Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced he will meet Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his visit to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly.
The meeting comes amid heightened violence in Afghanistan, illustrated in stark relief by the assassination of key peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani on Tuesday. In recent months, Taliban insurgents have raised the tempo on international and Afghan forces, as well as attacks targeting Kabul — most spearheaded by the network of Pakistan-based warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Both Iran and India fear that the violence will escalate as the multinational International Security Assistance Force pulls out of Afghanistan — in turn threatening regional stability, and empowering jihadist movements targeting the country's neighbours.
“There isn't very much we can do to influence the drawdown,” a senior government official said. “We didn't call in western troops, and they'll leave because of domestic concerns in the countries that sent them, not on our say-so.”
In this situation, he says, India's hope is that “Iran will be a factor for stability in Afghanistan. That has been our experience.”
The two leaders are also likely to discuss events in West Asia. Iran has been increasingly concerned about the fallout from the western intervention in Libya, which, it fears, could mark the beginning of an effort to isolate it.
In a speech delivered at the weekend, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei voiced support for revolutionary movements in the region, which he described as part of a century-and-a-half-old process of “Islamic awakening” that propelled clerics to power after the 1979 revolution.
However, he also raised concerns that the new order could be marked by a Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict, and that the West could use force to further isolate Iran.
India, for its part, has voiced concern over the prospect of protracted instability in the region, which supplies much of its oil, is home to an estimated 6 million expatriate workers and a source of some $ 90 million in trade.
The official noted that India has already conveyed its concerns about the use of external force to bring about regime change, as well as its worries over the West's claims that it has a responsibility to protect civilians alleged to be at threat — ideas used to justify intervention in Libya.
Prime Minister Singh and President Ahmadinejad will also likely to discuss the fate of the stalled Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. India has so far refused to join in the project, citing concerns over the security of the pipeline, which will have to traverse Pakistan's troubled Baluchistan region — the site of regular attacks by nationalist insurgents that frequently disrupt domestic gas supplies inside the country.
India has also sought price concessions from Iran, arguing that the project will involve a $6-billion direct expenditure, and some $30 billion in overall industrial investments.
New Delhi's relationship with Tehran has long caused worries in Washington, where early promises by President Barack Obama to seek an improved relationship with Iran have given way to mutual hostility.