort of up and down relationship, for example during the Indo-Chinese war, Iran came out strongly and openly on India's side and condemned China. But the same attitude was not seen during the Indo-Pakistan war in 1965 when, Iran's tilt was towards Pakistan, keeping in view its political, religious, strategic and national interests. The Iranian ambassador however assured the Indian government that its country's friendship with Pakistan would not come in the way of their relations with India. 18 Iran however, did not interrupt its oil supplies to India.

Besides the changing Iran-US relations, two other factors need to be mentioned. The 1960s saw a gradual change in the Pakistan-Iran equation as well as Indo-Arab relations.

Pakistan-Iran: The 1960s exposed the limits of Iran's economic relationship with Pakistan, RCD notwithstanding. Economically India was a bigger market for Iran. Also India's oil needs and its oil imports from Iran were greater than those of Pakistan.

Iran also firmly opposed Pakistan's attempts to give a religious colour to the RCD. The Iranian Foreign Minister told the Majlis "...incidentally, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran are all Muslim countries...this unity, alliance and concord has no direct connection with Islam, nor does it have any specific religious aspects. Other nations of Asia...may share in this regional alliance." 19 Iran wanted RCD to be enlarged to include India, Afghanistan and Iraq, which was severely criticised by Pakistan. 20

During the same decade, Pakistan also tried to patch up with the Arab countries especially Egypt. Pakistan's decision to join the Western inspired Baghdad Pact had drawn criticism from most conservative Arab states and sharpened differences with the more radical Egypt and Syria. 21 However, despite frequent rebuffs, Pakistan's leaders were constrained from withdrawing their endorsement of Arab causes. Its foreign policy remained committed to speaking up for the Arabs. The forced retirement of President Ayub in 1969 and the death of Nasser the following year appeared to remove the personal barriers to closer relations between Pakistan and Egypt. There were occasional dividends for Pakistan's continued advocacy of Arab rights in international forums. Syria and Iraq publicly sided with Pakistan and Jordan argued Pakistan's case at the United Nations during the 1965 war with India. 22 After Pakistan's humiliating military defeat in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war and the loss of its East wing, Pakistan's policy makers hoped to recoup some esteem by gaining influence on a larger Middle Eastern and Third World stage. Under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Islamic unity was transformed from a secondary theme, to a principal instrument of foreign policy. As a result, the Arab nationalists viewed Pakistan more benignly. 23

Indo-Arab Relations: Around the same time, Indo-Arab relations saw stresses and strains. The Arabs had disappointed the Indians during the Sino Indian war of 1962 and the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 and questions were raised about India's unqualified support of the Arabs. 24 The humiliating defeat that Egypt had suffered during the 1967 Arab Israeli war and the emergence of Iran and Saudi Arabia as important actors in the region awakened the Indian policy makers to the risk of too much dependence on Egypt.

By the 1970s, both India and Iran emerged as important powers within their geo-political areas. They could approach each other with a greater degree of confidence. By the beginning of the 1970s, in Iran's view Moscow-Kabul and New Delhi-Baghdad axis was in the offing. Such an alliance could not only weaken Pakistan, but also help Moscow to have a chain of centres of influence from Delhi to Baghdad to Aden and increase its pressure on Iran. Hence the Shah began to seek new ways of strengthening Iran's capability to pursue more assertive regional behaviour, one of which was to conduct balanced relations with all the three South Asian countries, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In order to keep up the balance of power and the territorial integrity of Pakistan, Iran supported Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971. Even then it did not take a very harsh attitude towards India and resisted the Pakistani pressure to activate CENTO, nor did it indulge in any direct provocation against India. 25 Later, the Shah made it clear, "We will never assist Pakistan if they start an aggressive war against India...I am sure India is not going to start a war for the sake of it. We will support no country in an aggressive move." 26

After the fourth Arab Israeli war of 1973, OPEC doubled the price of oil in late 1973, and then doubled it once again in early 1974. The income earned from this provided Iran a position for boosting joint development projects with other countries. Iran felt that India was a major regional power in South Asia. In order to strengthen its own position in the region, normalisation of relations with India must be achieved by establishing strong political and economic links with this country. As a result there was a phenomenal increase in the economic collaboration between India and Iran. For India, having close relations with Iran could neutralise the latter's support to Pakistan.

Though, both India and Iran had their postures, the former vis-a-vis the Arabs and the latter vis-à-vis Pakistan, it was tacitly agreed that neither side should allow these to come in the way of their developmental interests. Iran continued to be a member of CENTO and its fallout RCD. It also continued to arm itself and maintain close ties with Pakistan. The Shah had been most anxious to ensure stability on its eastern border. As a result, he agreed to give economic aid to Pakistan inspite of its pro-Arab stance and its sharp criticism of Iran, for example, efforts in Pakistan to convert Persian culture to Arab culture. Bhutto also described the Persian Gulf as the Arab Gulf. 27 The Shah was now thinking in economic terms and sought India's economic cooperation for providing Iran with industry, goods and services.

Visits of leading statesmen to each other's country stabilised the economic bonds and promoted political understanding. Indian Minister of External Affairs, Sardar Swaran Singh visited Iran in July 1973, while Iranian Foreign Minister Abbas Ali Khalatbary came to India in December 1973. A meeting of Joint Commission of the two countries was held in New Delhi in July 1974 and continued in Tehran in February 1974. 28 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Sardar Swaran Singh paid an official visit to Iran in Apr-May 1974 29 during which discussions were held on matters of international significance, mutual interest and bilateral cooperation. In 1975, also, there were a number of visits. The Minister for External Affairs visited Iran in November 1975 to attend the fifth meeting of the Indo-Iran Joint Commission for trade, economic and technical collaboration. A significant outcome of this visit was the finalisation of the $630 million agreement for the exploitation of Kudremukh iron ore project, which was the landmark in the development of Indo-Iran relations. 30 For the rest of the 1970s, these visits from both sides continued. Other important visits included Prime Minister Morarji Desai's visit to Iran in June 1977 and from Iran, the Shah and Shahbano's visit to India in February 1978. These high level visits concentrated on matters of common interests and multifaceted economic cooperation. There was also close similarity of views on major international issues such as disarmament, the West Asian problem and the maintenance of the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace. 31

The overthrow of the Shah and the emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini were viewed as positive developments. India viewed the revolution in Iran as a reflection of Iran's quest for identity and national self-assertion and a desire to charter an independent course without Big Power influence. 32 An unofficial goodwill delegation led by Sri Ashok Mehta, visited Iran in 1979 and established contacts with the new Iranian leader who reciprocated the good wishes from India.

For quite some time after the Islamic revolution in Iran, India's interaction with Iran remained minimal. The 1980s showed a downward trend in visits from both the countries. The overall relations were described as smooth, but Iran's preoccupation with Iraq in the Iran Iraq war and the new regime's penchant to take up Islamic causes; its stand on the Kashmir issue, and Indian Muslims led to strains in Indo-Iranian ties. India's response to Iran's attitude was muted because of a number of factors, including the importance New Delhi attached to economic ties, acknowledgement of Iran's role in the Gulf, Central Asia, Afghanistan and also due to the conviction that realists ruling Iran wanted to do business and maintain good state to state ties with India. 33

The Post-Cold War Situation : The end of the Cold War and emergence of Pan- Americana in the West Asian region and common security threat perceptions brought India and Iran closer. Iran remained hostile to the US and its allies and unreconciled to the current international order. Two wars in the Persian Gulf consolidated US ties with the Arab states and increased the US military presence there. This diluted Iran's inherent regional influence and increased the cost of hostility towards the US during the post-Cold War strategic environment. Iran was also facing economic problems. The strategic benefits of the disintegration of the threatening USSR had been offset for Iran by disorder on its northern frontier. The states of Iran's new north were politically unstable and at odds with their neighbours. Besides the possibility of getting entangled in their disputes with each other, Iran was concerned about ethnic conflicts, which could spill over into its own territory and pit its minorities against each other. Iranian interests demanded a stabilised Central Asia. Russia was important to Iran as a source of technology and arms. Relations with the Gulf were also central to Iranian interests. 34 It was because of these changed dynamics in the region that Iran wanted to promote regional ties and consolidate its relations with the countries of the region.

The post-Cold War situation had repercussions on India also. From the diplomatic trends in India, it appeared that the main focus of its diplomacy would be more on economic and political matters. India's main security dilemmas arise from international pressures and regional rivalries. 35

The common political and security concerns led to the convergence of interests between India and Iran, the main areas being—Energy, Afghanistan, Central Asia and business contacts.

Energy: Iran, which is an important energy source for the world was keen to find export markets. India which has now emerged as one of the world's biggest consumers and importers of petroleum products was best positioned to receive this natural largesse. India and Iran have three broad options for transporting gas from Iran to India. The first, the cheapest and easiest is to build an overland pipeline between India and Iran via Pakistan. Iran has been seeking Indian cooperation in building an overland pipeline; second, is the shallow water pipeline running along the continental shelf of Pakistan. And the third, to lay pipelines on the sea bed from the Persian Gulf to the western coast of India; and/or build an overland pipeline between India and Iran via Pakistan. There is a fourth option, which is already in place—LNG. This is currently in operation. But while the LNG option sounds safer, the expenses are considerable. 36

Both the countries are currently engaged in negotiating an Iranian project for a gas pipeline to India. It is the security problem of running a pipeline through Pakistan that is dogging the Indian decision-makers. The idea of an energy pipeline passing through Pakistan being held hostage to terrorists, is frightening to strategists here. But others say the pipeline could be used to tie Pakistan to international guarantees. 37

During his Iran visit Jaswant Singh had turned down the offer to include Pakistan in the project. "It s a bilateral agreement between India and Iran. The assumption that it is a trilateral agreement (involving Pakistan) by Iran is an over simplification... there is no way we can agree to it unless the fundamentals are addressed." 38 The setting up of the Indo-Iranian Joint Working Group (JWG) was a part of Jaswant Singh's energy diplomacy. This group would study the political and technical hurdles in the way of transporting gas to India.

Afghanistan: The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in recent years has drawn India and Iran closer in their assessment of the new threats to regional security. If Iran is worried by Kabul's role in drug trafficking and its harsh treatment of the Shia minority, India has made no secret of the Pakistan—Afghanistan nexus in the so called Kashmir Jehad. Neither India nor Iran recognised the administration of the Taliban fundamentalist Islamic militia, which swept Afghanistan in 1996 and ousted the government of then President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Both the countries are backing the moderate forces represented by the government-in-exile of President Rabbani and favoured a peaceful settlement through the establishment of a broad based government with the representation of all ethnic groups in Afghanistan. 39

Central Asia: Iran's concern towards the region has been for security reasons as well as for economic interaction. Iran could provide the Central Asian countries necessary infrastructure support in promoting their external trade. Iran is not interested in destabilising the Central Asian Republics by promoting any kind of fundamentalist ideology and wants a stabilised and consolidated Central Asia. 40

The region of Central Asia has been a captive market for Indian products. A significant share of Indian goods exported to the Soviet Union were used in the Central Asian Republics. Iran is India's best gateway to Central Asia. Additionally India could play an important role in developing the technical infrastructure of these countries. 41

Business: Iran recognised India's importance as a supplier of low cost technological inputs. The Iranian compulsion behind wooing the EU powers as a riposte to the United States is something that India appreciates. 42 Both India and Iran agreed to substantially increase cooperation in a number of areas including surface transport, shipping, railway system and setting up new power plants.

Iran has asked for India's support to join the World Trade Organisation. Iran has even asked for India's help for membership to G-17 and the G-77. During Vice-President Krishan Kant's visit to Cairo in mid-June to participate in the G-15 summit, India was actively instrumental in supporting Iran's admission to G-15. 43

As the interests of India and Iran coincide, the two are making concious efforts to improve ties by keeping up high level contacts. In the later half of 1991, India negotiated for the sale of a 10 mega-watt nuclear reactor to Iran. Despite sharp reactions from the United States which threatened to torpedo the transfer of American high tech to India, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao said India would not be browbeaten by anyone on the issue of supplying a nuclear reactor to Iran. 44

The destruction of the Babri Masjid in India only temporarily affected the relations. Though Iran reacted very harshly to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in India, 45 it did not affect the relations for long. The leader of the Iranian delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference, Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari, though urging India to reconstruct the Babri Masjid, evaded with diplomatic ease the question on the impact of the Ayodhya events on relations between India and Iran. "The demolition was not an act by the Indian government . And now the Government has promised to reconstruct the Mosque, we hope that they will keep their promise ..." 46 Prime Minister Narasimha Rao visited Iran in 1993 where he told Ayatollah Khomeini that the destruction of the Babri Masjid was an isolated incident and did not impinge on India's secular character. He assured him that the Indian Muslims were very much a part of the national mainstream and decision-making process in India. 47 During his visit, the most important item on the agenda was the gas pipeline project. Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani too made it clear that he had no intentions of interfering in the Kashmir issue. 48 These gestures were enough to suggest that both the countries did not want to hinder their relations because of the Babri Masjid issue.

The desire to improve ties was evident from the high level contacts. The Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati came to India for the sixth session of Indo-Iranian Joint Commission in November 1992. 49 During Rao's visit to Iran in September 1993, there were wide ranging discussions with the Iranian leadership on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual concern. This was the first prime ministerial visit from India to Iran after the Islamic revolution of 1979 and was characterised by President Rafsanjani of Iran as a turning point in bilateral relations. A joint communique was issued and two Memorandums of Understanding, on cooperation in science and technology and in surface transport and transit facilities were concluded. 50

Indian External Affairs Minister Dinesh Singh officially visited Iran in March 1994, and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati visited New Delhi in January 1995. 51

President Rafsanjani of Iran visited India in April 1995 and a wide range of discussions took place. 52 During his visit, he emphasised the need for strategic cooperation to ward off outside interference and domination in the South Asian and Gulf region. He also underlined the significance of cooperation among Iran, Pakistan, India and China, to forestall any pretext by foreign forces to interfere in the region.

Velayati visited India in January 1996 for bilateral discussions on various political and economic issues. 53 Indian Vice-President K R Narayanan visited Iran in October 1996 and Iranian Majlis speaker Nateq Nouri visited India in November 1996. During this visit, an agreement on the formation of a Joint Business Council (JBC) was signed. 54

The election of Mohammad Khatami as President in 1997 and the appointment of Kamal Kharrazi as Iran's new foreign minister and the favourable statements to expand cooperation on the basis of mutual respect augur well for future Indo-Iranian ties.

As part of India's new diplomatic thrust in the Islamic world, the External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh visited Iran in May 2000. The formal reason for his trip was to attend the 11th meeting of the Indo-Iranian Joint Commission that dealt with bilateral cooperation on a range of issues, 55 which covered agriculture, science and technology, industry, communications and transport, energy and trade. Singh's objective would be to go beyond the routine diplomatic chores to the Joint Commission—to lift the Indo-Iranian relations to a higher strategic plane. His overtures to the Islamic world in general and Iran in particular are part of India's national security strategy.

During his visit to Iran, the stage was set for a sustained economic strategic relationship in energy and security. Both the countries looked forward to mutually beneficial areas in economics and politics. Regular foreign office consultations were set in motion . The substance of political relationship centred on cooperation regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan.

While Khatami told Jaswant Singh that greater interaction between the two countries was important for regional stability, Singh said that India and Iran were natural partners. As India and Iran explore the prospects for a new partnership, defence cooperation is also coming into view. Indian officials here did not respond to a direct question on whether the two sides were looking at enhanced bilateral military engagement. Military diplomacy is now a common feature among major nations and if the two nations agree, it could begin with modest steps. 56


The Indo-Iranian equation is a significant evolving factor affecting regional politics in South and West Asia. During the earlier period, India could not do away with Pakistan's friendship with Iran because of its tie up with the latter in the Cold War through the Baghdad Pact (later renamed CENTO). Friendship with both India and Pakistan was the need of Iran. Thus during the Indo-Pakistan conflict, Iran could manage to support Pakistan without sacrificing the goodwill of the government of India. According to one argument, Iran's diplomacy during the Indo-Chinese war in 1962 and Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, was aimed at preventing a China- Pakistan alliance. Such an axis could pose a threat to the peace and security of Asia. The Shah of Iran justified his support to Pakistan on the ground that if Iran did not help Pakistan, the latter would certainly go to China. Iran did not want the dismemberment of Pakistan which could affect its security. 57

The relations between India and Iran experienced a setback with the advent of the Islamic Revolutionary regime. Though the government of India welcomed the changes in Iran, later developments suggested that Iran showed a definite bias in favour of Pakistan in its policy towards India and Pakistan. One possible explanation could be the convergence of interests between Pakistan and Iran in Afghanistan after the Soviet entry and the installation of a pro-Communist regime. Three factors led to the convergence of their interests—ideological affinity between Iran and Pakistan, Iranian importance to Pakistan for security reasons specially on the western flank, Pakistan's perception about itself as a bridge between Iran and the US. Hence Pakistan was likely to figure more prominently in Iranian foreign policy as compared to India. A cooperative relationship between India, Iran and Pakistan could be mutually beneficial. 58

After the revolution, Iran has been projecting Islamic identity, but a closer scrutiny would reveal that its foreign policy makers were cautious in not mixing up religion and national interest. On the contrary Iran has been successful in making a subtle distinction between its commitment to Islam and promotion of its national interests.

Leaving aside Indo-Iranian cultural, religious and political relations going back two millennia, international developments since 1991 have generated new trends in Indo-Iranian cooperation. The attempt of the United States to isolate Iran, Iran's complex relations with the ruling power structures in the Gulf, the dilution of the assertive religious fervour of Iran after the revered Khomeini's demise, and the emergence of Central Asian Republics have created new politico-strategic circumstances leading to a convergence of interests between India and Iran, which in turn has resulted in more frequent and closer interaction between the two countries. Iran needed friends as well as cooperation with other countries to break out of its isolation. India can play an important role in helping Iran to join the mainstream of world polity. India needed influential friends in the Islamic world to temper Pakistani hostilities and to preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the context of Pakistani claims on Kashmir. Both the countries realised that Indo-Iranian relations were not determined only by the issue of Islam and Kashmir and that they extend much farther The mutual desire for friendship and cooperation lessened the misunderstandings that had developed between the two countries in the wake of the destruction of the Babri Masjid and turmoil in Kashmir. Both the countries can now look forward to a more stable relationship.



Note 1: Abdul Amir Jorfi, "India and Iran : Two Asian Powers", Strategic Analysis, vol. 43, no. 2, May 1995, p. 257. Back.

Note 2: A.H.H. Abidi, "Relations between India and Iran: 1947-1979", in A. K. Pasha, India , Iran and the GCC States, (New Delhi: Manas Publications, 2000), p.239. Back.

Note 3: During the 19th century and the first half of the twentieth century, developments in Iran were central to the course of relations between Russia and the British empire. In times of external threat to both Great Britain and Russia, Iran became a field of British Russian cooperation, producing far reaching global repercussions. The Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in August 1941 contributed to the allied war effort during World War II , while the struggle over Soviet presence in North Iran, during 1946 was one of the earliest actions in the Cold War. Back.

Note 4: Roy R. Anderson, Roberty F. Seibert and John G. Wagner, Politics and Change in the Middle East: Sources of Conflict and Accommodation, (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990.), p.252. The period of stress and disorder from 1951 to 1953, engendered by Premier Mossadegh's attempts to nationalise British oil holdings, is an example of the domestic opposition to the Shah's foreign policy. Back.

Note 5: Jawaharlal Nehru, India's Foreign Policy: Selected Speeches, September 1946- April 1961, (New Delhi: Publications Division, 1961), pp. 24-25. Back.

Note 6: Prithvi Ram Mudiam, "India and the Middle East", (London: British Academic Press), pp. 71-72. Back.

Note 7: Though Shi'ite Islam was declared the state religion in Iran, the Shah was not a religious man in any sense of the term. Under the Shah, the emphasis in Iran was on pre-Islamic Aryan civilization. His title 'Aryamehr' meant the 'Light of the Aryans'. In 1971, the Shah celebrated the 25th centenary of the founding of the Persian empire by Cyrus the Great, emphasising Iranian ethos and heritage. Back.

Note 8: Farah Naaz, "Indo-Israel Relations: An Evolutionary Perspective," Strategic Analysis, vol. 23, no. 2, May 1999. pp. 247-248. Back.

Note 9: Abidi, n. 2, pp. 240-241. Back.

Note 10: Jawaharlal Nehru, Letter to the Chief Minister, July 7, 1951, in, G. Parthasarthy, ed., Jawaharlal Nehru, Letters to the Chief Minister 1947-1964, vol. II, 1950-52, (London: OUP, 1986) p. 438. Back.

Note 11: From speech in Lok Sabha, March 29, 1956, in Jawaharlal Nehru, India's Foreign Policy: Selected Speeches, September 1946- April 1961, (New Delhi: Publications Division, 1961), p. 94. Back.

Note 12: Mudiam, n.6, p 71. Back.

Note 13: Jorfi, n. 1, p.261. Back.

Note 14: Mudiam, n. 6, pp 74-75. Back.

Note 15: Abbas Amirie and Hamilton A. Twitchell, ed., "Iran in the 1980s", (Tehran: Institute for International Political and Economic Studies, 1978), p.337. Back.

Note 16: Ibid., p. 363; Back.

Note 17: S.M. Burke and Lawrence Ziring, Pakistan's Foreign Policy (Karachi: OUP, 1990), p. 305. Back.

Note 18: Jorfi, n. 1, pp.263-269. Back.

Note 19: Mudiam, n. 6, p 73. Back.

Note 20: Indian Express, November, 20, 1975; The Times of India, December 4, 1975. Back.

Note 21: To the Arabs, Pakistan in effect had broken ranks in the paramount struggle against Israel and its supporters. Back.

Note 22: M.G. Weinbaum and Gautam Sen,"Pakistan Enters the Middle East",ORBIS, vol.22, no. 3, Fall 1978. p. 598. Back.

Note 23: Ibid., p. 299. Back.

Note 24: Naaz, n. 8, pp. 243-244. Back.

Note 25: Mudiam, p. 79. Back.

Note 26: The Hindustan Times, October, 4, 1974. Back.

Note 27: Motherland, October 1, 1974. Back.

Note 28: Report 1972-73, Ministry of External Affairs,(MEA) Government of India, (New Delhi, 1973) p. 47. Back.

Note 29: Report, 1974-75, MEA, Government of India, (New Delhi, 1973), p. 45. Back.

Note 30: Report, 1975-76, MEA , Government of India (New Delhi, 1976), pp. 37-38. Back.

Note 31: Report, 1977-78, MEA, Government of India, (New Delhi, 1978), p. 12. Back.

Note 32: Report, 1979-80, MEA, Government of India (New Delhi, 1980), p. 22. Back.

Note 33: A.K.Pasha, "India, Iran and the GCC States: Common Political and Strategic Concerns", in A.K.Pasha, India, Iran and the GCC States: Political Strategy and Foreign Policy, (New Delhi: Manas Publications, 2000), pp 227-228. Back.

Note 34: Shahram Chubin, Iran's National Security Policy (Washington: the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, 1994) pp. 1-7. Back.

Note 35: VP Dutt India's Foreign Policy in the Changing World, (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House 1999) p. 357. Back.

Note 36: The Economic Times, July 12, 2000. Back.

Note 37: The Economic Times, May 17, 2000; The Economic Times, May 22, 2000 . Back.

Note 38: The Telegraph, July 20, 2000. Back.

Note 39: The Times of India, May 18, 2000) <www. Afgha. Com/EN/News/afp2007002 html> Back.

Note 40: S.M.K. Sajadpour , "India, Iran and Central Asia", in "Indo-Iranian Relations in the 1990s", Seminar Report, (Gulf Studies Programme, SIS, Jawahar Lal Nehru University), p 13; Shamsuddin: "Central Asia : A Factor in Indo-Iranian Relations", in ibid., p 14. Back.

Note 41: Ibid. Back.

Note 42: The Hindustan Times, May 23, 2000; As soon as the Iran Iraq war ended, the Islamic regime decided to adopt a pro European policy which took effect in 1989. Though many developments disturbed Iran-EU relations, Europe remained Iran's principal foreign policy orientation. Back.

Note 43: The Economic Times, May 24, 2000; Indian Express, June 29, 2000. Back.

Note 44: Muslim, (Hydrabad), November 17, 1999; Patriot, November 20, 1991; The Hindustan Times, January 16, 1992. Back.

Note 45: The Frontier Post (Peshawar) December 13, 1992; The News (Lahore) January 11, 1993. Back.

Note 46: Indian Express, April 16, 1993. Back.

Note 47: Pasha, n. 33, p. 228. Back.

Note 48: The Times of India, September 21 , 1993. Back.

Note 49: Annual Report 1992-93, MEA, Government of India, (New Delhi, 1993),p. 56. Back.

Note 50: Annual Report, 1993-94, MEA, Government of India, (New Delhi, 1994), p. 35. Back.

Note 51: Annual Report 1994-95, MEA, Government of India, (New Delhi, 1995), p. 40. Back.

Note 52: Annual Report, 1995-96, MEA, Government of India, (New Delhi, 1996), p. 44. Back.

Note 53: Ibid., pp. 44-45. Back.

Note 54: Annual Report, 1996-97, MEA, Government of India, (New Delhi, 1997), pp.42- Back.

Note 55: The Hindu, May 18, 2000. Back.

Note 56: The Hindu, May 23, 2000. Back.

Note 57: Jorfi, n. 1, p. 269. Back.

Note 58: Kalim Bahadur, "Pakistan—a Factor in Indo Iranian Relations", n. 40, p. 15. Back.