India has begun to reset its ties with Iran, notwithstanding the uncertainty surrounding the negotiations between the Persian Gulf nation and the P5+1 (the U.K., China, France, Russia and the U.S.; and Germany) as the June 30 deadline for clinching a nuclear agreement draws near.
After cutting down oil imports from Tehran in the recent past following sanctions, India is now keen on pushing for connectivity with Iran, which will pave the way for its entry into Afghanistan and the Central Asian region. An inter-government memorandum of understanding signed in May for the development of the Chabahar Port in Iran, a recent visit by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar for Foreign Office discussions, and the impetus being given to the North-South Transport Corridor are perceived as attempts to mend ties.
New Delhi has also ignored cautionary voices from the U.S. not to rush into doing business with Iran till it firms up the nuclear deal with it.
After its meeting on June 12, members of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) reviewed the status of the dry run study between India, Iran and Russia via the Caspian Sea, a follow-up meeting to further streamline work related to the corridor has been scheduled for July.
The international transport corridor across Nhava Sheva (Mumbai) through Bandar Abbas (Iran) to Astrakhan (Russia) and Baku (Azerbaijan) is expected to substantially reduce cargo transport time between India and Central Asia and Russia.
Experts, however, point out that India must look beyond trade and economic ties. Aftab Kamal Pasha, Professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said India must vigorously pursue relations with Iran with an eye on possible cooperation to fight the emerging terror groups in Central Asia.
“The disturbing developments in Afghanistan, the penetration of militants into Central Asia, and the continued expansion of IS in Iraq, all necessitate better India-Iran ties,” he said.
Former diplomat M. K. Bhadrakumar pointed out that India would need to work doubly hard to undo the damage caused by toeing the U.S. line.
He said despite the sanctions, India should not have allowed its relations with Iran to decline.
“There has to be a political outreach by India. If Australia could visit Iran, why not India? Before the sanctions, economic ties between India and Iran were growing exponentially,” he explained.
While External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is expected to visit Tehran in the next few weeks for the Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial meeting, there is no word yet on when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Iran.