Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appealed to the Muslim elite worldwide to back the "struggle" in Jammu and Kashmir, equating the northern Indian state with the "nations" of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
"Today the major duties of the elite of the Islamic Ummah is to provide help to the Palestinian nation and the besieged people of Gaza, to sympathize and provide assistance to the nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Kashmir, to engage in struggle and resistance against the aggressions of the United States and the Zionist regime," Khamenei said in a message to Haj pilgrims.
IRNA news agency quoted him as saying that Muslims should be united and "spread awakening and a sense of responsibility and commitment among Muslim youth throughout Islamic communities".
The Iranian leader, who wields enormous influence on the Iranian state, said "the expanding wave of Islamic awakening in the world today is a reality that heralds a bright future for the Islamic Ummah".
The thrust of his speech made this week was directed at Israel and the US. But he also made a veiled reference to Pakistan's nuclear programme.
"The US and the West are no more the unquestionable decision-makers of the Middle East they were two decades ago. Contrary to the situation 10 years ago, the nuclear know-how and other complex technologies are no longer considered inaccessible daydreams for Muslim nations of the region."
He said the US was bogged down in Afghanistan and "is hated more than ever before in disaster-stricken Pakistan".
Referring to what he said was a "hopeful and promising situation" for the Muslim world, Khamenei said that "past lessons and experience should make us more vigilant than ever before".
A former president of Iran (1981-89), Khamenei succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini as the spiritual head of the Iranian people. A staunch supporter of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Khamenei is said to influence Iran's foreign policy.
Khamenei visited Jammu and Kashmir in the early 1980s and delivered a sermon at Srinagar's Jama Masjid mosque.
"At every Friday prayer in Tehran University, whenever there is talk about Palestine, Kashmir is also mentioned and prayers offered," Kashmir activist Ghulam Ali Gulzar said in published remarks.