INDO-IRAN RELATIONS: Reassessing India's Iran Policy

By Firdous, Tabasum | The Journal of Central Asian Studies, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

INDO-IRAN RELATIONS: Reassessing India's Iran Policy


Firdous, Tabasum, The Journal of Central Asian Studies


Ancient to Medieval Era

India and Iran have had long and close cultural links, and their ancient and modern histories have been intertwined. Indeed, although little known, the history shared between India and Iran is extremely dense, in such a way that India has been described as the 'closest Asian country to Iran'. This history, which dates back to the beginning of the Indo-Aryan civilization in the seventh century B.C., displays cultural, linguistics, religious, commercial and diplomatic characteristics. The two Asian counties are among the old civilizations of the world. Both have contributed immensely to the enrichment of human civilization in many of its aspects. As such, they have their special place in the comity of nations.

Indo-Iran relations date back to thousands of years in terms of cultural and economic ties. Most of the experts often refer to historical and civilization links between the two nations as an important factor for cooperation. As such, language and culture are important areas that led to the strengthening of relations between the two. Both the countries focus on a wide spectrum of bilateral issues including energy security, closer cultural and strategic ties and the fight against terrorism. Cultural relations between the two countries were cordial during the Mughal rule in India which coincided with the reign of Safavi rulers in Iran. The eighteenth century was marked by the decline of the Safavid and Mughal dynasties in parallel with the expansion of the British presence in India, which led to the end of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Post-Colonial Period

However, when India passed under British rule, the colonialists did not allowed the country to continue her foreign relations. Thus, from mid-18th century, India's relations with Iran remained cut offand no exchange of emissaries took place. This condition continued till India attained freedom in 1947. After independence, Iran was the first among foreign countries to send her ambassador and establish Iranian embassy in India. India reciprocated. Thereafter began regular exchange visits of VIPs, ministers and businessmen, and a 'Treaty of Friendship' was signed in 1950, by two governments which called for "perpetual peace and friendship".1 However, during the Cold War, India-Iran relations were largely shaped by different ideological directions. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran was effectively under the American led bloc. Iran as a member of the Baghdad Pact also maintained close ties with Pakistan. Pandit Nehru, on the other side, was a champion of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Iran also provided diplomatic and material support to Pakistan during the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971.2 However, Iran never halts supplying oil to India that reflects her willingness to sustain ties with India.

To counter the differences during the course of Cold War, India's then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Iran's Shah paid corresponding visits in 1974 to the respective states. The intention was to change the equations for the betterment as the former was engaged to dissipate the misconceptions created by the India-Soviet Friendship Treaty of 1971 and the latter intended to play a significant role in West Asia. Again, the establishment of the Islamic regime in Iran did not halt the relations but created some hindrances to improve or increase the pace. The situation became more complex with the Iran-Iraq war. This war put India in a difficult situation, as the country did not want to annoy any of the two, as both were important exporters of oil.

Post-Cold War Scenario

The early phase of post-cold war witnessed the world facing new situation. The changing circumstances at international level forced India to evolve suitable responses while breaking the old tradition of dealings with the world. The changing regional situation, threats to India's security, nuclearization of China and Pakistan, and the state sponsored terrorism from across the borders compelled India to act in according to these realities. …

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