Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has raked up the Kashmir issue again repeating his oft-quoted line of “Kashmir being an oppressed nation”. After leading the Eid al-Fitr prayers in Tehran, Khamenei exhorted the Muslim world to openly support “Yemen, Bahrain and Kashmir”. Khamenei called on the Islamic community to unite against the “injuries being inflicted on the world of Islam.”
According to a write-up posted on http://english.khamenei.ir, Khamenei urged Muslims to “support oppressed nations”. While speaking about Yemen, another front in the battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia to establish regional supremacy, he said that “the World of Islam should explicitly support the people of Yemen” and likened the situation there with Bahrain and Kashmir saying, “our people can back this great movement within the World of Islam. Just as we explicitly express our position against enemies and adversaries, the world of Islam–especially the elites in it–should follow this path and take a position towards seeking to please God, absolutely, even if it leads to dissatisfaction of the arrogant front.”
This is not the first time that Khamenei has raised the Kashmir bogey. India had summoned the Iranian Ambassador in 2010 to issue demarche after Khamenei’s repeated calls to the Muslim community to support the so-called struggle in Kashmir. Though India was a friendly nation to Iran and it abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution on human rights violations in Iran, Khamenei went on to declare Kashmir a nation and India a Zionist regime.
His official website mentions at least three other instance, going as far back as 1990, when Khamenei tried to barge-in in an issue that India considers strictly bilateral, between India and Pakistan, with a non-compromising stand that Kashmir is an integral part of India.
WHY KHAMENEI MAY HAVE CHOSEN THIS TIME
It is not coincidental that Khamenei has chosen a time to test the Indian patience again when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is in the United States and the significance Donald Trump attaches to the visit can be seen from the fact that Modi is the first world leader for whom Trump is hosting a working dinner.
On one side, he will be reminding India of steering clear of any anti-Iran designs of Trump. Khamenei’s anti-India rhetoric again, at this time, when Kashmir is going through a prolonged phase of insurgency, may be aimed at dissuading India and Modi from being party to any anti-Iran front that Trump may discuss with the Indian prime minister, even if, historically, India has been non-partisan on taking sides as we saw in case of India abstaining from UN voting against Iran.
At the same time, he will convey the message to the world and to Iran’s trading partners that who is the real boss in Iran, especially after the defeat of the candidate he was supporting in the recently held elections.
It is said that Iran’s public wants to do away with decades of religious fundamentalism and global sanctions and its most visible example was seen in the re-election of its moderate president Hassan Rouhani against the wishes of Ayatollah Khamenei who was seen supporting Rouhani’s hardliner rival Ebrahim Raisi.
US President Donald Trump has been a harsh critic of Iran. During campaign phase, he would often criticize his predecessor Barack Obama for brokering the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 that eased sanctions on Iran. It was seen as a big win for moderate Rouhani, domestically and internationally, and his re-election has a put of seal of approval on it.
Last month, during his first major foreign tour to a group of Gulf nations, Trump slammed Iran for being a terror exporter and appealed to the leaders of the 50 Muslims majority countries present there to isolate Iran as long as it didn’t “committed to becoming a partner of peace.” Though Trump extended the relief given to Iran from sanctions in May, it may be more a procedural extension before Trump takes a harsh decision like he has done by withdrawing many relaxations given to Cuba by Barack Obama in another landmark deal that restored diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba after almost six decades.
Iran has emerged as India’s third largest oil supplier and Iran’s second biggest buyer after sanctions were eased in 2015. Last year, PM Modi was in Tehran and India-Iran inked a deal to develop the strategic Chabahar port in response to China developing Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province and bilateral trade ties between both countries are rapidly expanding.