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Rajnath Singh: India and Iran set to revive regional approach model for stabilising Afghanistan


New Delhi: India and Iran are understood to have explored revival of regional approach model involving India-Iran to stabilise Afghanistan as US plans to exit Kabul and give Taliban a stake in governance.

This issue figured prominently when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met his Iranian counterpart Brig General Amir Hatami in Tehran Saturday enroute to Delhi from Moscow. Singh became the first Indian Minister to visit Iran since the outbreak of Covid aiming to maintain strategic interest amid Chinese inroads in Iran.

ET has learnt that the discussions also included regional security issues, and both agreed that security in the region is inter-connected. In this regard, the two Ministers referred to shared views of India and Iran for peace and stability in Afghanistan, persons familiar with the developments indicated to ET. The Iranian Minister also stressed that negotiations rather than a military approach will work in Afghanistan, ET has learnt.

It may be recalled that India and Iran along with Russia had collaborated to safeguard their interests by supporting the Northern Alliance when Taliban was in power between 1996-2001.

The tumultuous geo-politics also came up in discussion. Amid the US sanctions on Iran Hatami expressed hope that India, with a reputation for being an independent country, would be impartial in treatment of global issues during its stint in the UN Security Council as the non-permanent member from January 2021.

The two Ministers also referred to the Chabahar port as an important project driving the connectivity imperatives of the relationship. Hatami is understood to have said that Chabahar is an important project for the development of Afghanistan.

Terminals built at the Chabahar Port built with India’s assistance has recently witnessed cargo movement to South Asia and Southeast Asia notwithstanding slowdown in the global trade due to Covid.

In 2016, Iran, India, and Afghanistan decided to jointly establish a trade route for land-locked Afghanistan and Central Asian countries. In February 2019, the Afghanistan-Iran-India trade corridor through Chabahar Port was officially inaugurated. Iran is also key to INSTC — shortest route from India to Russia via multi-modal transport. The Chabahar Port was operationalised in December 2018. Iran is planning to increase the capacity of the port from the current 2.5 million tonnes to 8.5 million tonnes. The port will also be linked to INSTC to connect Central Asia via Afghanistan.

However, India’s problem with Iran has been its insistence to give Chahbahar-Zahedan railway contract to Khatam al-Anbiya, a Revolutionary Guard entity, which is under US secondary sanctions.

Singh on his part called for diversification and expansion of trade and commerce. Both sides are trying to expedite the conclusion of Preferential Trade Agreement to enhance business ties.

Both Ministers stressed on the historical, civilizational and linguistic ties between the two countries, marked by extensive people to people contacts. Singh compared the courtesy and hospitality of Iran to the civility and mannerism of his home city and Parliamentary constituency, Lucknow. Farsi language continues to be read in Indian academic institutions.

The Defence Minister also lauded Iran’s efforts for supporting Indian nationals, including pilgrims from J&K, and for facilitating their return to India via flights and two Indian naval ships during the Covid.

The situation in the Gulf including in Straits of Hormuz is a matter of immense significance to India and Delhi has successfully managed to balance its ties among all powers. Singh told his Iranian counterpart that peace, stability and security of the Gulf region, which is home to nine million Indian nationals, is of direct interest to India. This region also meets 60% of India’s energy needs.

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