Lessons For India From Raisi’s Pak, Lanka Visit

Lessons For India From Raisi’s Pak, Lanka Visit

While the current state of India-Pakistan relations needs no elaboration, Colombo’s disquiet and differences with New Delhi have boiled over after Modi publicly accused Indira Gandhi of callously giving Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka

SNM AbdiUpdated: Monday, May 13, 2024, 09:27 PM IST
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President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi | File

In eight long months Israel has miserably failed to defeat Hamas or to crush the Palestinian people, even with the full backing of the United States and rich and powerful Western nations like the United Kingdom and Germany, thanks to a certain country with a spine of steel called Iran. Iran also enjoys the distinction of being the only country in the Middle East to recently launch a direct aerial attack on Israel in decades, shattering the Zionist regime’s carefully cultivated aura of invincibility and dominance. Without a doubt, Israel is the current villain and monster in the Gulf region, while Iran is the hero and angel.

Notably, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi chose to spend several days in India’s neighbourhood at a time when Tehran’s international standing is at an all time high. Raisi’s state visits in the last fortnight to Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which are in India’s zone of influence, are hugely significant for us for two key reasons.

Firstly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has brought its ties with Iran almost to breaking point by prioritising Washington over a tried-and-tested ally like Tehran, and foolishly stopping the import of Iranian oil to please the US. All this has deeply hurt Iran but it refrains from airing its displeasure publicly, although I am told that it doesn’t mince its words in private and finds solace in cornering and embarrassing Indian diplomats, including External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, behind closed doors.

Secondly, India is brazenly standing with Israel since October 7 in sync with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s anti-Muslim, Islamophobic ideology, whereas Iran treats Israel as its Enemy No 1. Well-publicised telephone calls between Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu underline the nexus. In short, Iran’s biggest enemies — the US and Israel — are today India’s biggest friends. So where does that exactly leave India-Iran relations? New Delhi and Tehran are certainly not foes; at least not yet, but are they really friends any more?

Raisi undoubtedly sent a clear message to New Delhi — South Asia’s resident power — by courting and wooing countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka at this juncture. While the current state of India-Pakistan relations needs no elaboration, Colombo’s disquiet and differences with New Delhi have boiled over after Modi publicly accused Indira Gandhi of callously giving Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka. Moreover, at present a social media campaign in Sri Lanka has put India in the dock for “stealing” the island nation’s land, water and air, highlighting the widening cracks in bilateral relations, despite New Delhi’s massive economic assistance in 2022-23 when other powers were twiddling their thumbs.

Standing in India’s backyard, Raisi offered cooperation and help to both Pakistan and Sri Lanka which are grappling with economic distress and have even turned to the International Monetary Fund for bailout packages. In Islamabad, Raisi also held out an olive branch after the cross-border strikes Pakistan and Iran resorted to in January. Military conflict between Tehran and Islamabad no doubt suit and benefit New Delhi — and de-escalation is definitely not in India’s interests! Moreover, the visit brought Iran and Pakistan closer to a Free Trade Agreement than ever before.

In Colombo, Raisi signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the $514 million Uma Oya hydropower and irrigation project pledging technical and engineering services. A total of five pacts, covering handholding in economy, trade, science and technology, art, media and tourism, were signed in the first visit by an Iranian president in 16 years after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s way back in 2008. Tehran clearly wants to harness Sri Lankan geostrategic location to beef up the Iranian navy’s capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region. But any increase in Iran’s influence in IOR by collaborating with Sri Lanka would impact India, especially if Iran also enters into a military tie-up with Islamabad.

Raisi’s outreach to Pakistan and Sri Lanka last month complements his recent overtures to Bangladesh and the Maldives in India’s neighbourhood. A year ago, he focused on strengthening trade ties with Dhaka during a telephonic call with Sheikh Hasina. Last year, Tehran reestablished diplomatic relations with Male after a gap of seven years. When ties between Riyadh and Tehran broke down in 2016, the Maldives — which was then closely aligned with Saudi Arabia — cut off all ties with Iran, which were revived in September 2023 after the Tehran-Riyadh détente brokered by Beijing changed strategic equations in the Middle East and beyond.

In fact, Tehran is today so closely allied and integrated with Beijing, thanks to a 2021strategic agreement, that any rise in Iran’s influence in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bangladesh — not to speak of Pakistan which is anyway totally subservient to Beijing — will only fortify China’s position in those countries to India’s detriment in the short, medium and long term.

Importantly, Raisi blasted and slammed Washington and Tel Aviv in both Colombo and Islamabad, furthering not only Iran’s global agenda but also China’s. In Islamabad, Raisi even threatened to destroy Israel if it did not mend its ways. As Raisi spearheads proud and resolute Iran’s diplomatic drive in south Asia and beyond in tandem with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei – who is today the most respected figure in the entire Muslim world — and Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian, it’s high time New Delhi starts rebuilding its relations with Tehran. In our national interest, we must somehow insulate India-Iran ties from our equation with Israel and the US which has done us no good at all.

The author is an independent, Pegasused reporter and commentator on foreign policy and domestic politics

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