Ahmadinejad’s visit to halt drift in India-Iran ties

April 27th, 2008 - 6:35 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, April 27 (IANS) When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stops over in New Delhi Tuesday for a few hours, the visit - his first after assuming power in Tehran nearly three years ago - will be watched keenly not only in this country but the rest of the world, particularly the United States. With the India-US nuclear deal slipping into limbo, the Manmohan Singh government has shrewdly sensed the importance of reaffirming its ties with Iran, both as a placatory gesture towards its Leftist allies opposing the nuclear deal and as a pragmatic alternative source of energy for the country’s growing economy.

With decks cleared for the construction of the US-backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, India is now focusing on the pricing issue with Tehran and transit fee with Islamabad to get the $7 billion Iran-Pakistan-India pipelines off the ground. This could prove crucial for the country’s energy security if the nuclear deal does not get through.

Oil ministers of India and Pakistan met in Islamabad last week and agreed to sign a bilateral agreement and to start construction of the pipeline by 2010. India also wants to put back on track a floundering $25 billion deal for getting 5 million tonnes a year of LNG from Iran for the next 25 years.

With the world’s second largest natural gas reserves of 26 trillion cubic metres and 130 billion barrels of oil (next only to Russia and Saudi Arabia), the importance of Iran, which is located at the crossroads of Central and West Asia, for India’s energy security can hardly be overstated.

As this will be his first meeting with Ahmadinejad, who came to power in August 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to assure Iran that despite India’s vote against Tehran at the IAEA first in September 2005 and then in February 2006, the millennia-old ties between the two countries are not hostage to the whims of any third country.

Ahamadinejad may seek the help of India, whom it sees as a rising Asian power and as a friendly interlocutor in its nuclear standoff with the West, knowledgeable sources said.

New Delhi sent a powerful message across when it snubbed Washington, despite their growing strategic ties, recently for offering gratuitous advice on its Iran relations, saying that it was for the IAEA to determine the nature of the Iranian nuclear programme and not for any individual country, however powerful it might be.

Other areas of cooperation and shared interests like the stability in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism and creating a co-prosperity sphere in Central Asia, where both countries are observers at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), will also be on the table, official sources said.

Cooperation in infrastructure projects like Chabahar port and a rail link that links up with the larger Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) project that will provide added connectivity for Indian goods and services on its way to Afghanistan and Central Asia will also be discussed.

“Ahamdinjead’s visit is an opportunity for India at course correction and put its relations with Iran back on solid footing after vote against Iran at the IAEA,” said Qamar Agha, an Iran specialist who has taught in various universities, including Jamia Millia Islamia.

For India, home to the world’s second largest Shia population, closer ties with Iran, a rising regional power, specially after the installation of a Shia-led regime in Baghdad and its control over radical terrorist outfits like Hamas and Hezbollah, certainly helps to ensure stability of a Gulf region, which is home to a 4.5 million-strong Indian diaspora.

“Friendly ties with Iran are important for India. Given incestuous alliances between militants the world over, any instability in the region can spill over into Indian territories like Kashmir,” Prof A.K. Pasha, a West Asia expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told IANS.

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