Underscoring Iran-India historical and cultural relations has always been the headline of every bilateral meeting between the officials of both countries. In my view, these inherent advantages cannot be taken away, because apart from the foreign policy agenda, these ties have pushed the relationship forward. These civilisational ties are the cornerstone for drawing a multidimensional and longstanding relationship.
From Sanskrit ties in the Vedic era and “Hindi Style” in Persian poetry in the late medieval period to partnership engagements in contemporary times, mutual interactions have shaped an Indo-Persian culture of which we have every right to be proud. Our modern engagements have brought remarkable results as India and Iran have always shared deep social, cultural, economic and political relations. Our nations and peoples are bound by strong ties of friendship, mutual sympathy, trust, and respect for each other’s cultures, traditions and interests.
How best can we move beyond a situation described as symbolism in the bilateral relations of both sides? I think the answer lies partly in Iran’s view on global and regional issues.
In this context, Iran and India also have common ground based on shared interests, particularly in Afghanistan.
The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly believes that preserving the achievements of the Bonn Agreement on Afghanistan, supporting the continuation of the democratic process, strengthening the current political order and structure, and facilitating the peace process within the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled framework can help safeguard stability and security of the region.
To reach these goals, Iran and India, with the assistance of the other countries, must cooperate closely to improve the capabilities of the Afghan government, especially Afghan security forces, and to enhance combating terrorism and illicit drugs.
In another transition, West Asia is moving to Asianisation of its economy in such a way that today East Asia and India are the largest oil importers from the region. Iran has also placed India in its priority in the line of Look East Policy, the respect for which, the supreme leader of the Islamic revolution has time and again advised to successive Iranian governments. One can say with certainty that there is consensus within Iran’s establishment for strengthening engagement and cementing partnership with New Delhi. From our perspective, the rise of India will be positive in the path of multilateralism.
Many political and strategic issues could be listed to underscore the importance of both countries for each other. India, as one of largest economies, can be a part of Iran’s growth story. One of the most important points of strength in bilateral ties is the geographical closeness of the two countries that can generate many opportunities for both sides, specifically in respect of economic and trade relations. Besides, India and Iran enjoy potential connectivity assets in the region. In my opinion, if both sides try to boost their economic profiles, the strategic dimension will ensue soon.
Chabahar port enjoys special strategic status and is the gateway to Afghanistan, Central Asia, Caucasus, Russia and Europe. It should not be forgotten that Chabahar is a free economic zone and given India’s growing appetite for energy, it could turn into the largest industrial complex especially on the downstream and upstream oil and gas sector in the region.
The International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is another axis of partnership. If cultivated properly, this connectivity project would be a game changer in the region.
Despite the fact that connectivity and energy will continue to be the basis of the relations, there are many opportunities in the non-oil sectors, direct investment or joint ventures targeting the big market of the region. We need some drivers and incentives in many areas such as biotechnology, IT, car manufacturing and so on.
It is essential to overcome barriers such as bureaucracy and third party. We have already signed several MoUs in all the above areas during the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Tehran in 2016 and President Hassan Rouhani to New Delhi in 2018. We must translate these good intentions to actions.