Prime Minister Narendra Modi's two-day visit to Iran which started on Sunday (May 22) is significant for strategic and economic reasons. In fact, the Iran visit could be Modi's best harvest in the domain of foreign policy in two years since his coming to power.
India needs Iran--strategically and economically
Modi's visit to the West Asian state that came out of US sanctions last year and is being seen as the next big economic story was given a prelude by top ministers like Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari and Dharmendra Pradhan. It was good to see the Indian establishment attaching significance to the Iran story after a comparatively dull phase when India showed little enthusiasm in reaching out to Iran with diplomatic capitals since it was under the scanner of the international community.
India partly paid the bills to Iran to ensure Modi's visit goes through successfully
That India is determined to go forward to seal the deal with Iran to serve its own interests could be sensed when New Delhi partly cleared the $6.4 billion it owed to Iran for crude oil imports---in euros through Turkey's Halkbank. New Delhi and Tehran have recently found themselves in a dispute over the currency of payment of the dues by the former to the later. The part payment showed that India has made up its mind to use the Iran factor to its advantage. [Chabahar versus Gwadar: It's about geopolitics of ports today]
India's major interests related to Iran:
India has two major interests to serve while dealing with Iran and they are, as it has been said, strategic and economic.
Chabahar Port --- the most important agenda
On the strategic front, the Chabahar Port is the main agenda. India and Iran agreed to develop the port in 2003 when the NDA led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in power. But the issue lost its focus after the western world imposed sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear programme. In 2014, the two sides signed an MoU to develop the project once the sanctions were lifted. The sanctions were lifted in January this year.
Chabahar is India's reply to Gwadar Port run by China in Pakistan
The port is extremely significant for India in geo-strategic sense. It not only gives India the route to reach out to Afghanistan without touching Pakistan but also allows to gain an access to central Asia and beyond. The Chabahar Port also gives India to break China and Pakistan's game of encirclement against it. China has already been operating the Gwadar Port in Pakistan and that makes it all the more imperative for India to find an equivalent counter-stroke.
A lot of time has been lost in India's quest for strengthening its foothold in Iran through the Chabahar Port, thanks to compulsions of international politics, but now it has shown an urgency to go forward and also committed $20 billion for the port's development. The funds might be a question but in international politics, intention matters a lot.
Developing Farsi gas field block
Another geo-strategic interest that India has in this region is the development of the Farzad B block in the Farsi gas field. India made a $1 billion commitment for the project but as it was in Chabahar, sanctions also delayed progress in this project.
Iran's economy suffered as a result of this delay and it was so frustrated that it even threatened to award the project to others, indirectly refer to China. After Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan's visit to Tehran, both countries aim to take the project towards a fast conclusion. The Indian establishment led by Modi ensured that the negotiations continued interrupted.
Iran-India gas pipeline bypassing Pakistan --- A game-changing project if comes off
The Iran-India gas pipeline is another big option for India to ensure its energy security. This project connecting Iran with India without touching Pakistan is not an easy one but for India to respond to the designs of China and Pakistan and meeting its energy needs---this could be a game changer.
Negotiations on the pipeline worth $4.5 billion are being held and the Modi government would not spare any effort that the right economic and political mechanisms are followed to make the strategic-economic dream come true.
North-South transport corridor to get closer to central Asia and challenge China's OBOR plan
Iran is also of great significance for India when it comes to the latter's gaining access to central Asia---one of the most crucial geo-strategic regions of the world. India can trade with central Asia through the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and Iran is closest to India to help achieve its goal. Initial talks on the project were held between New Delhi and Tehran in 2012. The INSTC, if made a reality, could be India's answer to China's One Belt One Road plan.
Maritime security and safety of Indians in West Asia
These apart, security for shipping lane in the Persian Gulf and safety and well-being for millions of Indians working in the volatile West Asia is also something that India to work on while dealing with Iran.