Chabahar Port No Longer A Top Priority For Modi-Government As India, Iran Drift Apart: OpEd

India’s relations with Iran had started to soar long before Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had criticized India for its handling of Delhi riots, a move which invoked sharp reactions from New Delhi.

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There were plenty of warning signals that showed both the nations were drifting apart because of their foreign and domestic compulsions and now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The drift further received impetus when New Delhi disallowed flights from Iran. The decision surprised Iranians who are reeling under the coronavirus pandemic amidst crippling US sanctions. However, the decision was canceled as India permitted Iran’s Mahan Air to fly stranded Indians from the Islamic Republic and take back Iranians stranded in Delhi. So far India is yet to offer any aid to Iran.

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Iran’s long-standing ambition to become a parallel power center and provide an assertive Islamic counterpoint to Saudia Arabia and its influence in the Middle East has impacted the region’s power equation.

This ambition has been hurt largely due to the coronavirus pandemic and US sanctions which Iran has time and again asked the Trump administration to lift and in the process has also sought India’s help considering India’s clout in Washington. Iran also has held a grouse against New Delhi for its alleged failure to stand up to the US.

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All these reasons and many more have raised doubts about India’s foreign policy investments in Iran and particularly in Chabahar Port. The big question is will India’s wish to have an enduring route to Afghanistan and Central Asia by sidestepping Pakistan survive the recent changes of time? Although India’s Commerce Ministry has eased rules to speed up the project, it continues to be carried at its own pace.

India’s anxieties about its foreign policy to sidestep Pakistan and rebuild ties with Iran through investing in Chabahar have been exacerbated after the United States decided to sign a peace deal with Afghanistan to end a nineteen years of war and fulfill one of Trumps electoral promise before his next election.

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India’s deep-rooted fears about the Taliban, a Pakistan proxy are not completely unfounded given the fact that the peace accord was signed without keeping India’s interest in mind and ever since the deal was inked, the Taliban went on an offensive capturing one city after another and have threatened India’s interest in Afghanistan.

The recent attack on a Sikh Gurudwara, which the EurAsian Times reported, killed over 25 people further merits India’s case even though the ISIS claimed the responsibility. The Taliban with the tacit support of Pakistan may not even permit India access through Afghanistan highways which India built into Central Asia.

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There is a strong sentiment that had General Qassem Suleimani been alive, the peace deal with the Taliban may not have happened as Suleimani had been an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s use of terror as state-policy.

In an earlier interview with an Iranian news agency – Suleimani had said Iran had warned countries not to allow their borders for creating problems for their neighbours and anyone who is using this as a state policy is seeking to disintegrate the other country.

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Pakistan is said to have rejoiced on the news of Suleimani’s assassination and soon after his death, Iran’s Ambassador to Pakistan Syyed Muhammad Husseini revived an old proposal called golden ring to bring together Iran, Pakistan, China, Turkey and Russia.

Husseini’s proposed idea was not well received back in New Delhi as it tried to link Chabahar port with Gwadar port in Pakistan that is being funded by China with experts suggesting that it was a tacit abandonment of the Chabahar centered trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan.

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The reason behind such a move, as many believe is because of China’s flexing of its financial power as it promised to invest more than $250 billion in Iran’s infrastructure. Iran’s principal detractor and foe in the region – Saudi Arabia will surely for a change welcome Husseini’s proposal as it considered India’s investment in Chabahar detrimental to its foreign interest as it would have allowed Iran to spread its influence.

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Saudi think tank has always felt India’s interests are best served within the Gulf region and not with Iran as it provides India with oil and gives employment to millions of Indians.

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General Suleimani was a key supporter of India and a nightmare for US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s designs for Afghanistan as he helped Shiite militia to fight the Islamic State in order to provide them leverage in negotiations with the US and helped India to look after its interest in Afghanistan by providing critical intelligence.

Originally Penned By Sanjay Kapoor. Edited By Syed Zaki Hassan