Iran and India are going through a new stage in their bilateral relations. The two countries, which have maintained cordial relations characterized by low tension in the past centuries, are now opening a new chapter, whose impact can even transcend the limits of their bilateral ties.
Iran’s relations with India, which had become restricted to import of non-essential goods from India in return for selling Iran’s crude to Indian oil companies due to anti-Iran sanctions and because Tehran did not have much of an option, have now entered a totally different phase. This is true because following the endorsement and implementation of Iran’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of countries, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran has now more options for the establishment of political and economic relations with various countries of the world. As a result, Tehran has entered a new era in its relations with such countries as India and China on an equal standing and on the basis of the realization of its medium- and long-term economic interests.
However, the role played by a country like India in helping Iran go through conditions, which governed its economy from 2007 to 2013 as a result of international sanctions and pressures exerted by the SWIFT network of bank exchanges, cannot be considered totally ineffective in bringing about the new round of those relations. This is true because economic channels and important companies that had been established among Iran, Russia, China and India in order to help Iran evade sanctions, were greatly effective in raising Iran’s bargaining power during nuclear negotiations and helped change the imposed course of events. As a result, following the implementation of the JCPOA – as put by Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, during his recent trip to India – Iran has been giving priority to cooperation with countries, which stood by it at the time of sanctions and this has been a dominant trend in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic’s eleventh administration.
At any rate, the new round of relations between the two countries started in late May 2016 when India took the first step and its Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid an official visit to Iran. It was the first visit to Iran by an Indian official at this level during the past 15 years. In the meantime, a recent visit to New Delhi by secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and his meetings with the Indian prime minister and his national security advisor, Ajit Doval, were considered as Iran’s response to Modi’s Tehran visit and a sign of deepening relations between the two countries.
During these exchanges, both sides emphasized on the need to promote bilateral relations in political, security, defense and economic fields while the Indian government asked for further strengthening of strategic dialogues among Iran, India, China and Russia over security, political and economic issues. The results of such cooperation and dialogue have been already manifest in certain fields and have a bright prospect in other fields.
Chabahar agreement, objective manifestation of development-based relations
The agreement signed for the development of Iran’s southeastern Chabahar port is an objective manifestation of the new chapter of relations between Iran and India on the basis of development. This agreement, which was signed among Iran, New Delhi and Kabul during a concurrent visit to Iran by the Indian prime minister and President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, is of special importance because it pursues such goals as activating the North-South Corridor and bringing prosperity to transportation plans among the three countries. Remarkable increase in the productivity of marine transport in the Sea of Oman, making many commercial ships needless of entering the Persian Gulf and traveling longer distances, Iran’s position along the transit route that runs from India to Central Asia and – as a medium-term objective – development of one of the most deprived regions of Iran are among major goals, which can be achieved as a result of this trilateral agreement among the three countries. These advantages have become associated with the eleventh administration’s special effort to provide political and economic requirements for the facilitation of this tripartite cooperation. Attracting investment from India in line with this development plan will boost the capacity of Iran’s Chabahar port for onloading and offloading of goods and commodities to 84 million tonnes per year. All these developments will result from the implementation of an agreement, which is hoped not to meet the same fate as the Peace Gas Pipeline project that was supposed to take Iran’s natural gas to Pakistan and India, and would not be obstructed by Western countries, which are bent on blocking development projects that may unite developing countries.
According to what the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said during his visit to India, the two countries have also decided to revive a document of strategic cooperation between the two sides, which was signed by the two countries’ heads of state in 1998. Before that, due to existence of various obstacles and limitations resulting from anti-Iran sanctions, implementation of that document had not been possible and now, following the implementation of the JCPOA, it can be taken as a basis for more cooperation.
In addition to the outlook of future plans to be implemented by Iran and India, what has been observed in the short term is increased volume of the two countries’ trade. According to available statistics, following the conclusion and implementation of the JCPOA, India has increased Iran’s share in its oil market by, at least, 10 percent as a result of which India’s biggest oil importing company bought a daily total of 185,000 barrels of Iran’s crude oil last month.
Cooperation against terrorism and extremism
Having more than 170 million Muslims, who account for about 12 percent of its total population and over 10 percent of all world Muslims, India is potentially capable of turning into one of the effective countries in the fight against extremism and terrorism, which arise from the Takfiri way of thinking. Therefore, reviving joint cooperation among Tehran, New Delhi and Moscow over regional security issues, especially preventing spread of terrorism and helping restoration of stability and security to Afghanistan as a major hub of extremism, have been among the most important topics raised in bilateral consultations between the two countries’ officials. Such cooperation will take the impact of relations between the two countries beyond bilateral ties and may be bolstered or undermined according to the approach that other regional countries would take toward the anti-terrorism front. Of course, in the new chapter of their relations, officials of Iran and India have emphatically noted that they would to their best to prevent these relations from being affected by foreign pressure and obstructionist efforts.
This articel was written by Mehraveh Kharazmi for Iran Review on Sep 11, 2016.