Why Bilateral Relations Between India And Iran Have Suddenly Deteriorated?

Bilateral relations between India and Iran seems to be on a decline as New Delhi shows no signs of revamping the oil trade with Iran, while progress on the Chabahar Port has been agonisingly slow.

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The crack in India-Iran ties began to reveal itself in the past week when the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the Delhi riots as “the wave of organized violence against Indian Muslims”.

Javad Zarif took to the microblogging site to voice his opposition to the recent violence in the Indian capital. He wrote – “Iran condemns the wave of organized violence against Indian Muslims.” He further urged the Indian government to “not let senseless thuggery prevail”.

The tweet had India summon the Iranian ambassador Ali Chegeni to convey their disregard and also asked Iran to stay out of matters that are internal to India.

This did not stop Iran as its supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei wrote in his tweet – “The hearts of Muslims all over the world are grieving over the massacre of Muslims in India,” which further antagonized India.

Following this, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Qureshi added salt to the Indian wounds and thanked Khamenei and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for highlighting the plight of Indian Muslims.

New Delhi was taken by surprise at the hasty Iranian reactions to events that were totally internal. The Iranian reactions coincidently came after the historic peace accord between the United States and the Taliban on 29th February in Doha, Qatar.

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Post the peace accord, Iran seems to be coming out to assert its position and play a dominant role in the region. According to experts talking to the EurAsian Times, Iran has been known to have preserved its close ties with the Taliban.

A delegation of the Taliban led by its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar paid a visit to Iran in end November 2019 to negotiate with Iranian officials regarding the peace process which was then in the pipeline.

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The reason for the immediate arrival of Iran in support of Taliban lies in its interest of gaining complete independence to operate in the region and extend support to its close Shia ally – Hazaras, who hold significant sway in western Afghanistan.

After the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani in a drone attack on 3 January by the US, Tehran had reportedly sought the help of the Taliban to intensify attacks against US targets in North and Western Afghanistan.

India-Iran Relations

The development of Chabahar port which has been in the works close to two decades has been a little disappointing for both the Indians and the Iranians. The Chabahar Port project, conceptualized in 2003, saw Iran granting permission to India to use the port for transporting goods to landlocked Afghanistan.

India also saw this to be a great opportunity to contribute towards the development of Afghanistan which also addressed its long-standing plan to bypass Pakistan and secure safe transit access into the region.

With the re-emergence of the Taliban after the peace deal with Washington and their ever-strengthening relationship with Iran, the future of India-Afghanistan-Iran Trilateral Agreement looks in jeopardy.

The Chabahar Agreement was intended to be an economic boon for all three countries. For landlocked Afghanistan, the deal offered passage to the global shipping trade. For Iran, it assured up to $500 million in investment and economic reintegration and for India, it offered a way to avoid being surrounded by China and counter Pakistan.

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The Chabahar project was also meant to be a game-changer for all the three nations. It offered India access to a port just 56 miles from Gwadar, the lynchpin of China’s investment in Pakistan under CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) . However, Indian interest in Chabahar wavered after international sanctions were imposed on Iran over its nuclear program.

Later, under the US pressure, New Delhi sharply decreased its oil imports from Iran. India’s reliance on Iran’s export of crude oil was being seen as a major factor in the US approach to sanctions against Iran.

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New Delhi was helpless and had no option but to comply with the Washingtons’ decision on reducing Iran’s crude oil exports to zero and therefore, the US ended waivers in May 2019 that had allowed the top buyers of Iranian oil to proceed with their imports for six months. India had to stop importing oil from Iran after the US refused to extend the exemption from sanctions.

For a resurgent Iran (after the US-Taliban peace deal) the Chabahar project and New Delhi cutting oil imports (both under US pressure) represents broken promises from New Delhi that Tehran is unlikely to forget easily.