India’s ties with Iran are a litmus test for its claims of ‘strategic autonomy’.
In a significant diplomatic push, India’s External Affairs Minister visited Iran twice in one month. Earlier, he landed in Iran on July 7 and met President-elect Ebrahim Raisi. Interestingly, he was the first foreign dignitary Raisi met even before assuming office.
Later, Mr Jaishankar also attended President Raisi’s swearing-in ceremony on August 6, signalling that New Delhi is now looking for a significant reset in ties with Tehran, a fact corroborated by President Raisi as well.
AEM Jaishankar meets President Raisi during Iran visit, conveys PM Modi’s greetings
Why is the visit significant?
India has sent dignitaries for the presidential swearing-in ceremony in the past as well – Vice President Hamid Ansari and senior minister Nitin Gadkari attended former President Hassan Rouhani’s two swearing-in ceremony respectively. So why the recent visit by India’s External Affairs Minister is significant?
Firstly, the fact that Mr Jaishankar himself attended the ceremony suggests that it was not merely political but also carried political weight indicating the Indian government’s desire to start a new beginning with the new president.
Secondly, making that pitch for Ebrahim Raisi, who in 2019 was put up on the list of sanctioned individuals by the United States (US) Treasury Department for alleged violation of human rights, especially during his role as the head of Iran’sIran’s judiciary, is significant.
This suggests that New Delhi is willing to walk the tightrope between the US and Iran, who are at loggerheads with each other, and at a time when India-US Relationship is reaching new heights.
Cooperation on Afghanistan:
As the US ends its military presence in Afghanistan, both India and Iran are facing shared concerns.
Both the countries have been left out from the ”Troika Plus’ dialogues between the US, Russia, China and Pakistan on the Afghanistan issue despite being regional powers.
Both the countries face threats from various terrorist groups from Afghanistan, such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, etc., and a takeover by the Taliban would be a security threat for both the Asian powers.
Both have invested heavily in infrastructure and connectivity projects such as the Chamber Port, the International North-South Transport Corridor, etc. Taliban control over Afghanistan will be a security nightmare for these projects.
It is in this context that a statement made by President Raisi assumes significance, as he said, “Iran and India can play a constructive and useful role in ensuring security in the region, especially Afghanistan and Tehran welcomes New Delhi’s role in the establishment of security in Afghanistan.”
Therefore, the fact that Iran can exert pressure through its proxies on various groups in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, makes it a significant regional power whose cooperation can help India secure its interests in Afghanistan.
Their joint efforts can also help reduce Pakistan’s hegemony in Afghanistan which can have widespread geopolitical repercussions.
The China Angle:
After the Trump administration, in 2018, unilaterally withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal and hostilities between the two nations reached their peak, Iran’s economy started crippling under the sanctions imposed by the US.
During this time, China signed a 25-year cooperation agreement and agreed to invest a whopping $400 billion into Iran during this agreement. Thus, the Asian dragon came to the rescue of Iran during difficult times.
This growing proximity between Iran and China is a cause of concern for India. Like with the US’ “maximum pressure” policy, India succumbed to US demands to cut off oil imports from Iran.
This significantly impacted trade relations between the two Asian countries, not just in energy but also in other sectors.
Therefore, bringing the bilateral relations back on track would benefit the strategic and geopolitical landscape and help utilise the immense trade and commerce capabilities between the two countries.
Moreover, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently even went on to say that, “The potential of cooperation between Iran and India is far much more than what the capacity between Iran and China is.”
However, it is up to Tehran to decide whether to put all eggs in one basket or not.
The current world environment provides an opportunity for Iran and India to reset their ties. With the nuclear deal being renegotiated, the Afghanistan problem and the dire need for economic development to tackle the financial crisis arisen because of the Covid-19 pandemic presents a substantial opportunity for both countries to cooperate on various issues and negotiate the divergences.
But it would require strong political will and some tough strategic decisions to turn this potential into reality. India’s ties with Iran are a litmus test for its claims of ”strategic autonomy”.