Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Iran visit has reset India’s West Asia foreign policy. There are enough reasons for the Asian powers to break the inertia in bilateral relations. There are four key areas that will receive a boost from Modi’s visit — energy, infrastructure, transport and culture.
Energy: Before the imposition of US sanctions, Iran was the second largest oil exporter to India. Now that the US is easing sanctions, the two countries could revive their energy partnership. “Iran is the sixth-largest oil exporter to India. But we would like Iran to increase its oil exports to India and regain its previous position,” MoS Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan says. India will import at least 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian oil in the current financial year. Government-run ONGC Videsh is involed in gas exploration in Iran’s Farzad-B field in the Farsi offshore block.
Infrastructure: Chahbahar port is the centrepiece of India-Iran infrastructure cooperation. While it opens up a route to Afghanistan, the port will also allow India to have access to several key Central Asian countries. India has pledged a $500 million credit line for this project.
Transport and transit corridor: A trilateral agreement has been signed between India, Afghanistan and Iran. This also illustrates the multilateral implications of the bilateral relation.
Culture: Leveraging their long-standing civilizational linkages, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) will organize a series of programmes jointly with Iranian cultural organisations.
Geopolitical implications: As the US looks to recalibrate its relations with Iran and India, there is a momentum on all sides. Tension between the US and Saudi Arabia, the recent nuclear deal, and shared interests in Syria and Yemen also could push India and Iran towards fortifying their relationship.
The regional context: The volatile Pakistan-Afghanistan equation, the rise of IS, and a leadership vacuum among Taliban make a compelling case for India to reinforce its ties with Iran. From Iranian standpoint, India would be a valuable ally in wake of the snub it received at the OIC meet in Istanbul in 2015. Notably, Iran has also joined the Indian Navy’s annual initiative, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, a forum for the navies of the Indian Ocean littoral states to engage with each other.
The agreements with Iran allow Modi to make a meaningful intervention in West Asian politics. His visit to Iran seems to balance out his visits to Saudi Arabia earlier this year and UAE last year. The visit could pave the way for a long-term strategic relationship between the countries.