The Iranian isolation, it seems, will soon be over. An end to the sanctions against the Islamic republic has become a possibility with Iran and the world powers reaching a deal which will be inked before the deadline of June 30. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is optimistic about reaching the nuclear deal by ironing out the differences that persist. This is an occasion for India to review its relations with Tehran, which have been consistently good. Recently, Union shipping minister Nitin Gadkari was in Iran to sign a memorandum of understanding on the Chabahar port expansion project. This project is of great significance to India as it will give access to Afghanistan’s garland highway.
It is as clear as daylight that Pakistan will not give India access to Afghanistan through its territory. It does not want India to have any trade relations with the landlocked country. The Chabahar port will help Indian goods to reach four major cities in Afghanistan—Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. Afghan dry fruits can reach Indian markets quickly through this port. Foreign secretary S Jaishankar is expected to visit Tehran later this month to follow up on the port expansion project. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is also expected to visit Tehran soon to attend the NAM ministerial meeting. India should do everything possible to bolster its ties with Iran because it is India’s gateway to Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia and Eurasia, besides being a source of hydrocarbons.
India, it may be recalled, had been one of the major importers of oil from Iran. It even enjoyed concessional rates of payment. Yet, it is also a fact that the quantum of oil imported from Iran has been progressively declining over the years, mainly because of the sanctions, which India could not ignore. After all, India had not taken kindly to the Iranian plans to harness nuclear energy for defence purposes. Countries like the US have advised India against rushing to tie up trade deals with Iran in anticipation of the end of sanctions. India must protect its national interest. It should also not forget that China has shown interest in investing in the Chabahar project. The port can be used to ship crude oil and urea, saving transportation costs and reducing freight time from India to Central Asia and the Gulf by about a third. It is a win-win project for India.