By: Dr. Md. MUDDASSIR QUAMAR, Strategic Analyst on Middle-East
External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar attended the swearing-in ceremony of the new Iranian president, Ayatollah Sayyid Ebrahim Raisi, last week, in Tehran. The External Affairs Minister was on a two-day visit to Iran for extending greetings to the newly sworn-in President. He called on President Raisi and conveyed personal greetings from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India and Iran share friendly bilateral ties encompassing trade and commercial relations, political engagements and security cooperation. Iran is an important regional partner of India in the Persian Gulf and the two sides share a common vision for connectivity between South Asia, Gulf and Central Asia. Indian has invested in Iran’s Chabahar Port which has opened doors for Afghanistan’s trade with the outside world including India.
In recent months, India has significantly enhanced its bilateral engagements with Iran. Dr. Jaishankar had a stopover meeting with Iranian leaders in Tehran in December 2020. In September 2020, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had visited Tehran and held talks with his Iranian counterpart and other Iranian leaders on issues of bilateral and regional interests. Later, Iranian Defence Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami visited India in February 2021 to attend the first Indian Ocean Region (IOR) Defence Ministers’ Conclave in Bengaluru.
In July 2021, External Affairs Minister had again stopped over in Tehran on his way to Moscow and had a meeting with the outgoing Foreign Minister of Iran, Dr. Javad Zarif. Dr. Jaishankar had also called on then-President-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, and handed over a personal congratulatory message from Prime Minister Modi. It was during this meeting that President Raisi had extended an invitation to the External Affairs Minister to attend his swearing-in ceremony.
The recent spurt in bilateral engagements are significant as Indo-Iranian relations had witnessed some difficulties due to the US sanctions on Iran imposed after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018. This affected India’s oil imports from Iran as the Iranian oil sector also came under American sanctions. While India was among a few countries that were exempted from the sanctions on oil imports, the exemptions ended in April 2019.
Notwithstanding the challenges, India and Iran continued to engage. India has invested significantly in the development and functioning of the Chabahar Port. New Delhi had allocated INR 45 crores in the 2019-20 budget for the development of the port, and this was increased to INR 100 crores in the 2020-21. India remains committed to developing the Chabahar port as a connectivity hub in the region.
In addition to bilateral issues, India and Iran have shared concerns with regard to developments in Afghanistan. The imminent withdrawal of the US forces from the beleaguered country has led to the resurgence of armed Taliban militias. The Taliban are trying to take control of Afghanistan and overthrow the elected Afghan government.
India has strategic interests in Afghanistan and considers the security and stability in the country vital to peace in South Asia. It has invested significantly in rebuilding the ravaged nation and is strengthening the rebuilding of healthcare and educational infrastructure. New Delhi also helped in the construction of a new Afghan parliament building.
Iran that shares a long border with Afghanistan considers the country’s stability as paramount for peace and security in the neighbourhood and sees India as playing a constructive role in Afghanistan’s stability. During his meeting with the Indian external affairs minister, the newly sworn-in Iranian President said that “Iran and India can play a constructive and useful role in ensuring security in the region, especially Afghanistan, and Tehran welcomes the New Delhi’s role in the establishment of security in Afghanistan.”
India has expressed interest in strengthening bilateral ties with Iran. The two sides are committed to deepening the bilateral cooperation on areas of mutual interest including the development of Chabahar port and the security and stability of Afghanistan. The External Affairs Minister’s visit to Tehran signifies the growing bilateral engagements and the rekindling of the Indo-Iranian ties.