Throughout the past several years, Iran-India relations have witnessed numerous ups and downs, which have mostly been due to political and international pressures which have been imposed on this relationship. Nevertheless, the two countries’ officials and policymakers have been able to keep this relation in a fairly warm level.
The invitation of the previous Iranian president by the Indian government, the visit of high-level Indian officials to Iran, and the current visit to India by the Iranian president, have all helped to create a strategic depth to this relationship.
In the past, Iran has always opposed the passing of anti-India resolutions in international organizations such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and India has supported Iran in some of these same international organizations, such as India’s support of Iran’s observer status in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Further more, these two countries were always supportive of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan against the Taliban forces, and currently back the government of President Karzai.
Iran-India political relations have also been parallel to economic relations of these two countries. The policies of the Indian government to acquire ever more energy resources to feed her rising needs in the coming years have created many challenges for the Indian government. India has always been looking to gain access to additional oil and gas imports. Iran’s export of oil to India, and India’s export of diesel to Iran have been on the rise. Based on current predictions, India shall need about 400 million cubic meters of gas per day (which currently stands at 90 million cubic meters.)
The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, or the Peace Pipeline, can alleviate part of India’s future gas needs, and also politically, it puts Iran in a mediatory position between India and Pakistan. Moreover, Iran’s energy industry offers a very lucrative market for Indian investment. Additionally, military-defensive cooperation between these two countries in the recent years have been on the rise, and have the potential to expand further. Holding joint military maneuvers and cooperation in this industry can be a good beginning point.
Another one of India’s policies has been to acquire access and create relations with the Central Asian countries, especially in order to get hold of natural resources. With the war and instability in Afghanistan, and cool relations with Pakistan, Iran offers the best route and solution to this goal. Reciprocally, Iran has been looking to acquire access to new markets in southeast Asia, and create alliances there, in which India, especially through SAARC, can help Iran in achieving this policy. With the presence of India’s weight in the SAARC, Iran can and should use her relations with this country to create a foothold in the region and expand relations with the member countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, and Bhutan.)
More importantly, the current visit by the Iranian President to India, presents Iran with several options in her foreign policymaking. As a member of the Board of Directors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), India has twice voted against Iran’s nuclear dossier. The main reason for this voting trend in the Agency has mostly been due to imposition of pressure by the US on India’s decision making. American officials have been able to buy-off India’s negative vote against the Islamic Republic’s peaceful nuclear program through offering this country a proposition for a nuclear cooperation deal.
United States has always been wary of close Indian-Iranian relations, and American officials have on numerous occasions warned of the repercussions of this alliance. On May 2007, an intrusive letter signed by several prominent Congressional representatives addressed to the Indian government, called the rapprochement between India and Iran a despicable act, and warned that expansion of this kind of relations could endanger the nuclear cooperation deal between the US and India. The United States has always used this nuclear deal as both a stick and a carrot against India.
Domestically, leftist Indian parties have constantly warned the government not to relinquish a member and ally in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), in the face of bullying US pressures. In this recent trip, Iranian officials should explain and emphasize to their Indian counterparts the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, and make clear to them that acquiescing the West, especially the US, and bowing to pressures, will most definitely have negative implications on the cordial mutual relations between Iran and India.
Importantly, throughout the recent years, India’s relations with the US and Israel have been expanding. Iranian officials should use the diplomatic tools available in order to create a wedge between India’s relations with the US and Israel, so as to neutralize the efforts of the latter two countries to find a foothold in the Southeast Asian region.
Right now is the time for India’s decision and policymaking towards the Islamic Republic and mutual issues. This country has to face the contradictions in India’s foreign policy decisions and actions with regards to Iran. The current visit by the Iranian president to India can be a helping factor in India’s decision making. Also, through the smart use of the diplomatic tools and Iran-Pakistan relations as a lever, Iran could impose a certain degree of moderation to India’s policies towards Iran.