There is a new spring in ties between New Delhi and Tehran. Tehran’s thaw with the West offers a new opportunity to revitalise the old camaraderie and reconfigure their relationship between the two civilizational companions: India and Iran. Against this backdrop, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s two-day visit to New Delhi has ignited new possibilities of deepening this crucial relationship.
The visit comes at a time when Iran is passing through a transforming phase in its relationship with the West after the interim agreement in Geneva in November, 2013, that gave a much-needed breathing space to its economy and almost saved it from the brink of political isolation at the international level.
The trip also comes at a juncture when there is a hope that that the new regime in Tehran is open to a new deal with the western world and come to a broader understanding with the west about its controversial nuclear programme.
Zarif’s arrival in Delhi also cannot be delinked from what is happening in Afghanistan and the centrality of Iran in the new scheme of things in the wake of the 2014 withdrawal of international combat troops.
The easing of Western sanctions since the Geneva arrangement has boosted the oil trade between India and Iran. India, according to a report, was one of the first countries that reached to Iran after the sanction was eased. As a result, oil import from Iran has more than doubled to 412,000 barrels per day up from 189,100 in December. Last year, the oil import from Iran had dipped more than 40%. India, which once was the second largest importer of oil from Iran, slipped to sixth position after the sanction.
The new opportunity now not only helps Tehran in boosting its earnings but also helps it in expanding its oil import to India which is dependent heavily ( more than 60%) on foreign oil. India is the fourth largest consumer of energy in the world and second largest in Asia after China.
This outreach by the Iranian foreign minister is aimed at securing a long-term deal with a trusted and all-weather friend which has stood by it in the teeth of the international sanctions.
The easing of sanction has given Iran an opportunity to seek investment in its huge natural gas reserves. India, being a reliable partner, can invest in Iran’s energy sector. India’s oil major ONGC is already active there the new opening gives it a great opportunity to explore gas which will not only satisfy the economic needs of Tehran but also fulfil New Delhi’s growing hunger for energy.
“The Iranian Foreign minister’s visit is an attempt to reach out to a reliable and potential energy partner. The very fact that New Delhi is one of the first destinations for the Iranian foreign minister, immediately after the easing of sanctions demonstrate Tehran’s comfort level with New Delhi which despite all the international sanctions kept the channel of economic and political engagement open”, says Sujata Ashwarya Cheema of Centre for West Asian Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia University,New Delhi.
Linked to India’s interest in Iran’s oil wealth is the construction of port of Chabahar at the mouth of Persian Gulf in the Makran coast. India is developing a container terminal there. The port would bypass Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, which is being developed with the Chinese help. For India, Chabahar opens a doorway to Afghanistan and central Asia and further down to northern Europe. This will not only help India, but will also bring in investment to the west Asian republic which has suffered a lot in the last three decades due to constant international sanctions.
The interests of the two countries are converging in Afghanistan. Iran and India have huge investment in the development projects in the landlocked country. Both countries would like to see a stable government in Kabul after the 2014 drawdown. It serves their interests to have a moderate regime in the violence-torn nation.
“India and Iran are natural allies and they need each other to stabilize not only South Asia but also contain violence and extremism in the subcontinent. While leaders from France and other European countries are making a beeline to Tehran, a senior minister from Tehran travels to New Delhi to extend the hand of friendship it says a lot about the bonding that the two historical neighbours share with each other,” Cheema told India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org).
“India offers a new opportunity to Iran. The visit not only deepens economic and strategic relationship between the two countries; it also revamps the old relationship between two civilizational partners,” says Dr. Zakir Hussain of Indian Council of World Affairs(ICWA), a New Delhi-based think tank.
(The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author)
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