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Modi’s Iran Visit: A Much Desired Initiative

The centre piece of the visit were the agreements to develop the Chabahar port which, when completed, would be India’s gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia

Photo Credit : PTI

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Prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran May 22-24, 2016 rejuvenated the India-Iran relationship stuck in a miasma of United Nations and US sanctions. In realising this initiative the devil will be in the detail and in committed performance. It will determine the success of India’s relationship with an Iran sought by world powers looking for political and economic gains.

The centre piece of the visit were the agreements to develop the Chabahar port which, when completed, would be India’s gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also signed the agreement together with President Rouhani and PM Modi considering his country will be its largest beneficiary. India’s commitment of $500 million and a credit line of Rs 3,000 crore for import of steel rails sets the stage for an early start to the project.

The other agreements range from building connectivity, trade, investment and energy trade to cooperation between the two countries. India will develop an aluminum project in Iran, while IRCON will develop the Chabahar-Zahedan railway line through an Indian credit line of $1 billion. It complements the road link from Zaranj (Afghanistan) to Delaram (Iran) which connects Afghanistan’s Garland Highway to the Iranian border completed by India in 2010.

Modi’s initiative comes at a time when Iran has become a major arbiter in the affairs of the Middle East and Central Asia and an important player in northern South Asia. It has steadfastly supported Syria in the ongoing war against the Islamic State alongside Russia; it has continued its support to the Hezbollah against Israel, and has become a crucial player in Afghanistan’s future evolution. With India, Iran shares apprehensions about developments in Pakistan. This increases the importance of Iran in India’s extended neighbourhood.

India’s was forced to triangulate its relationships with Iran and the US to minimise adverse fallout of one on the other. India’s vote in the International Atomic Energy Agency supporting the capping of Iran’s nuclear ambitions set a negative tone to the bilateral relationship. India suffered in building its energy security and developing a secure gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia. It had to reduce its crude imports from Iran and its exports of petroleum products.

The end of US sanctions and its recognition of Iran as a key player in resolving the situation in Syria and the region, allows India to move forward on its decade-old commitment to develop a robust alternative access to Central Asia. Even more crucial will be the denouement of the ongoing sectarian proxy war being waged by Iran and Saudi Arabia through proxies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Having visited Riyadh in early April 2016 it was fitting that Modi got the other view during his visit to Tehran. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei meeting Modi made it clear that this was an issue for the Islamic countries to resolve. With almost 150 million Muslims its outcome could affect India’s religious harmony and stability.

Even more crucial will be the denouement of the on-going sectarian proxy war being waged respectively by Iran and Saudi Arabia through proxies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Having visited Riyadh in early April 2016 it was fitting that Modi got the other view during his visit to Tehran. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei meeting Modi made it clear that this was an issue for the Islamic countries to resolve. With almost 150 million Muslims its outcome could affect India’s religious harmony and stability.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Rajender Abhyankar

The author is a former Indian diplomat, Professor of Practice of Diplomacy and Public Affairs at Indiana University, Bloomington

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