No change in Kashmir policy, Teheran assures New Delhi
30 December 2002
The Indian Express
New Delhi: Less than a week after Iranian President Mohammed Khatami wound up his three-day tour of Pakistan, Teheran is said to have complained to Islamabad about the Pakistani media’s ‘‘distortion’’ of Khatami’s remarks on Kashmir. Significantly, the Iranian embassy in New Delhi today issued a note verbale to the Ministry of External Affairs, denying the statements Khatami had reportedly made in the Pakistani media about the ‘‘oppressed Muslims in Kashmir’’ and that the Kashmir dispute would be resolved ‘through their right to self- determination.’’ According to the note, ‘‘no change has taken place’’ in Teheran’s view that the issue should be peacefully resolved ‘‘between the two neighbouring countries on the basis of the wishes of the Kashmiri people.’’ During Khatami’s visit to Islamabad last week, President Musharraf in his banquet speech had remarked that Islamabad hoped Iran would ‘‘help resolve the long-running Kashmir dispute in line with the UN resolutions.’’ Later, at a press conference with Pakistani PM Zafarullah Jamali, Khatami was asked what role he could play to stop the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat. There was more to come. At a gathering in Lahore last Wednesday, the Pakistani translator ‘‘mistranslated’’ the Iranian President’s remarks on Kashmir, saying he wished the Kashmiris success in their freedom struggle. Turns out, as Iranian spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi clarified, the President had restricted himself to a ‘‘bilateral’’ resolution of the issue between India and Pakistan. Surprisingly, an Iranian newspaper, Hayat Nou, even reported that ‘‘following the misuse’’ of Khatami’s remarks in Pakistan, the ‘‘Foreign Ministry had warned the Pakistani embassy and asked this incorrect propaganda to be immediately stopped.’’ The spate of Iranian rebuttals are interesting, especially since they have been made public less than a month before Khatami arrives in the Capital as chief guest in the Republic Day functions. But they also point, diplomatic observers said, to the growing tension between Teheran and Islamabad on the Shia-Sunni killings in Pakistan. Khatami himself alluded to it during his Pakistan tour. ‘‘Sectarian violence,’’ he said, ‘‘was a serious phenomenon in the region which needed to be taken seriously.’’ Interestingly, the invitation to Khatami comes in the wake of growing cooperation between India and Iran. In fact, MEA’s Minister of State Digvijay Singh will in all likelihood be leading an inter-ministerial delegation to Teheran later this week. Digvijay Singh will be participating in a trilateral meeting between Iran, Afghanistan and India on the development of the Chabahar port, that lies barely 200 km away from the Afghan border. New Delhi, aware that Pakistan is not about to open the land border with Afghanistan, is extremely keen on upgrading the facilities at Chabahar, considerably closer to the Afghan border than the Bandar Abbas terminal.