Foreign Policy Watch: India-Iran

[op-ed snap] Iran can’t issue threats to seek India’s helpop-ed snapPriority 1


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Sanctions on Iran and its impact on India



  1. As pressure mounts on India to take a re-look at its energy ties with Iran, the debate has taken a predictable turn, one which assesses India-Iran relations through the prism of the US.
  2. India has been steadfast in its opposition to the collapse of the JCPOA and is working with Europe and China to salvage the deal.
  3. At the same time, India continues to look at the possibility of being exempted from the US sanctions. The US has indicated that waivers could be given if there was significant reduction in oil imports from Iran.

India’s stakes in Iran are quite limited

  1. Iran is indeed India’s third-largest oil supplier after Iraq and Saudi Arabia, but if push comes to shove, it can be replaced by other sources as the volume is manageable.
  2. The larger economic relationship is nothing much to write about, especially when compared to burgeoning trade ties with the Arab Gulf states.

Iran’s hype

  1. The suggestions by Iranian officials that India could lose “privileges” and revert back to dollar-denominated trade could have been avoided.
  2. Though it was later clarified that Iran will do its best to ensure security of oil supply to India through offering various flexibility measures, which facilitates our bilateral trade in particular Indian export to Iran.
  3. India should not bother much about Iranian oil if Tehran continues to threaten New Delhi about certain nominal “privileges”.

Chabahar Port makes India bother

  1. New Delhi certainly remains keen on the Chabahar Port and has spent significant diplomatic and political capital on the project.
  2. The port is expected to be operational by the end of 2018, with New Delhi committed to developing a free trade area around the port, and finally completing the loop with a $1.6 billion railway line to Zahedan.
  3. As underlined by former foreign secretary S. Jaishankar, it was Iran which was responsible for causing delays in the execution of the Chabahar project.

Bringing threats onboard to Chabahar

  1. Iran has not only suggested that China would be part of the Chabahar project, but has also dangled the possibility of Pakistan joining the project at some future date.
  2. In theory, Sino-Indian cooperation or a wider regional cooperative framework would be an excellent idea.
  3. But to talk of India’s two main adversaries, while asking India to continue to invest in the project certainly won’t make it very enticing to New Delhi.

Regional Security at stake

  1. On Afghanistan and regional security, there are growing divergences between India and Iran. Much like the Taliban, Iran wants to see foreign forces leave.
  2. Tehran has been providing military support to the Taliban in Afghanistan for some time now, but this engagement has reached new heights more recently.
  3. Recent reports suggest that hundreds of Taliban fighters are being trained by Special Forces at Iran’s military academies as part of a significant escalation of support for the insurgents.
  4. Iran has also reportedly sent Afghans to fight for its ally, Assad, in Syria. US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal further incentivises Iran to enhance its support to the Taliban.
  5. Emboldened by their experience in Syria, Iran and Russia are also working closely in Afghanistan to challenge the US and, this primarily means, supporting the Taliban with greater vigour.

Way Forward

  1. The Indian strategic community should resist the temptation of making this debate about India resisting or buckling under American pressure.
  2. As a self-confident rising power, this debate should essentially be about Indian strategic priorities.
  3. If India has to move beyond symbolism in its ties with Iran, Iran has to do the same.
  4. Challenging Indian vital interests even as it asks for New Delhi’s help is surely not the best way forward.

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