From the CIAO Atlas Map of Middle East 

Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

May 2001 (Vol. XXV No. 2)


Indo-Iranian Relations: Vital Factors in the 1990s
By Farah Naaz *



The end of the Cold War and the consequent emergence of "Pan-Americana" in the West Asian region as well as the security threat perceptions of India and Iran brought them closer. India and Iran shared some correspondence in their perception and pursuit of security. Both sought a certain degree of autonomy in the conduct of their international relations. This trait was characterised by a certain degree of tension in their interface with the post-Cold War world, dominated by the US. These considerations of India and Iran led to the convergence of their interests. The vital factors that governed their relations during the 1990s were: energy, where both the countries are looking for a long-term partnership; Afghanistan, where both favour a peaceful settlement through the establishment of a broad-based government with the representation of all ethnic groups in Afghanistan; and Central Asia, where both the countries are concerned for security reasons as well as for economic interaction.

Both shared the view that the wider dimensions of Indo-Iran relations were more important than the fundamental difference of views on Kashmir and emphasised on consolidating relations with each other.

The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union signified the collapse of the world order which was in existence since World War II and heralded a new era characterised by the unipolar world. The Gulf War undoubtedly transformed the world scene. It marginalised the erstwhile Soviet Union and confirmed that the US alone had the requisite military and economic power to operate on a global scale. There were attempts to impose a preconceived order on the countries in the South, a temptation to reorder the affairs of all regions outside Europe. The new military doctrine of the US assumed that the major threat would come not from Russia, but from the Third World. 1

Under the altered circumstances, the world faced a new situation and so did India. Hence, India had to evolve suitable responses. The regional situation, the threats to India's security, the nuclearisation around India's borders, the state sponsored terrorism from across the frontiers-all these factors continued to engage India's concerns and prompted India's vigil, compelling it to function in accordance with these realities. Besides this, the economic imperative was no less than the security imperative. In the new international era, without economic development India would find itself marginalised and hence had to keep in view its external economic relations. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao himself acknowledged that changes in the international situation had come with bewildering rapidity and that the government stood ready to reorient policy in alignment with the changed situation. The leitmotif of India's foreign policy was to structure a regional and international order based on harmony and a willingness to strive for peace and readiness to converge on basic issues and needs of mankind. The overriding priorities were: preventing any threat to India's unity and territorial integrity, ensuring geopolitical security by creating a durable environment of stability and peace in the region, creating a framework conducive to the economic well-being of the people by encouraging a healthy external economic environment and trying to restore internationally, the centrality and criticality of development in the evolution of political and economic policies all over the world. 2 Narasimha Rao's visits to Central Asia, Iran, Oman and other places were steps in this direction.

Thus, the first task of foreign policy was to take measures to alleviate the economic crunch. India needed immediate access to substantial amounts of foreign exchange to tide over the crisis and this assistance was available on less than forbidding terms only from the international financial institutions like the World Bank with their large American presence.

Although there was vast improvement in Indo-American ties, there were some abrasive issues that remained. The US kept pressurising India to either sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), or a South Asian declaration of nuclear renunciation, criticised the perceived abuse of human rights by Indian security forces in Kashmir, kept up its pressure on India to open completely its markets, its insurance and banking, and on patents and intellectual property rights. Washington also increased pressure on India to control its nuclear capabilities. It warned Russia against the supply of cryogenic engines and their technology to India on pain of US sanctions.

Thus, the main security concerns of India during the post-Cold War period arose from regional rivalries and international pressures. The main focus of its diplomacy was more on economic and political matters, which gave India enough reason to expand relations with the Islamic world. The limitation of the US domination of the Persian Gulf would be of considerable strategic advantage to India as this would make the region less susceptible to superpower pressures.

Viewed from Iran, the new international environment was a hostile one. The US emerged as a primary actor pursuing its interests unopposed. Iran's loss of strategic leverage was compounded by its economic weakness and poor relations with the US. From Iran's perspective the situation in the south was not much better. Two wars in the Persian Gulf had consolidated US ties with the Arab states and increased the US military presence there, which consequently diluted Tehran's inherent regional influence. The US remained a hostile adversary seeking to undo the Iranian regime and contain its Islamic revolutionary message. Iran saw the US behind efforts in the north and south to encircle it militarily. US Secretary of State James Baker on his first visit to Central Asia in February 1992, admitted that a prime motivation behind US policy there was a need to counter Iran. In May 1993, the US articulated a "dual containment" policy that appeared to equate Iran with Iraq and threatened to impede Iran's economic development. 3 Encirclement of Iran in the north and south, economic and technological strangulation and the tightening of US controls on trade created considerable difficulties for Iran.

Moreover, the states to the north of Iran were politically unstable, 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 territory and pit its minorities against each other. Iran's relations with Russia and the Persian Gulf states were also central to Iranian interests. 4 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 end of the Cold War and the consequent emergence of "Pan-Americana" in the West Asian region and the security threat perceptions of India and Iran brought them closer. India and Iran shared some correspondence in their perception and pursuit of security and both sought a certain degree of autonomy in the conduct of their international relations. This trait was characterised by a certain degree of tension in their interface with the post-Cold War world, dominated by the US. Both countries were trying to grapple with the inequities in their own manner and realised that they had little choice, but to relate to these international trends in the most prudent manner. 5 The considerations of India and Iran led to the convergence of their interests. The vital factors that governed their relations during the 1990s were dominated by three issues-energy, Afghanistan and Central Asia.


Iran holds the largest gas reserves after Russia and is a large reservoir of oil. It is, therefore, 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. As India has to ensure its energy security, it is looking for long-term partnerships and it is because of this that energy cooperation is top on the agenda between India and Iran. India's interest has been whetted with the recent discovery of Iran's largest known gas field, Tabnak, with estimated reserves of more than 400 billion cubic metres. 6

Both the countries 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 (from Iran's Abousaliyeh facilities to Gujarat, through the deserts of Baluchistan). 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 India. According to the Law of the Sea, pipelines on the edge of the continental shelf only require delineation permission from Pakistan. The third option is to lay pipelines on the sea bed from the Straits of Hormuz to the Arabian Sea. This is the most expensive option. There is a fourth option, which is already in place-transporting the liquified natural gas (LNG) by tankers. This is currently in operation. But while the LNG option sounds safer, the expenses are considerable. Going by 1999 prices, it is in the range of $2 billion for a liquefaction unit, $200 million for an LNG tanker and $500 million for a re-gassification facility, plus inland pipelines. 7

Both countries are currently engaged in negotiating an Iranian project for a gas pipeline to India. It was in 1993 that they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the pipeline project. 8 The project was first made public during the Benazir Bhutto government which had strongly opposed the idea of allowing the gas pipeline to India using Pakistani territory. Successive Pakistani governments since then have been opposed to the project 9 mainly because it would benefit its archrival India, which was likely thereby to meet the shortage of gas for domestic and industrial usage. Pakistan refused to allow a feasibility study to be conducted in 1995 in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The $5 billion gas pipeline project had been lingering on for the past several years initially because of Pakistan's inability to take a firm political decision to allow the pipeline to India through its territory. Tehran, however, believed that an overland pipeline would also provide a viable means to transport the natural gas resources of Central Asia to the subcontinent through an interconnected grid of pipelines through Iran. 10

Soon after the military takeover, Pakistan conveyed to the Iranian government its consent to extend the pipeline onwards to India. According to Pakistan's Petroleum Secretary Abdullah Yousaf, the proposal was revived again in December 1999. 11 Federal Minister Usman Aminuddin had pledged to review the stance of the previous government in the best national interests. He stated that the government could earn $500 to 700 million just by offering transit facility for Iranian gas to India and some other neighbouring countries from multinational gas pipeline projects. The announcement to support the pipeline project came at the conclusion of the technical level talks between Pakistani and Iranian Petroleum Ministry officials when detailed discussions were held on the gas pipeline from Iran to India which was to be routed on land through Pakistan. The Pakistani delegation assured the Iranians of its full support to the pipeline going across Pakistani territory to India. 12

For India, running a pipeline through Pakistan has its own security considerations. The Indian policy makers were deeply concerned, apprehending that Pakistan might cut off the supplies during any military or diplomatic tension between the two countries. But then there are others who say that the pipeline could be used to tie Pakistan to international guarantees. 13

As part of the diplomatic thrust, Indian 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. 14 Although India was hesitant about the entire gas pipeline question, it was a strong undercurrent to Jaswant Singh's visit. Jaswant Singh had turned down the offer to include Pakistan in the project. He said, "It is 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." 15

The setting up of the Indo-Iranian Joint Working Group (JWG) was a part of Jaswant Singh's energy diplomacy aimed at leveraging India's huge dependence on imported petroleum products to transform relations with the oil rich nations. The JWG was to be headed by the respective foreign ministers and its mandate would be to explore all aspects of energy supplies to India. This included the onshore, offshore and LNG options to move natural gas from Iran to India. As the Pakistan factor is at the heart of many difficulties, the JWG would study the political and technical hurdles in the way of transporting gas to India. 16 It could also accelerate long pending decisions on mega projects that could lead to enduring economic and political bonds between India and her petroleum rich neighbour.

When Pakistan gave a green signal to the project, India as a result of increased hostility in the post-Kargil scenario, became reluctant to carry its supplies through Pakistan fearing that these could be stopped in case of any emergency. Finally, Iran told India that its proposal for laying a deep sea pipeline for the transportation of Iranian gas to India was unviable technically and commercially and the only viable option was an overland route through Pakistan. As a result, the Indian government asked the Iranian government to ensure the commitment of Pakistan to the project. This assurance came from General Pervez Musharraf who assured the Iranian government that Pakistan would guarantee the security for the gas pipeline and its smooth running through Pakistan. In a letter from the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources Usman Aminuddin, to his Iranian counterpart, it was assured that "Pakistan was prepared to address all concerns of the Indian government in this regard and extend all guarantees they required". 17 Also, while addressing the first ever Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) energy conference in Pakistan in November 2000, President Mohammad Rafiq Tarrar repeated Pakistan's commitment of allowing uninterrupted gas supply to neighbouring India through a pipeline from Iran. 18

According to recent reports, the India-Iran gas pipeline is to be revived soon as all the three parties i.e. Iran, India and Pakistan have at last agreed to form a multinational consortium to implement the $3 billion pipeline project which would carry Iranian gas to India's northern states via Pakistan. 19 The plan outlined by Tehran envisaged a foreign consortium being the link between the two countries-buying gas from Tehran and selling it to India for a period of 30 years. The foreign consortium would also accept any responsibility for the possible disruption of the supplies by the transit state (Pakistan).

Jaswant Singh expressed his happiness at the laying of the India-Iran gas pipeline and told the visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs, Mohammed Hossein Adeli, in New Delhi on November 24, 2000, "Regarding India's dire and increasing need for natural gas and Iran's rich gas resources we appreciate laying of the India-Iran gas pipeline. . . I do not waver in my support for the expansion of relations with Iran and to this end I will spare no efforts." 20 Adeli's response was well in tune with the Indian mood, "This is not a political project. It is one based on commercial merits. The main parties here are Iran and India and no third party." 21

As New Delhi demanded sovereign guarantees from the Iranian government, Iran also agreed to furnish state to state guarantees in favour of Pakistan. According to the new proposal, the Iranian government will give an undertaking to the Indian government that if Pakistan at any point of time cuts off gas supplies to India, Tehran will supply an equal amount of LNG to India at the same price. Iran has also assured the Indian government that it will immediately cut off gas supplies to Pakistan if Islamabad cuts off gas to India. The two assurances are not only very strong, but have been made after obtaining necessary documentary consent from Pakistan. 22 The officials in Pakistan too furnished an undertaking to the Iranian government that Pakistan would always honour its international commitments irrespective of political or security conditions of the region. The chief executive of Pakistan, during his visit to Iran, told the Iranian leadership that the historical Pakistan-Iran relations were more precious than unpredictable cross-border relations with India and that Pakistan could not afford to lose a friend like Iran by sabotaging the gas pipeline project for petty political or diplomatic interests. 23


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. Both the countries view the growth of the fundamentalist Taliban as a threat to the entire region. Iran is worried by Kabul's role in drug trafficking and its harsh treatment of the Shia minority. The Taliban offensive in Afghanistan has also generated legitimate apprehensions in Iran as it can affect Iranian interests in Central Asia. Iran's media, in the past, has also accused Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the US of raising this armed Islamist force to encircle Iran. 24 India, too, has made no secret of the Pakistan-Afghanistan nexus in the so-called Kashmir militancy. 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 countries are backing the moderate forces represented by the government-in-exile of President Rabbani and favour a peaceful settlement through the establishment of a broad-based government with the representation of all ethnic groups in Afghanistan. 25

In a major diplomatic initiative, Iran convened a conference of the "Friends of Afghanistan" on October 28 and 29, 1996, to help resolve the crisis. India was also invited to the first regional Asian move of its type. According to Velayati, the proposed conference was intended to be guided by three general principles-non- interference of foreign powers in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, the invalidity of a military solution and the desirability of a broad-based government in Kabul. 26 Pakistan wanted the Afghanistan initiative to be confined to itself and Iran. Iran however, did not go by Pakistan's view.

Afghanistan was among the many issues of mutual interest that Jaswant Singh discussed with his Iranian counterpart during his visit to Iran in May 2000. President Khatami said that greater interaction between the two countries was important for regional stability. Jaswant Singh replied that India and Iran were natural partners. 27 The emerging relationship is of considerable significance.

Recently, Iran's relations with Afghanistan have shown signs of improvement. An agreement was reached between Iran and Afghanistan in 1999 to reopen their official border at Doghuran-Islam Qala for trade purposes. In that agreement, Iran had placed no conditions while agreeing to reopen its border with Afghanistan. 28

Relations between Iran and the Taliban improved further following Tehran's decision to send a two-member delegation to Afghanistan to ameliorate the situation. 29 The frequent tours by the Iranian officials were welcomed by the Taliban and the Afghans living inside as well as outside Afghanistan. This also suggested that Iran could influence the Taliban militia to an extent. It is to be recalled that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi recently issued a statement that his country was interested in initiating a dialogue with all the Afghan factions aimed at restoring peace in Afghanistan. 30 Iran and the Taliban also signed a cooperation accord to monitor the joint border for preventing drug trafficking in the Iranian city of Mashad. According to Afghan sources, the visit took place at the initiation of Iran. 31 Iran, however, ruled out establishing diplomatic ties with the Taliban and clarified that Iran was following up talks with the Taliban as an Afghan group, on topics such as checking smuggling of narcotic drugs, Afghan refugees and border security. 32

Iran and Pakistan agreed to make joint efforts for peace in Afghanistan. In the latest developments, Pakistan has taken the initiative to mend fences with Iran and remove any misgivings and misunderstanding between the two 'brotherly' countries. Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed's visit to Tehran as the special envoy of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was principally aimed to achieve this objective. The talks mainly focussed on the Afghanistan issue and both countries agreed to work together for the restoration of durable peace and stability in the war-torn country. A statement issued at the end of Shamshad's visit said that both countries agreed to support the formation of a broad-based multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan. The Iranian side also repeated its traditional support for the Kashmir cause and called for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the United Nations (UN) resolutions. 33

This, however, does not suggest that there are no differences between Iran and Pakistan. First of all, Pakistan has recognised the Taliban administration. Iran, however, still recognises the Rabbani regime which controls northern Afghanistan. During Shamshad Ahmed's visit to Tehran, the Iranian hosts singled out terrorist activities as the major irritant in Pakistan-Iran relations and asked Islamabad to take practical steps to bring to justice those involved in the killing of several Iranian diplomats and others. The sectarian violence in Pakistan has specially been viewed with concern by Tehran. 34 Meanwhile, it is not easy to bridge the divergent positions taken by the two countries on Afghanistan. Apparently, both countries have the common goal of negotiated settlement and a broad-based government in Afghanistan, but their linkages with rival Afghan forces make them see the problem from entirely different perspectives.

Reportedly, Pakistan after going through a series of meetings with the regional countries and the Western capitals, has decided to launch a fresh diplomatic offensive for the establishment of a broad-based government in Afghanistan. This virtually amounts to reviewing the country's Afghan policy. Pakistan has established links with the Rabbani and Masood forces. A number of meetings have been held secretly between Pakistani officials and Afghan leaders in which Pakistan has showed willingness to initiate the process of setting up of a broad-based government. Pakistan has already started discussions with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan over the question of lasting peace in Afghanistan. 35 The current round of talks with regional countries shows that it is still Pakistan which holds the key to Afghan peace.

Recently, the Taliban's diplomatic mission issued a statement in Islamabad urging the Islamic Republic of Iran to reciprocate its goodwill gesture for resolving the Afghan tangle. In response, the editorial in Tehran Times, on October 28, 2000, observed, "If the ruling militia are really sincere about the statement they issued in Islamabad, they should invite all the ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan to the negotiating table and prepare the ground for the formation of a broad-based government in that country." 36 Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said "that the issue of Afghanistan can only be resolved through negotiations aimed at forming a broad-based government in which all Afghan ethnic and religious groups may participate." 37

Hectic activities are going on at the regional and international levels to decide about the future of Afghanistan to put an end to the perplexing labyrinthine situation in the country. The US is seemingly playing a key role in these activities with some of the regional countries. 38 Iran being an important regional country has a very good chance of playing a crucial role in the future of Afghanistan.

Threatened by the forces of destabilisation radiating out of Afghanistan, India and Iran have a common objective in limiting the domination of the Taliban and in ensuring that peace and stability return to the war-torn nation. Both want to contribute to international efforts aimed at establishing a government in Kabul that fully represents the ethnic and cultural diversity of Afghanistan.

Central Asia

The emergence of new independent entities in Central Asia has wide implications for the whole of Asia. The region's centrality is now being restored with its gates opening up in all directions.

The collapse of the Soviet state and the emergence of fragile independent states along Iran's 1,600 mile frontier east and west of the Caspian Sea theoretically reversed the power polarity. Iran was arguably stronger and more stable than its new neighbours and was no longer vulnerable to conventional threats from that direction. Still, Iran was not entirely comfortable with the sudden reversal of fortunes.

Tehran acted on the assumption that its national security interests and its aspirations for long-term influence in Northwest Asia could best be served by contributing to regional stability and a network of bilateral and multilateral ties. Iran had been particularly sensitive to outbreaks of ethnic conflict on or near its northern frontiers. The Iranian policy makers took into consideration the ethnic minorities within their own borders. The dominant thrust of Iranian policy towards the new states of Northwest Asia had been directed towards the creation of economic and infrastructural relationships. By late 1991, Iran had begun to reach out to these emerging republics, signing a series of MOUs for bilateral cooperation in a number of fields. 39

The direction of Iranian policy had been firmly established. Iran's pursuit of concrete links with these republics was pivoted on its relationship with Turkmenistan, Iran's gateway to Central Asia. It was expected that growing transport and communication links with Turkmenistan would give it greater access to the republics with which it enjoyed no direct land border. Regimes as far away as Kazakhstan have shown interest in Iran as an alternative route for their exports to the rest of the world as they seek to develop their independent economic relationships.

A key element of Tehran's overall strategy has been to strengthen regional economic cooperation through the existing ECO. Iran was instrumental in expanding the ECO in 1992, to include Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. 40 The clear objective of such multilateral measures is not only to bolster Iran's relations with the governments and economies of Northwest Asia, but to establish Iran as the lynchpin, geographically and organisationally.

The most striking feature of Iranian policy since the Soviet collapse was the relative absence of efforts to promote its vision of Islam in Northwest Asia. It was expected by many countries that Tehran would seize upon the fragility of the new states and the emerging societies to destabilise the region and proselytise its inhabitants. On the contrary, Iran has demonstrated a readiness to further its national security and economic interests with regional governments, irrespective of their domestic orientation or attitude towards Islamic activism.

Unquestionably, the necessity for increased activism in Northwest Asia will impact on Tehran's appreciation of its strategic situation and its relationships in other areas. The Gulf remains a major priority for Iran as its primary access routes to markets are concentrated there. Iran wants to consolidate its position as a major entrepot for the landlocked republics. The new republics also want to diversify to the outside world as is evident by their involvement regarding pipelines, rail connections, roads and other infrastructural links. Iran, hence, needs to convince them that it offers convenient and reliable transit.

India's interest in Central Asia should be seen in the context of stabilising the new regional politico-economic order. Indo-Central Asian ties need to be reconfigured in the changed geopolitical situation which offers immense opportunities for their future relationship besides the challenges. India's strategic concerns are tied up with the regions bordering its north and northwest and, hence, its interests lie in having cordial and friendly relations with its extended neighbourhood. Pakistan continues to be antagonistic towards India, and instability in Afghanistan has adversely affected the security of the region.

Pakistan is now eyeing Central Asia with the same intentions, both to revive its strategic relevance for the West and to boost its politico-military strength vis-à-vis India. In the light of this, India's long-term strategic interest in forging closer cooperation with the Central Asian states should be obvious. Furthermore, both the US and China have stakes in Central Asia because of oil. All these objectives are being sought to be achieved by undermining the Russian and Iranian legitimacy in the region.

India's approach to Central Asia would be that of positive engagement with the region, considering the vast opportunities for India to attend to the issues that might challenge its vital interests. Therefore, economic diplomacy will remain India's basic policy thrust towards the region. In the face of its increasing energy requirements, India should be willing to participate in oil and gas projects in the region. On the other hand, India is also willing to share its expertise with the Central Asian states in crucial sectors such as banking, transportation, services, infrastructure, industry etc.

For long-term political stability, it is important that India and Iran work together to curb external influences as well as adverse regional influences. India and Iran along with the Central Asian states can cooperate in dealing with other non-military threats that take the form of guerilla warfare and terrorism. As is well known Pakistan has become a breeding ground for terrorism. Iran, India and the Central Asian states (for example Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) have protested to Pakistan against the origin of terrorist activities from its territory. 41

The incidence of weapons proliferation and narco-trafficking keeps increasing in the region of the Golden Crescent (Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Iran frontier). The Central Asian states too are getting caught in the web of Asian narco-trafficking. India faces a drug trafficking problem not only from the west, but also from the east (Golden Triangle). 42 India, Iran and the Central Asian states can work on a mechanism to control this at the regional level.

Regarding the Afghanistan problem, the Central Asian states share a similar view along with Iran and India. This also provides good scope for regional cooperation among these countries.

The region of Central Asia has been a captive market for Indian products. Iran is India's best gateway to Central Asia. Access for Indian goods in the emerging markets of Central Asia was among the issues that were discussed between Jaswant Singh and the Iranian leadership. 43

In the economic field also, there is vast potential for comparative economic advantages. The Central Asian states are landlocked and are at a disadvantage in terms of global competition.

Cooperation with Central Asia is important for stabilising the new regional politico-economic order. Both India and Iran's concern towards the region has been for security reasons as well as for economic interaction. Both could provide support to the Central Asian countries in developing their necessary infrastructure, access to the outside world, and promoting their external trade.

Kashmir Issue

Kashmir had been the main point of friction between India and Iran, as Iran supported Pakistan, both within the UN and outside throughout the period of active consideration of the Kashmir issue (1950-1965). Tehran's material support to Islamabad during the Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971 brought the relationship to a low point. During the Khomeini period too New Delhi and Tehran differed on many issues.

The 1979 revolution had a favourable impact on the Kashmiri Muslims. Among the organisations, the Jamaat-i-Islami not only welcomed the change in Iran, but came out openly to support the new Islamic Iranian leadership. The Jamaat-i-Islami dominated the Muslim United Front (MUF) which came to the fore during the March 1987 Assembly elections. It was suspected that the MUF was getting financial and other assistance from Iran and the latter also had a hand in the formation of MUF, whose leaders regularly received invitations to attend religious conferences. The MUF's political philosophy clearly reflected the teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini. 44

In early 1990, Iran in an apparent snub to India cancelled the visit of India's External Affairs Minister I.K. Gujral to Tehran to highlight Iran's concern over developments in Kashmir. 45 But in the aftermath of the 1990-91 Iraq Kuwait crisis, and due to sustained Western pressure, Iran was isolated and so was compelled to normalise ties with regional countries including India.

In 1991, India's External Affairs Minister Madhav Singh Solanki said that Iran had made it clear that Kashmir was an integral part of India. 46 While this was true, President Rafsanjani during his visit to Pakistan in September 1992, voiced support for the right of self-determination of the Muslims in Kashmir. When Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit visited Iran in July 1993, Velayati told him that Iran would not back separatists in Kashmir and expressed full support for the territorial integrity of India. 47 Even during Prime Minister Narasimha Rao's visit to Iran, Iran assured India that it had no desire to interfere in India's internal affairs, including Kashmir. 48 It supported India stating that there should not be any interference in the internal affairs of other countries and called upon all states to eschew support to terrorism and subversion. However, Rafsanjani pleaded for a peaceful solution of the Kashmir issue to be negotiated by India and Pakistan. In an interview to The Hindustan Times, Rafsanjani said, "We do not like the existing situation in that area. It is not in the interest of the people of Kashmir. We do not want to interfere. We only want talks so that a solution can be found." 49

During the UN Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva in February- March 1994, Iran played a crucial role in persuading Pakistan to withdraw the resolution the latter had tabled on Kashmir. This shows that Iran's stand was responsive to India's concerns. While this was true, in early 1999, during the Pakistan foreign secretary's visit to Tehran, the Iranian government repeated its traditional support for the Kashmir cause and called for the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir problem. 50

The 9th summit of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) was held at Doha in November 2000. The summit declared that the OIC should not remain content with just the inclusion of the Kashmir issue in its resolution, but make India understand that the Islamic world cannot be indifferent to the fate of the Muslims in Kashmir. Condemning India for its high-handed suppression of the Kashmiri Muslims' rightful demand "to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination", the OIC in its resolution called on member states, "To take all necessary measures to convince India to put an immediate end to violence in Kashmir." 51

It was pointed out at the summit that apart from the OIC, the international community too must intervene in the Kashmir conflict. It was emphasised that many of the OIC members are "in a position to put political as well as economic pressure on India to end the brutalities. . . Bilateral trade between India and several Muslim states, including Iran, is improving", implying that Iran can put pressure on India also. 52

On November 15, India rejected a call by the OIC to end violence in Kashmir, saying it was an internal matter. "We reject all such resolutions outright of the OIC. The OIC has no locus standi on matters relating to India's internal affairs," an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said. 53

The duality in Iran's policy is well illustrated. On the one hand, it emphasised non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, but, on the other, it is ready to support Muslims anywhere and provide support based on humanitarian aspects.


The Indo-Iranian equation is a significant evolving factor affecting regional politics in South and West Asia. On a bilateral level, the most promising area of cooperation belongs to the oil and gas sector in which Iran is an important partner. India should use its market for energy resources and build a lasting partnership with Iran. The laying down of a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan and onwards to India may soon become a reality with the Iranian government finally agreeing to establish state-to-state guarantees to India that Pakistan will always abide by its contractual obligations for the smooth supplies of gas. There are reasons to believe that the long awaited plan will soon be implemented, as there is a strong will and determination on both sides to go ahead with the project. The proposal of the gas pipeline between India and Iran if successfully executed would open a new vista of cooperation and collaboration.

Iran would be interested in India's technological know-how and Indian cooperation in developing its surface transportation facilities and ports. Given India's hostile relations with Pakistan and the tensions in Afghanistan, Iran is the only conduit through which India can establish closer relations with the Central Asian Republics where both countries are interested in nurturing closer economic, political and technological relations. Both countries share similar concerns about the current developments in Afghanistan. While Pakistan is making all efforts to exclude India from talks on Afghanistan, it is assumed that Iran would not like to do the same. The logic of mutual interests, therefore, provides a firm basis for Indo-Iranian cooperation.

Both India and Iran shared the view that wider dimensions of Indo-Iranian relations were more important to both countries than the fundamental differences of views on Kashmir. However, one should not make the mistake of reading too much into the Iranian actions. Though it is clear that Iran wants good relations with India, it also wants to retain its close ties with Pakistan. Despite the fact that Iran keeps showing concern on Kashmir, India has made it clear that it does not want Iran's mediation or interference in the Kashmir issue.

Pakistan's role in Indo-Iranian relations cannot be minimised because Iran has special ties with Pakistan and Iran also shares a long border with Pakistan. But that does not mean Pakistan will be a decisive factor in defining the Indo-Iranian relationship. Iran did not let Pakistan come in the way of its relations with India, as was apparent from Iran's political firmness which resulted in Indian participation in the conference on Afghanistan in Tehran, despite Pakistan's insistent opposition to India joining these discussions. It was Iran's attitude, which neutralised Pakistan's attempts to isolate India from Central Asia and Afghanistan. Pakistan does not want India and Iran to come close and is making all efforts at reversing the pro-India stand taken by the Khatami government. Its initiative to cooperate with Iran for the formation of a broad-based government in Afghanistan shows that it does not want to give leverage to India in solving the Afghanistan problem.

India and Iran have great potential for cooperation in many areas such as the political, economic, cultural and intellectual spheres. They can work together to analyse the unfolding of events since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its ramifications for them, work towards preserving their Asian identity, and build a solid relationship based on mutual respect and understanding, giving stability to their bilateral ties. Keeping in view Iran-Pakistan relations, and Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, the main focus of India's foreign policy should be to consolidate relations with Iran.


Note *: Associate Fellow Back.

Note 1: V.P. Dutt, India's Foreign Policy in a Changing World (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1999), p.4.Back.

Note 2: Ibid., pp. 22-23.Back.

Note 3: Shahram Chubin, Iran's National Security Policy (Washington: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1994) pp.3-5.Back.

Note 4: Ibid., pp.3-11.Back.

Note 5: C. Uday Bhaskar, "Trends in the International Environment", paper presented at the seminar on India-Iran Strategic Dialogue organised by Institute for Political and International Studies (Iran) and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (India) on August 28-29, 1999. Back.

Note 6: The Economic Times, May 17, 2000.Back.

Note 7: Indrani Bagchi, "Jaswant has a Pipe Dream", The Economic Times, July 12, 2000.Back.

Note 8: The Economic Times, May 22, 2000.Back.

Note 9: Business Recorder, March 21, 2000.Back.

Note 10: The Hindu, May 22, 2000.Back.

Note 11: "India Iran Gas Pipeline May Soon Be a Reality", Public Opinion Trends (POT), (Pakistan series), February 19, 2001; The Hindu, June 22, 2000.Back.

Note 12: Business Recorder, March 21, 2000.Back.

Note 13: The Economic Times, May 17, 2000; The Economic Times, May 22, 2000.Back.

Note 14: The Hindu, May 18, 2000.Back.

Note 15: The Telegraph, July 20, 2000; The Hindu, May 24, 2000.Back.

Note 16: The Economic Times, May 24, 2000; The Hindu, May 24, 2000.Back.

Note 17: Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, "$3b Project of Iran, Pakistan and India Gas Pipeline", Pakistan and Gulf Economist, December 25-31, 2000, p. 39.Back.

Note 18: Ibid.Back.

Note 19: Ibid.Back.

Note 20: "India Pleased With Gas Pipeline From Iran: Jaswant Singh", POT (Iran), vol.6, no.9, January 29, 2001, p. 68.Back.

Note 21: Ibid.Back.

Note 22: POT (Pakistan ) vol. 29, no. 42, February 19, 2001, p.693.Back.

Note 23: Ibid. Back.

Note 24: The News, November 21, 1999.Back.

Note 25: The Times of India, May 18, 2000; <www.Afgha.comEN/Mews/afp2007002html>.Back.

Note 26: K.K. Katyal, The Hindu, October 25, 1996.Back.

Note 27: The Hindu, May 23, 2000.Back.

Note 28: The News, November 21, 1999; The border had been closed the previous year when the already tense relations between the two countries worsened and Iran deployed thousands of troops on its border with Afghanistan. The killing of several Iranian diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif, northern Afghanistan, when the Taliban captured the city in August 1998, triggered widespread protests in Iran. Though war was avoided, the dispute remained unresolved.Back.

Note 29: The Nation, January 18, 2000.Back.

Note 30: Ibid.Back.

Note 31: Business Recorder, April 25, 2000.Back.

Note 32: The Nation, January 24, 2000.Back.

Note 33: Persian Gulf News, January 11, 1999.Back.

Note 34: Khaleej Times, June 3, 1999; Persian Gulf News, ibid.Back.

Note 35: Persian Gulf News, ibid.Back.

Note 36: POT (Iran), vol.6, no.3, January 9, 2001,p.20.Back.

Note 37: Ibid.Back.

Note 38: POT (Iran), vol. 6, no.1, January 3, 2001, p.7.Back.

Note 39: W. Nathaniel Howell, "Iran's Policy in Northwest Asia: Opportunities, Challenges and Implications", in Jamal -al Suwaidi, ed., Iran and the Gulf (Abu Dhabi: The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, 1996), p. 182.Back.

Note 40: Ibid., pp.182-83.Back.

Note 41: P. Stobdan, "India and Central Asia: Imperatives for Regional Cooperation", in Jasjit Singh, Peace and Security in Central Asia (New Delhi: Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, 2000) p. 103. Uzbekistan has accused three Pakistani organisations of training clandestinely about 400 Central Asians in Pakistan with the task of carrying out terrorist attacks and overthrowing the governments in Central Asia.Back.

Note 42: Ibid., p.104.Back.

Note 43: The Economic Times, May 22, 2000.Back.

Note 44: A.K. Pasha, "Indo-Iranian Relations: The Kashmir Issue", in A.K. Pasha, ed., India, Iran and the GCC States: Political Strategy and Foreign Policy (New Delhi: Manas Publications, 2000), p.267.Back.

Note 45: Ibid., p.268.Back.

Note 46: Ibid., p.269.Back.

Note 47: National Herald, July 15, 1993.Back.

Note 48: Pasha, n. 44, pp 269-271; National Herald, July 15, 1993.Back.

Note 49: T.R. Ramachandran, The Times of India, July 23, 1993; Inder Malhotra, Newstime, March 10, 1994 ; "Rafsanjani Seeks Better Relations with India", Strategic Digest, vol. 23, no. 12, December 1993, p. 2011.Back.

Note 50: Pasha, n. 44, p 229; Persian Gulf News, January 11, 1999.Back.

Note 51: POT (Iran), vol.6, no. 7, January 22, 2001, pp. 52-53.Back.

Note 52: Ibid.Back.

Note 53: POT (Iran), vol. 6, no. 6, January 17, 2001, p. 46.Back.