Imran Khan visits Iran: What it means to India?

After a blasting 50mins speech in the UN General Assembly last month the cricketer-turned-Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Iran and Saudi Arabia to help facilitate talks between the regional rivals.

Khan met Saudi King Salman and the crown prince MBS in Riyadh and then followed the trip over the weekend to the Iranian capital to meet President Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei.
Maybe the facilitation process wasn’t carried out well enough, as the leaders couldn’t arrive at any set commitment for further dialogue. Although at a joint press conference on Sunday, Tehran reiterated it’s desire and readiness to resolve issues and come to the negotiation table.

President Rouhani voiced his regards and welcomed any goodwill gesture that Pakistan would like to provide for more peace and stability in the whole region and expressed his readiness to assist Pakistan for providing peace and stability in the whole region.

Though, the sparks every now and then between the two neighbours Iran and Saudi Arabia has been consistent since the Arab Spring in Middle East or to be more precise since 2011 as different world leaders or political scientists has been theorizing these powers as participants of proxy warfare, or intra-religious conflict. Recently the flare up of violence targeting oil facilities in both Iran and Saudi Arabia were warming up newsrooms across the globe as both the governments blamed each other for the attacks.

During the meeting in Riyadh, both the leaders reviewed the strong ties between the two brotherly countries and fields of joint cooperation as well as ways of enhancing them. Earlier this year Saudi Arabia announced more than $20 billion as new investments in the South Asian country during a high-level visit. And this time Khan offered the use of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, as a neutral venue for Saudi and Iranian leaders to meet and clear out differences.

Consequences India may face~

At this day, for any middle eastern nation the most important security subjects are terrorism and safety from it or defence. In case of Iran, Imran Khan’s support for JCPOA since 2015 and his party’s pro-Iranian views have warmed up their relations. Iran has been a very strategic partner for India in the recent times but Imran Khan and his party’s influence is becoming visible when Kashmir now appears in the Iranian supreme leader’s speeches, and Iranian posters commemorated Pakistan’s independence day last year. Not a good news at all for India. In past despite the controversial statements that India would not betray Iran, India voted ‘against’ Iran twice at the IAEA. It voted for those resolutions finding Iran to be in non compliance in 2005 and then it voted to refer Iran to the UN Security Council in February 2006. Though, those moves made Indian ties with Washington tighter, but the Indo-Iranian rapprochement slowed down a bit. It took some time for the relations between them to get re-energized.

So, it is very likely that Iran’s nuclear ambitions will be more important than commitments on bilateral trade and other forms of economic cooperation with India. During Khatami’s 2003 visit the ‘Roadmap to Strategic Cooperation’ was mapped and featured India’s commitments to develop the Chahbahar port complex. Progress in this regard has been very slow.

Iran lacks liquefied natural gas (LNG) production capability, thus India had committed to construct a LNG plant. But sanctions on the yearly investments of Iran’s energy sector didn’t let it to fall into place.

The commitment to build a North-South Corridor with Russia have continued to make progress. This corridor is a part of an Indo-Iranian initiative, as a part of this agreement India agreed to expand the Iranian port of Chahbahar and lay railway tracks that would connect the port with Afghanistan. India also has committed to upgrade the most important circular road network or the ‘Ring Road’ of Afghanistan. This will help Indian goods not only to reach Afghanistan but also to move into Central Asia and beyond, because Pakistan denies India over-land access. And then again Iran being a Muslim majority country is neither liking the treatment of Muslims by the current government of Bharatiya Janata Party, as international bodies like Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been voicing their concerns since 2016 and nor is it happy about the recent deepening of New Delhi-Washington relations. Whereas, Khan’s ruling party has been playing their votebank politics very wisely by winning the hearts of Pakistani minority Shia population with pro-Iranian views and therefore it’s very likely to be favoured by the Shiite Iran.

Maybe a change is required in India’s vision for a more accessible Central Asia and Middle East for yielding better strategic relations and economic development.