Saturday, June 15, 2024
 
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Indo-Iran Ties Strengthened Further




Asad Mirza


External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s two-day visit to Iran, last week, was a crucially timed diplomatic engagement. The visit besides discussing the regional security situation was also aimed at further strengthening the political, economic and cultural aspects of the bilateral relations.


As the crisis in the Red Sea spurred by the Israel-Hamas war escalates, India has begun a diplomatic outreach to crucial regional players to secure the country’s trade and strategic interests. The outreach treads a line of neutrality in the conflict between the Western powers and the Islamic world wherein India has not joined the US-led multinational naval coalition in the Red Sea while it remains critical of the Houthis’ violence.


In this backdrop, Minister of External Affair S Jaishankar’s recent visit to Tehran was aimed to express India’s concerns on the increasing attacks by the allegedly Iran-backed Houthis in the Red Sea, which he shared with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.


MEA spokesperson said the issue of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the violence and destabilisation there, were among the things that were discussed, as India is ‘deeply concerned about the whole situation’.


In the last weeks, both the US and the UK have launched air strikes targeting the Houthi positions in Yemen. On its part, India has been closely monitoring the unfolding situation in the Red Sea. The issue also figured in a phone conversation between Jaishankar and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on 11 January.

Countries like India are concerned that the conflict may impact most of Asian trade with Europe. This may lead to a supply chain restructuring, with neighbouring countries at higher costs.

Iran supposedly has close links with the Houthi militia in Yemen which have launched a series of attacks on shipping vessels plying the Red Sea route since mid-November. A key motivation for Jaishankar’s visit was the recent attacks on several India-linked shipping vessels.

Terming the attacks on ships in the vicinity of India as a matter of ‘grave concern’ to the international community, S Jaishankar said in Tehran that such threats have a direct bearing on India's energy and economic interest as he underlined that this ‘fraught situation’ is not to the benefit of any party.

"There has also recently been a perceptible increase in threats to the safety of maritime commercial traffic in this important part of the Indian Ocean," he said in a joint press statement after wide-ranging talks with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian.

He stressed that it's important that this issue be ‘speedily addressed’, in an apparent reference to the targeting of merchant vessels in the Red Sea - one of the busiest trade routes - by Iranian-backed Yemen's Houthi rebels amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.


Economic Aspects
EAM Jaishankar also met with Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mehrdad Bazrpash and held a detailed and productive discussion on establishing a long-term cooperation framework on the strategically vital Chabahar Port. During the visit, on 15 January, India and Iran signed an agreement on the further development of the Chabahar Port'.


Located in Sistan-Balochistan province on Iran's southern coast, the Chabahar Port is being developed jointly by India and Iran to boost connectivity and trade ties. India has been pushing for the port project to boost regional trade, especially for its connectivity to Afghanistan.

Earlier, Jaishankar had projected the Chabahar Port as a ‘key regional transit hub’ at a connectivity conference in Tashkent in 2021. The port is also seen as a key hub for the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) project.

The INSTC project is a 7,200-km-long multimode transport project for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.


Cultural Links
In a significant move to deepen cultural ties, EAM S Jaishankar announced that the Government of India has decided to include Farsi (Persian) as one of the nine classical languages in India under the New Education Policy.


"The government of India has decided to include Farsi as one of the nine classical languages of India in our New Education Policy," said Jaishankar, highlighting the cultural, literary, and linguistic connections between Iran and India.


Jaishankar, made the above remarks during a joint press joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart, H Amirabdollahian on 15 January.



Indian Outreach

Indian foreign minister’s recent visit to Iran was part of the diplomatic efforts that have been stepped up to secure India’s interests regionally.

Though, the Shiite population in India is quite small compared to the Sunni Muslims. Yet, the Indian government has always been able to build and balance its relationship with Iran and Saudi Arabia, both seen as the leaders of the Shia and Sunni communities globally. This diplomatic balancing has always worked to India’s advantage, besides giving it a regional clout.


At a regional level India has always accorded a significant priority to its ties with Iran. As the country apart from offering it a gateway to the central Asian republics and also Afghanistan, has also been a reliable oil supplier to India, and that too on a favourable rupee payment basis.


Therefore, the issues discussed during the foreign minister’s visit also encompassed all aspects of the sustained relationship between India and Iran, as they covered regional security, trade and development and cultural ties. The announcement related to Farsi, was also timed right and was aimed at targeting the Muslim minority in the country.


Over the years Indo-Iran ties have moved ahead, in spite of meddling by other countries and the current diplomatic policy led by PM Modi and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, in this regard has not only carried on the old relationship, but the manner in which trade, economic and cultural tries between the two countries have progressed, shows their commitment to build a long-lasting relationship.


(Asad Mirza is a Delhi-based senior political and international affairs commentator.)


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