Iran’s ex-President had warm ties with Delhi
By Turab Ali
Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, a wily political survivor and multi-millionaire business tycoon who managed to remain an important player despite his moderate views, died on January 8 in a Tehran hospital.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his condolence message, described him as “old friend, comrade and close colleague.” He said that “the loss of a comrade and companion, with our background of cooperation, empathy and collaboration going back 59 years, is hard and heart-rending.”
President Hassan Rouhani, a protégé of Rafsanjani, wrote, “Islam lost a valuable asset; Iran a great figure; the Islamic Revolution a brave guide; the state a wise and unparalleled figure.”
Rafsanjani was considered to be a friend of India. Executive Intelligence Review, an American watchdog, quoted him saying, while addressing a huge gathering at Aasfi Imambada in Lucknow during his 1995 visit, “Your freedom struggle against British rulers had set an example and Iran learned a lot from your experience.” Appreciating India’s tolerance of its large Muslim population, Rafsanjani said that “being a Muslim and also an Iranian, I wish for peace and harmony in India.”
In the post-Babri Masjid demolition (December 1992) scenario, he dared to express “hope that India’s detractors would not succeed in spreading disinformation and hatred on contentious issues like the Babri Masjid and Kashmir.”
He even offered help to end the strife in Jammu and Kashmir. He was quoted as saying “there has been no change in our policy on this issue. We have already said we are not happy and satisfied with the position in Kashmir. We have told Prime Minister Narasimha Rao of the need for a consensus among India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir and have offered mediation for this position.”
Rafsanjani supported the proposal made by his host (in Lucknow), Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, for the formation of a confederation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which would undo the 1947 partition of India.
While addressing a joint session of Parliament, Rafsanjani called for a revival of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and opposed the “domineering policies of great powers, particularly the USand their efforts to exploit international organisations and forums for their illegitimate goals.”
His visit was also marked by steady progress on the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, which could not materialise due to US pressure on New Delhi. In March 2005, while addressing mediapersons in New Delhi, visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Washington’s concerns over the pipeline between Iran and India were “well known”.
MK Bhadrakumar, a seasoned diplomat, who headed the Iran section in the ministry of external affairs in 1989,while writing his blog, “Indian Punchline”, in March 2011, rated Rafsanjani as “a worldly cleric, talented politician, a shrewd businessman and a pragmatic moderate.” He further said that Rafsanjani was “genuinely warm towards India”and“helped us a great deal during a tricky phase of India’s transition to the post-cold war era when Kashmir was bloody violent– and Bill Clinton was not yet a friend; Boris Yeltsin was incoherent; we still had to recover the bullion we had pawned in London; and IMF was dictating to us.”
Bhadrakumar, who claimed to have authored the minutes of several meetings Rafsanjani had with the Indian leadership, further saidthat “always, invariably, his eyes would light up and there would be a mischievous smile on his face when he asked how things were going in ‘Hindustan’ – even when hardly eight months had passed after the Babri Masjid demolition. In fact he bestowed on Prime Minister Narasimha Rao the rare honour of being the first leader from the ‘non-Islamic world’ to address the Iranian Majlis (parliament).”
Stephen Grummon, an analyst with the Washington Institute, a renowned think tank, while analysing Rafsanjani’s visit to India, wrote that his trip received widespread publicity largely because it “coincided with—and reportedly upstaged – Treasury Secretary Rubin’s visit to India. In a larger sense, though, as Washington seeks to contain Iran’s growing ties with Russia and China, Rafsanjani’s trip to this other Asian powerhouse underscores both the strengths and weaknesses of US policy towards Tehran.”
The American analyst mentioned Narasimha Rao’s unusual decision to meet Rafsanjani at the airport within the same general time-frame as Rubin’s arrival, a speech by Rafsanjani before the Indian Parliament, a state dinner and meetings with numerous senior Indian government officials. Apart from other gains, the analyst pointed out, “New Delhi scored a success in the joint statement when it secured Iran’s agreement about the impact of terrorism in the South Asian context.” The writer further elaborates that the term “terrorism” is a codeword for Pakistani support for the Kashmiri militants.
The present dispensation in Tehran had warmly welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May last year when a trilateral agreement, along with Afghanistan, was signed for developing Chabahar port, which will save 30 percent of transportation cost of Indian products reaching Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe.