Saudi cables express concern about Iran influence on India

Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi
Jun 24, 2015 11:31 AM IST

Saudi Arabia is concerned about Iran’s “growing influence” in India and Tehran’s outreach to the Indian Shia community, according to diplomatic documents leaked by WikiLeaks.

Saudi Arabia is concerned about Iran’s “growing influence” in India and Tehran’s outreach to the Indian Shia community, according to diplomatic documents leaked by WikiLeaks.

While Saudi Arabia wants to improve relations with India, it is cognisant of issues that may be sensitive to its close ally Pakistan, the documents in Arabic showed.

The information on Saudi Arabia’s worries about increasing Iranian influence in India comes from two separate reports. The first is from the Saudi embassy in New Delhi and dated January 23, 2012, while the second one is from the Saudi foreign ministry. The second memo is undated but the text suggests it was drafted in 2011-12, The Indian Express reported.

The documents also reveal that the Secretariat General of the Muslim World League in Mecca, a controversial organisation with links to terror funding, had requested Saudi Arabia to establish the organisation’s Salafi or Wahhabi centres in India.

Both reports show the Saudis very closely monitor Iranian and Shia activity in India.

The January 2012 report from the Saudi embassy in New Delhi harps on Iran’s growing influence in India by providing examples of outreach by Iran to the Shia community in the country.

It cites seminars and events organised in India by the Iranians. The report also talks about Iran’s plans to establish a large number of cultural centres in India.

The undated Saudi foreign ministry report is a partial review of India’s foreign policy in the region. It stated that India considers itself a competitor to China and is cosy with the West, but there is a powerful lobby in India to maintain strategic independence in foreign policy.

The report dwells on Iran-India cooperation, especially in trade. India and Iran may work together in Afghanistan to curtail Pakistan’s influence after the US leaves, the report adds.

Yet another memo from the Saudi foreign ministry, written in 2010, harps on the importance and priority that Saudi Arabia places on improving ties with India. It states that the directive to improve relations with India does not contradict the need to take into account issues that may be sensitive to Pakistan.

Rohan Joshi, US-based fellow of The Takshashila Institution, who studied the Arabic language documents, said: “While the English language documents that appeared on WikiLeaks tended to be mundane diplomatic exchanges between the Indian embassy in Riyadh and Saudi Arabia’s MOFA, the Arabic-language documents (many authored by Saudi Arabia’s embassy in New Delhi) appear to underscore Saudi Arabia’s deep concern over Iran’s increased economic and cultural engagement with India and India’s Shia community.”

The diplomatic documents, allegedly from the Saudi foreign ministry, were released by WikiLeaks on Friday. The documents in Arabic provide greater insight into Saudi Arabia’s thinking on India than the English ones, which feature routine diplomatic communications.

According to the 2001 census, Muslims formed 13.4 per cent of India’s population. Though no official numbers exist, the Pew Research Center has estimated that 16 million to 24 million of India’s Muslims are Shias.

Iran has had linguistic, cultural and historical ties with India going back to the Mughal era. These relations have not been limited to Shias, and Iran’s ability to use that goodwill appears to be troubling the Saudis.

Unlike Arab countries, differences between Shias and Sunnis in India are doctrinal and ties between the two sects have largely remained unaffected by the blowback of violent conflicts in West Asia.

India has maintained friendly ties with Iran, even after the West imposed sanctions on it over its nuclear programme. Besides being a major supplier of crude oil, Iran provides India with access to landlocked Afghanistan.


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