The killing of Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds force has fuelled apprehensions in New Delhi. India sees the region as part of its extended neighborhood and apprehends the slow down in the strategic Chabahar port besides impacting the trade ties with the region.
The strike that killed Soleimani could slow down India’s plans to develop the Chabahar port – the strategic gateway to access landlocked Central Asia and Afghanistan and bypassing Pakistan. In May 2016, India, Iran, and Afghanistan signed a transport and transit corridor pact as well as a bilateral pact with Tehran to develop the Chabahar port and lay a railway line to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Alice Wells, the State Department’s assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, had earlier stated that that Chabahar had been exempted from sanctions. The State Department said earlier that the exemption was granted because it was related to “reconstruction assistance and economic development for Afghanistan, which includes the development and operation of Chabahar Port.”
US officials said privately that the exemption was also a nod to India that sees Chabahar as vital for the expansion of its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asian republics, however, things are expected to slow down after ties between Washington and Tehran have deteriorated.
Another concern that worries New Delhi is the tensions between Iran and the US could severely impact India’s trade with the region that now stands at $ 78 billion (from Gulf Cooperation Council member countries ie Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman) according to the Indian commerce ministry. According to one estimate by an Indian government official, the West Asia region is the source of some $200 billion in terms of remittances, trade and investments for India.
Against this backdrop, a statement from the Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar advocated restraint and underlined the need for “peace, stability, and security in this region.” “We have noted that a senior Iranian leader has been killed by the US. The increase in tension has alarmed the world. Peace, stability, and security in this region is of utmost importance to India. It is vital that the situation does not escalate further. India has consistently advocated restraint and continues to do so,” Kumar’s statement said.
Earlier, US President Donald Trump said that the top Iranian commander killed in a US airstrike, Qassem Soleimani, was planning to kill ‘many more’ Americans. “General Qassem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “While Iran will never be able to properly admit it, Soleimani was both hated and feared within the country,” said the US president.
Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign operations arm, was killed by US forces in an air raid on Baghdad international airport. “He was actively plotting in the region to take actions— a big action, as he described it— that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk,” Pompeo told CNN.
“We know it was imminent,” Pompeo said of Soleimani’s plot, without going into detail about the nature of the planned operation. “This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process,” Pompeo added.