New Delhi: On the face of it, there is little in common between India, Iran and Pakistan beyond their location in Asia. India is a liberal democracy with a secular constitution. Pakistan is a military-guided democracy under constant Islamist pressure. And Iran is ruled by the ayatollahs with the support of revolutionary guards while citizens are permitted nominal democracy. But there is a deeper awful feature that binds them, and this is not so new to Iran and Pakistan as it is to India. Politicized religion has taken a toll on Iran and Pakistan and India threatens to join them.

On Sunday, 4 November, Iran observed another anniversary of the student takeover of the US embassy in Teheran in 1979. The celebration had a fuller backing of the ayatollahs than prior because US sanctions against Iran’s weaponization ambitions and foreign wars were kicking in on the Monday. State-controlled media put attendance at a government-sponsored rally in Central Teheran in tens of thousands and the majority of participants were students who chanted in the likeness of an earlier generation, “Death to America.”

While anger against Donald Trump’s America may be genuine, the cause is of Iran’s making in the same way as the Saudi crown prince has tempted fate by murdering a dissident journalist. It is not as though the United States has grouped warships in the Persian Gulf to confront Iran and change the regime. Trump has offered unconditional talks to Teheran which has been rejected. Facing a wall of resistance, the United States has tightened economic and financial sanctions against the ayatollah regime.

Even before sanctions have totally locked in, Iran is reeling. Food shortages, spiralling prices, manufacturing and services regression, a collapsing living standard and a general and all-pervasive rise in citizen misery and dread have become normal. Iranians are showing less resilience to sanctions than ever because there is no compelling cause to rally to. There is no threat to the country. Slogans against America won’t fill stomachs. The Iranian revolutionary guard corps cannot launch a diversionary foreign war in addition to the ones being already waged. Blaming Israel for the sanctions would carry no conviction with ordinary Iranians although Israel has immorally supported the murderous Saudi crown prince who is virulently opposed to Iran.

Iran scarcely understands that the world order has changed. Economics and finance have taken the place of wars and weapons because nuclear arms and their unsurpassed power to destroy the world multiple times have minimized the possibilities of major conflicts. Iranian clerics and their military backers do not fear sudden regime change as much as short-lived power. Iran may limp along till sanctions bring the overweight revolutionary regime down. This is forecasted. Ideological fanaticism cannot last forever. What is true for the former Soviet Union remains valid for Iran as well.

Pakistan, on the other hand, does not even have the limited future of Iran. It is succumbing to Islamist forces in disastrous ways. The Aasia Bibi case was the critical test for Pakistan to uphold the rule of law and provide equal justice to all citizens irrespective of religious affiliations. After promising to do just that, Imran Khan, the prime minister, has permitted a review petition challenging the Supreme Court acquittal of Aasia Bibi for alleged blasphemy and undertaken to prevent her foreign asylum. Perhaps the army has communicated its inability to handle extremist protests. Pakistan is in poor economic and financial condition. Its day-to-day running expenses are provided by Saudi Arabia and China. Riyadh and Beijing would be unconcerned with Aasia Bibi’s fate but the rest of the world ought to do better. Donald Trump turned the screws on Turkey for detaining a US pastor. The lira collapsed and Tayyip Erdogan came to his senses. It is time to apply the geo-economic thumbscrews to Pakistan for the safe exit of Aasia Bibi. If the Imran Khan government falls in consequence, it cannot be much of a loss.

Finally, India’s economic growth is also imperilled by Sangh Parivar hotheads demanding an ordinance for a Ram temple at Ayodhya disrupting the judicial process. The RSS and the Sangh government at the Centre appear to have developed grave doubts about Narendra Modi’s return in the 2019 general election. This magazine and this writer offer no clairvoyance on the subject. Sangh circles believe that the Ayodhya issue could overcome electoral constraints imposed on the Modi regime by the economic slowdown, the Rafale allegations, the collapse of the feel-good factor among the middle class, Modi’s disastrous one-man rule, and so forth. God knows what will happen in 2019. But if India is thrown back to the dark days of December 1992 because of the Sangh campaign, the country will regress thirty years. Narendra Modi would be fully to blame for such disaster.

In the end, it is not about a Ram temple at Ayodhya but about a venal power game. The Sangh believes it will be the end of days if it loses Central power. Politicizing religion has taken Iran and Pakistan to the edge. Tragically, India is attracted to their terrible path.