Insights into Editorial: Iran can’t issue threats to seek India’s help
The US has told India and other countries to cut oil imports from Iran to “zero” by November 4 or face sanctions.
Iran will end the privileges being provided to India if it tries to source oil from countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq, the US and others to offset cuts in Iranian oil.
As for the US sanctions on oil import from Iran: Iran has been a reliable energy partner for India and follows a “rationale pricing” of oil which ensures the interest of both consumers and suppliers.
Context of the Issue:
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.
India has been steadfast in its opposition to the collapse of the JCPOA and is working with Europe and China to salvage the deal.
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:
Iran is India’s third-largest oil supplier after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Iran has offered refiners incentives including almost-free shipping and an enhanced credit period on oil sales.
But if push comes to shove, it can be replaced by other sources as the volume is manageable. 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 of privileges to India:
The suggestions by Iranian officials that India could lose “privileges” and revert back to dollar-denominated trade could have been avoided.
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.
India should not bother much about Iranian oil if Tehran continues to threaten New Delhi about certain nominal “privileges”.
Importance of Chabahar Port for India:
Gwadar port in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan is barely a 100 kms away from Chabahar and is being developed by China.
Chabahar will face stiff competition from Gwadar. India and Iran will have to make certain that to-and-fro business handled by Chabahar is significant.
Chabahar enjoys several advantages over Gwadar-
- It is located in a peaceful region as opposed to Gwadar which is situated in a violent and terrorism prone province.
- The possibilities for establishing manufacturing and downstream petrochemical industries in Chabahar are much greater as ready, easy, cheap natural gas is available in plentiful in Iran.
- Chabahar is a natural harbour and can serve as the sourcing point for the International North-South Transport Corridor.
- For Afghanistan, the Chabahar port could prove to be, as Modi said, ”a Golden Gateway.”
- Chabahar provides a strategic option to India to connect with Afghanistan and Central Asia and beyond by sidestepping Pakistan.
However, Chabahar Port makes India bother:
New Delhi certainly remains keen on the Chabahar Port and has spent significant diplomatic and political capital on the project.
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.
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 by Iran:
- 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.
- In theory, Sino-Indian cooperation or a wider regional cooperative framework would be an excellent idea.
- 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 Stability and Security at stake:
Ensuring security and stability in Afghanistan, which is vital to peace in the region, poses a challenge to both India and Iran.
Both countries desire peace in Afghanistan but their approaches are markedly different.
On Afghanistan and regional security, there are growing divergences between India and Iran. Much like the Taliban, Iran wants to see foreign forces leave.
Tehran has been providing military support to the Taliban in Afghanistan for some time now, but this engagement has reached new heights more recently.
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.
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.
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.
The Indian strategic community should resist the temptation of making this debate about India resisting or buckling under American pressure. As a self-confident rising power, this debate should essentially be about Indian strategic priorities.
Bilateral cooperation in security, defence and fight against terrorism emerged as significant areas of discussion will be the way forward. A Bilateral Extradition Treaty was signed and it was also decided to have enhanced cooperation in the maritime domain.
The two countries “agreed to hold dialogue to look into measures for cooperation in defence sphere, including port calls by naval ships, training and regular exchanges of defence delegations.”
If India has to move beyond symbolism in its ties with Iran, Iran has to do the same. Challenging Indian vital interests even as it asks for New Delhi’s help is surely not the best way forward.