This might appear like one huge jolt out of the blue. While India has been constantly working at increasing its proximity to Iran through various political and economic gestures, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei raked up the Kashmir issue.
Speaking after the conclusion of Eid ul-Fitr prayers in Tehran, Supreme Leader Khamenei reportedly said that the Islamic world must condemn the atrocities on Muslims by “oppressors”.
In his ‘statement’, published by Khamenei.ir, the Supreme Leader said:
“The Islamic Nations are covered in wounds: Conflicts in Yemen, Bahrain, problems in all Islamic countries, are major wounds on the body of Islam.”
He added that the Islamic nations must help “oppressed nations” such as “Bahrain and Kashmir”.
“The same is true for the people of Bahrain and Kashmir: Our people can back this great movement within the World of Islam,” he said.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) June 26, 2017
While the Ayatollah’s statement has rattled the media back home in India, the Indian government is silent on it.
The Iranian Supreme Leader has enough influence over the people and the government of Iran. So not only was his raising the Kashmir issue on such an occasion concerning in itself, calling the Indian territory an “oppressed nation” might give the Separatists in Kashmir the fodder they need.
Khamenei had visited Kashmir between late 1980 and early 1981, couple of years after the Iranian Revolution. According to one account, Khamenei delivered a speech in a Sunni mosque which ended the discord between Shias and Sunnis in Kashmir.
It is not the first time that the Khamenei made a remark on Kashmir. He has been talking about it since 1990. The website Khamenei.ir lists all of his remarks on Kashmir.
In 1990 he had called Kashmir a “contemporary example” of how Muslims are ill-treated.
“Anyone who is informed of what Kashmir has gone through, knows what Muslims of Kashmir express is nothing but truth and justice. Those who silence them have an unjust cause. Those who attack them are the ones who are doing the wrong action.”
His statement had come at the same time when Kashmiri Pandits were being driven out of the Valley by Pakistan-backed terrorists, radical Islamist and Separatists.
In 1994, he had said that Kashmir is an “issue of humanity” and that Muslims were being oppressed.
In 2001, however, Khamenei sounded more diplomatic when he called for resolution of the Kashmir issue in “the best way”.
In 2010, he again raked up the issue once again calling the Islamic Ummah to help those in “Palestinian nation and the besieged people of Gaza…the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Kashmir…against the aggression of America and the Zionist regime.”
The reason why Khamenei may have made that remark needs to be seen in the current political scenario. Some reports tried to link Khamenei’s Kashmir statement to Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the United States and upcoming trip to Israel.
Israel is Iran’s arch enemy. Iran views anyone close to Israel with suspicion. And ever since the Islamic Revolution, Iran and United States have been practically enemies.
But one cannot overlook the fact that this is not the first time that Iran has raised the Kashmir issue. India’s relations with the United States did not start warming till the second half of the last decade. Even before that, Iran has been issuing pro-Kashmir statements.
While Iran has a direct relation with the other conflict-ridden regions, such as Bahrain and Yemen, Tehran has never been accused by New Delhi of interfering in Kashmir.
Interesting statement from Khameini, went mostly ignored. Not sure how Kashmir snuck into that group, Iran not a player there.
— Shaheryar Mirza (@mirza9) June 27, 2017
Yes, India did go against Iran during the IAEA vote in 2006 in exchange for the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Deal but New Delhi has ever since tried to reach out to Tehran on diplomatic levels.
In fact, during the Modi government, India and Iran signed the Chabahar port deal, which would greatly help both Iran and Afghanistan economically.
But also under Modi, India has been building strong ties with Saudi Arabia and other nations in Arabian peninsula. Saudi Arabia and Iran are historical enemies. While the two are engaged in a proxy war in Yemen and elsewhere, Riyadh created the Islamic Military Alliance without Iran.
It should be noted that Ayatollah’s statement is not the official statement of the Government of Iran. Both Iran and India have been accusing Pakistan of creating terrorists who target the two countries.
On May 8, Iranian army chief Major General Mohammad Baqeri sent ripples in the Islamic world with his blunt warning to Pakistan:
“We cannot accept the continuation of this situation. We expect the Pakistani officials to control the borders, arrest the terrorists and shut down their bases. If the terrorist attacks continue, we will hit their safe havens and cells, wherever they are.”
Even Afghanistan has been accusing Pakistan of breeding terrorists who target Afghan soil.