The new President, Excellency Ebrahim Raisi, has been elected to office at a time when Iran’s economy reels from the US led sanctions and in dire deep economic conditions, further compounded by the ramification and impact of the China Virus pandemic. In order to legitimise his Presidency tenure and maximum two term tenure, to fulfil his election promises, Raisi’s administration will likely prioritise the economy in a big way. They may like to invite more investments from EU, after new German government is voted to power.

There are claims that Raisi, who hails from the Khorasan province, belongs to a political school of thought, which believes in expanding ties with countries in the East, including India; it is also believed that Raisi has a special affinity towards India. At the invitation of the Government of Iran, External Affairs Minister visited Iran on August 5 – 6, 2021, to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the President-elect H. E. Ayatollah Sayyid Ebrahim Raisi on August 5, 2021. Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is the new foreign minister and had welcomed the India’s initiative to send our EAM Excellency to the swearing in of the new government at Teheran.

During his visit, EAM made a courtesy call-on the President, and on the sidelines, had met other leaders of Iran. Mohammad Javad Zarif (Persian: محمدجواد ظریف‎, romanised: Mohammad-Javād Zarīf; Persian pronunciation: [mohæmːædd͡ʒæˌvɒːde zæˌɾiːf]; born 8th January 1960) is an Iranian career diplomat and academician. He was the foreign minister of Iran from 2013 until 2021 in the Government of Hassan Rouhani, was a vibrant face and has been a regular visitor to India, and I also had a glory to meet him and conveyed my greetings in chaste Persian and his eyes twinkled. He visited India, just during the Indian elections and had pleaded that India must continue import of crude oil.

A warm meeting with President His Excellency Ayatollah Sayyid Ebrahim Raisi after his assumption to office. Conveyed a personal message of @narendramodi his commitment to strengthen bilateral relations is manifest, tweeted the EAM.

A point of inflection could come on Iran’s eastern front, in Afghanistan. The rise of the Taliban and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war is pushing the country closer to a civil war, with the Taliban making inroads into capturing territory and pushing the Afghan Government and the armed forces on the run. However, a Taliban push against minority Shia Hazara population in Afghanistan has already seen the emergence of Iran-backed militia ecosystems to fight against Taliban transgressions.

Bilateral ties took a massive hit after India stopped importing oil from Iran in mid-2019 because of sanctions imposed by the former Trump administration. At the time, Iran was among India’s top three energy suppliers. Iran has also been upset at the pace of development of Chabahar port by the Indian side. Recent moves by Tehran to develop a railway line to Chabahar and the Farzad B gas field without Indian involvement have not gone down well with New Delhi. India’s policy has been to engage with whichever regime comes to power in Iran. Therefore, there is going to be little bearing on the bilateral ties.

Raisi’s election will have a positive impact on the India-Iran relations only if he is able to get the sanctions from US lifted. Only then will India be able to do business with Iran and go back to buying Iranian oil and go ahead with its connectivity plans through the Chabahar port and the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC).

Raisi stressed that Iran holds special importance to boosting ties with India and said new steps must be taken to develop bilateral, regional and international relations with a new perspective. There are various sectors, especially in economic and commercial fields, as well as new technologies, that both countries should use to promote the level of relations. Iran has developed a version of S-400 missile system.

Subtle, yet important events in the India–Iran bilateral stand tall as the strategic position of Iran in New Delhi’s calculus gets heightened amidst increasing instability in Afghanistan, the aftershocks of which could be felt across Central Asia.

Iran and India have been jointly developing the Chabahar port in recent years, which is the starting point of the so-called Chabahar corridor from India to Afghanistan. The current events in Afghanistan affect the implementation of the Chabahar Corridor project. Can the port of Chabahar reorient itself to work within the framework of the INSTC today?

Keen to extend its BRI to Afghanistan to get an alternate exit to the warm water in Gulf, should CPEC face problems, and to knowledge there are problems, besides exploiting mineral wealth of Afghanistan, China has been actively involved with Taliban during peace process. Iran is economically weak and needs Chinese support. The China Iran strategic partnership fructifying US$ 400 Billion deal may be an impediment for Indian entry routes into Afghanistan through Chabahar and further connectivity to International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), although Iran has not given any signals of disruption of these project. The Chabahar port agreement between India and Iran was a huge step forward in New Delhi’s involvement in the Persian Gulf and, through the port, to Afghanistan and Central Asia. West is also aware that, they must engage with Taliban led Afghanistan, otherwise they will be ceding strategic space to China and Russia, whose core concerns have already been signed off by the Taliban. Therefore one could witness an extension of a loose alliance of CRIPTQ – China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Qatar, which would force alternative alignments in the region.

The Indian point of view as per, which it may not be a happy situation in light of its heavy investments. India is in touch with Russia, whose interests do converge with India in this region, being a stakeholder in INSTC for connectivity with Central Asia and Eurasia. INSTC through Afghanistan is the shortest route for Central Asia to warm water, hence they will prefer it over Sino-Pakistan offer of connectivity through CPEC. The study finds that as long as Afghanistan remains in a state of ongoing conflict and political instability, it will not be able to strengthen its position in the region to materialise its regional connectivity ambitions. Countries need to feel that Afghanistan is a safe trade and transit hub and that they can realise a return on their investments.

Being a land-locked country, imports into Afghanistan are either routed through Pakistan or Iran, and India does over a billion dollar worth of dried fruits trade, which used to enter the Wagah border, while traversing through Pakistan. As the border and transit through Pakistan abruptly got disrupted, the dried fruits cost increased by over 12 to 15%.

Compared to imports via Karachi or Bandar Abbas, Chabahar is a much closer route into Afghanistan. The United States also wanted Afghanistan to be dependent more on India-Iran than on Pakistan. Afghanistan was also friendlier to India and even signed a transit agreement with India and Iran to complement the port project. India’s participation in the development of the Chabahar Port will provide India an alternative and reliable access route into Afghanistan utilising India’s earlier investment in building the Zaranj-Delaram highway in that country.

Afghanistan’s geostrategic significance is its linkage to Central Asia, Iran, China and Pakistan, and indirectly to India too; its location is central to the communication links.

Its diverse ethnic composition and existence in a potent zone through which connectivity is afforded to various countries, gives it a unique advantage. An implosion within such a country always has far-reaching consequences. India’s investment of US$ 3 Billion in soft power resources to bring development and social order is a contribution to the future of Afghanistan. It aligned with the US through a commonality of interests but with the US having unilaterally withdrawn with disgrace, Indian interests appear compromised, especially as Pakistan works overtime to neutralise Indian influence. The takeover happened so fast that it left millions of Afghans stunned and most parts of the world in shock. Harrowing visuals have surfaced from all parts of Afghanistan, with fear gripping the nation over the prospect of the return 1990-like Taliban regime.

Most of these assets have been captured by the Taliban, which regained control over Afghanistan 20 years after it was forced to flee by the US-led forces. For India, however, the possibility of losing a key strategic ally in South Asia may surpass the concerns related to its US$ 3 Billion investment in Afghanistan.

Iran made statements against Taliban government recently;

Russia says it will recognise Taliban government, if it’s inclusive one;

US is operating on the Tajik – Afghanistan border;

India is having an operational base in Tajikistan;

But when will the government be sworn in!?

Good relations with Iran will make India’s entry in Afghanistan easier and safe guard its interest.

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