India must come clean on the Israeli terror claim

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently visited Iran to strengthen bilateral relations and to reap the benefits of a sanctions-free country. It was the first such visit in 15 years by an Indian prime minister. The two countries signed six agreements including a trilateral one (including Afghanistan) to develop the Chabahar port situated on the south-eastern shore of Iran. The other agreements focused on trade and connectivity, involving Exim Bank, Export Credit Guarantee Corporation and their Iranian counterparts and one between the National Aluminium Company (NALCO) and its Iranian counterpart.

These agreements will pave the way for India’s easy access to Afghanistan, Central Asia, Europe and Russia. The north-south business corridor offered by Iran will reduce business transport time and cost by at least thirty per cent. Iranian oil and gas on easy terms and competitive prices will promote India’s industrial growth. India owes approximately 6.4 billion dollars for oil imports between 2012 to 2015 due to sanctions on bank transactions with that country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an interview with Iran’s official news agency IRNA, said the two countries have always focussed on strengthening our relations even during difficult times. “In the current context, both countries can look to expanding cooperation in the fields of trade, technology, investment, infrastructure and energy security,” he said adding that lifting of international sanctions on Iran has “opened up immense opportunities for both the countries, especially in the economic sphere.”

This all is good news to both sides but a billion-dollar question remains unanswered. The issue of the alleged Iranian involvement in a dubious “terror attack” against an Israeli diplomat’s wife remains unsettled. India had accused Iran of involvement in the said attack in the Indian capital in February 2012. Unless this issue is settled, how can the two capitals  develop friendly relations? Prime Minister Modi will have to address multiple questions during his forthcoming visits to Tel Aviv and Washington. The Indian decision-makers will face delicate questions as to whether friendship with the Islamic Republic will go hand in hand with India’s relations with Israel and the US. India’s determination to fight terrorism will be questioned on the international forums, especially in the western and Arab capitals.

A prominent Indian Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawad Naqvi asked Prime Minister Modi, on the eve of his Tehran visit, to resolve the ‘conspiracy’ behind New Delhi’s claim that Iranians were involved in the terror attack in the heart of the capital four years ago. Naqvi asserted that “It was a conspiracy to connect Iran with a terrorist attack in India. Veteran journalist Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi was dragged into it because he had been vocal against international sanctions on Iran under the guise of combating the so-called Iranian nuclear weapons programme. However, the fallacy of the western claims was exposed soon when P-5+1 signed a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Maulana Kalbe Jawad told a newspaper “the accusation of terrorism is a serious issue. Now that Prime Minister Modi is going to Tehran, with an aim to strengthen our country’s relations with Iran, he must resolve this issue first.” Maulana Naqvi asked, how can India have good relations with Iran while it accuses its citizens of being involved in a terror attack in India? You can’t accuse a country falsely and still have friendly relations with it”.

Special Cell of Delhi Police had claimed that the attack was “a case of international terrorism” and alleged that Iranian citizens were helped by journalist Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi who was arrested in March 2012, but was later released on bail granted by the Chief Justice of India.

The Maulana further said that the onus is on Tehran to resolve this issue first. “We are aware that it was a much bigger conspiracy to drag Iran and to defame the Shia community here. In fact, it was a conspiracy against India and its interests in the region. The false case against Kazmi was part of this conspiracy.

An Israeli diplomat car was allegedly attacked in New Delhi in February 2012. The Israeli Prime Minister Bejnamin Netanyahu, within hours of the incident, told the world that Iran and Hezbollah were behind the ‘terror attack’. At that point of time India did not officially subscribe to the Tel Aviv claim. It was described as a “cylinder blast” in the initial police report. However, Special Cell, notorious for fabricating fake cases, started diverting its investigation to confirm Netanyahu’s claim and arrested the veteran journalist who had been working with different Iranian media outlets for almost thirty years and was granted accreditation by Press Information Bureau (PIB) for sixteen consecutive years with due security clearance.

During 2003 Iraq’s invasion by the US-led forces, Kazmi was a media hero who reported from the ground the attack and its impact on Iraqi people without being embedded with the invading army. His courageous reports from all major Iraqi cities were highly appreciated and shown on Doordarshan.

Because of Mr. Kazmi’s impeccable credibility, the then Congress-led government had to face huge protests, demonstrations, rail roko agitations, press conferences etc by distinguished persons, specially from the media fraternity, prominent Muslim leaders and many others. Demonstrations were held even outside India against this vendetta. Muslim leaders from various sects came together in raising a unified voice against Mr. Kazmi’s arrest. In fact, it was a rare occasion to witness Muslims united on an issue in the post-independence era.

Observers believe that rogue elements in the Indian security establishment have been working against national interests. The heads of different agencies are at loggerheads over handling terror cases. On the one hand, India asks Pakistan to hand over Hafiz Saeed, Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi and several others for the 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot terror attacks while, on the other hand, New Delhi is not pressurizing Tehran for handing over the four accused against whom Interpol red notices have been issued.

The indifference about extradition of the accused Iranians and Prime Minister’s warm Tehran visit indicate that the whole terror story was concocted under Israeli pressure which caused a lot of damage to the Indo-Iranian relations. India lost billions of dollars by reducing oil import from Iran in the aftermath of the so-called terror attack. This fact came out from a letter written by the then Oil Minister Veerappa Moily to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in September 2013 in which he said that India could save 8.5 billion dollars by not reducing oil imports from Iran.
It is a daunting task to remove the self-inflicted wounds caused by the fake terror propaganda which built a wall of distrust between the regional powers.  The media war against Iran for more than 35 years, in which the Indian media played second fiddle to the west, caused a lot of distance and distrust resulting in enormous loss for our country. The onus is on India to clear the air of mistrust and promote regional cooperation.