Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has addressed an audience of Islamic scholars in the Indian city of Hyderabad, during a wide ranging speech touching on pan-eastern resistance to western neo-imperialism, inter-sectarian unity among the wider Muslim Ummah (community) and the importance of Islam as a force of compassion and social moderation in modern society.
Rouhani is currently in India on the first day of a three day visit where he will meet with Indian officials, including Premier Narendra Modi. While the speech did not touch on the sectarian strife in India that has seen Muslim communities and individuals suffering discrimination at the hands of Hindu mobs spurred on by the Hindutva mentality of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rouhani used his Indian speaking forum to assure the wider Muslim community of South Asia, who reside most prominently in Pakistan, of Iran’s continued fraternal and respectful support.
At the moment, Pakistan and Iran are working to repair their once good ties which deteriorated severely beginning in the 1980s while continuing to plummet through the 1990s when relations plunged to an all-time low. While overcoming the geopolitical and ideological schisms that rose to prominence in recent decades, it is nothing short of vital for Pakistan and Iran to engage in a full scale rapprochement.
It was therefore fitting that it was while in India that Rouhani delivered a speech clearly addressed to Pakistan’s majority Sunni population. Rouhani’s speech touched on key points that must be necessarily internalised among Pakistan’s leaders and population in order for a full-scale rapprochement with Iran to take shape in a spirit of trust and cooperation. Among the critical points of Rouhani’s speech were the following:
–Iran does not seek to create inorganic divides between Sunni and Shi’a.
–The wider Middle East and South Asian space was one where multiple races, ethnic groups and religions coexisted before western colonial exploitation.
–All eastern states have common oppressors in the form of western neo-imperialists and as such, should not allow themselves to be divided among themselves.
–In an interconnected world, young people are able to grow familiar with other cultures without the need to travel, thus making mutual understandings ever more possible across national frontiers.
All of these messages seem tailor made for a Pakistani audience whose nation is rapidly pivoting away from the US, yet whose population remains partly sceptical about full-scale rapprochement with Iran. Rouhani thus seized the moment, taking the opportunity to built on increasing anti-American sentiments in Pakistan.
By contrast, in India a wave of Hindutva politics have seen a morose turn away from a traditional ally in Moscow and towards the US which has only encouraged antagonism against China and Pakistan. As such, an “official” Indian audience seems to be a less than ideal audience in respect of being persuaded by Rouhani’s message of peace, fraternity and moderation. While his immediate audience were Indian Muslims who seemed to welcome his words, the overarching message was clearly one aimed at Pakistan.
Rouhani’s choice of venue to make such remarks, while counter-intuitive, was actually very astute. As India has invested in Iran’s Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman, many in Pakistan need assurances that there is no “Indo-Iranian conspiracy” against Pakistan and the Chinese built port at Gwadar which forms the Indian Ocean’s most important terminus for One Belt–One Road.
Thus, Rouhani accomplished two important things in his speech. First of all, he sent a direct message to Pakistan without naming any nation while secondly, he did so from India, thus assuring those with Iranian sympathies in Islamabad that Rouhani is capable of visiting India without compromising Iran’s independence, let alone toning down the message of the Islamic Revolution in order to please his Hindutva hosts.
President Hassan Rouhani’s speech can be viewed below in its entirety.