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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Iran: A Nation that Became Critical in the Geopolitical Scenario of India

The increasing uncertainties in the geopolitical scenario, such as: President Trump’s continuing with his rhetoric that is causing anxiety among friends, allies and adversaries of the US; the apparent change in the US’s China policy of ‘confrontation and cooperation’ practiced by the previous regimes, towards more of a confrontation stance; despite the known resistance from within the country, Trump’s increasing interest to reset the US relations with Russia so as to wean it away from China; countering terrorism, which in the opinion of Trump is Islamic terrorism, through focused attention by US administration; China’s ambitious plans to create connectivity infrastructure in South Asia, China, Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); importantly, with Trump at the helm of the US administration, the fear that its global footprint along with that of the West in general is likely to diminish affording space for other major powers to play a bigger role; relations of India with China looking tired and worn as is reflected in its obduracy on India’s bid for membership of NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) and its refusal to join India and the rest of the world in the listing of Masood Azhar, a known terrorist-progenitor from Pakistan under the UN Security Council’s 1267 Committee, and the recent standoff at Doklam plateau; improved relations of Russia with Pakistan in terms of its recently entering into military-hardware relationship with Pakistan, etc., are all pointing towards a complex and tension-riddled atmosphere that India has to design a constructive way forward.

Indeed, India has to strategize long-term. And obviously, any action in this direction, perhaps, shall first address itself to eliminate the apprehensions that our recent active engagement with the US has created in the minds of Russians. Similarly, we must also make Russia understand our discomfort at its increased closeness to China by enhancing our engagement with it rather than limiting ourselves to reacting to it.

In the same vein, we also need to pay attention to our friendship with Central Asian Republics that have been all along supporting India in its pursuits such as for a seat in the UN Security Council, its energy needs, etc., to counter the strategic moves that China has initiated to encircle India. As the CARs that are rich in mineral sources have become “incredibly vital” in “India’s geostrategic and geo-economic calculations”, there is an urgent need for India to reconnect itself with these countries more meaningfully. Indeed, India has long historical bonds, both culturally and economically with these countries and all that is required to be done now is to simply leverage on this history to make a better future. It is in this context that Iran assumes criticality, for it can become the viable bridge between India and CARs through its Chabahar seaport and INSTC.

Of course, India is already on this path: joined various connectivity projects such as Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI), Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), etc. Notable among them is of course the agreement that Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed with Iran to develop the Chabahar seaport with an investment of $500 mn. Though Prime Minister Modi described the agreement as an alliance against terrorism, it is essentially driven by India’s larger geostrategic calculations such as: one, to cut Pakistan out of the route between India and Pakistan; two, to gain access to the Middle East and Central Asia for Indian goods;three, to counter the Pakistan-China deal to develop Gwadar port; and four, to check the Wahabi influence that had taken roots in the area ever since the erstwhile Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan in 1979.

Besides the geopolitical and strategic stakes, the development of the Chabahar port is also likely to bestow significant economic benefits on India: it plays a crucial role in facilitating access for Indian goods to Afghanistan and those from Afghan to Indian Ocean sea-lines, besides giving an edge to India’s trade with Iran. It is also sure to rationalize transport costs and importantly will reduce freight time for the movement of Indian goods to Central Asia through the proposed North-South transport corridor. Similarly, it also facilitates easy and safe movement of oil and gas from the Central Asian Republics to India. Iran has thus emerged critical in the geopolitical and economic interests of India. 

Incidentally, Iran has strategically become a centre of Beijing’s plans to increase its global footprint. China is an important market for Iranian oil—its significance getting heightened when the west imposes unilateral sanctions against Iran. China is investing heavily in Iran’s infrastructure development activity. It has become a popular destination for Chinese entrepreneurs even. 

In the light of these developments, our fostering a sustainable relationship with Iran that has become so very critical finally rests on our obvious “constructive and cordial diplomacy.” 
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