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China On Verge On Grabbing Chabahar Port From India; Top Ministers Visit Tehran

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Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently travelled to Moscow, Russia on a three-day visit to attend the SCO) summit, but he didn’t return back to New Delhi straight after, rather he set a surprising unscheduled visit to Tehran, where he met his Iranian counterpart Brigadier General Amir Hatami.

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As per reports, China and Iran are on the verge of signing an economic and strategic pact worth $400 billion, but New Delhi wants to ensure that the Chabahar project doesn’t get impacted by this deal. This was among the reasons why first Rajnath Singh and now Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Tehran.

Rajnath Singh’s Visit To Iran

Analysts have been left baffled regarding Singh’s visit with many wondering what may be the crucial reason behind the top Indian diplomat’s sudden detour.

According to a statement issued in a tweet by Singh’s office on Saturday (September 05 – “Both the Defence Ministers discussed ways to take forward bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on regional security issues, including peace and stability in Afghanistan,”

Singh himself said that he exchanged a “very fruitful” series of dialogues with the Iranian minister in a meeting which is said to have taken place in a “cordial and warm atmosphere”.

     “Had a very fruitful meeting with Iranian Defence Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami in Tehran. We discussed regional security issues including Afghanistan and the issues of bilateral cooperation,” Singh tweeted on Sunday (September 06).

Now, experts believe that apart from Afghanistan, the real reason behind Singh’s sudden visit might be due to fears arising out of China’s growing relations with Tehran, which may result in New Delhi losing an important ally in Western Asia.

India-Iran-Ties

While India’s ties with China have deteriorated, Iran’s relations with Beijing have significantly improved in recent years, with the two planning on signing a proposed mega-deal on economic and security partnership, worth a staggering $400 billion, which has garnered massive attention from India as well as the rest of the world.

Spread over a period of 25 years, the proposed plan will allow President Xi Jinping to tap into Iran’s oil and gas resources in exchange of cooperation in the field of information, technology, agriculture industry, tourism and telecom, thereby providing China immense power to fiddle into Iran’s affairs, which New Delhi feels would be used to create a distance between India and Tehran.

What is another huge concern for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is that China might use its influences to help iron out the bilateral differences between Iran and Pakistan, in a bid to further isolate India from the middle-east.

Defence Expert Qamar Agha, reiterates India’s worry but says that it is in the benefit of both the nations to support each other.

      “India would never want Iran, China and Pakistan to come together because it would be extremely damaging for them. On the other hand, Iran would never want India to be its traditional and important ally against India.”  So, despite all the challenges, there is no special option for both the countries except to support each other.” said Agha.

China, which has considerably close ties with its ‘Iron Brother’ Pakistan, has been strategically mapping out each move to enhance its presence in the region, by dominating areas from where the US is making an exit, while trying to oust out India’s influence from the region.

Another cause of worry for the Indian side is the conclusion of a security and military partnership between Beijing and Tehran, under which it has called for “joint training and exercises, joint research and weapons development and intelligence sharing”, in order to counter militancy, human trafficking and cross-border crimes.

Moreover, Singh’s visit also signifies India’s concern over the recent developments at Iran’s port of Chabahar, where Iran has reportedly now dropped India from the project. India had committed a sum of rupees 100 Cr from its last budget for the development of the port linking India and Afghanistan, which is seen as India’s gateway to Central Asia and Afghanistan.

One of the reasons for India’s reported dropout from the project has been because of the slow pace of the port’s development due to sanctions imposed by the United States, which has forced Iran to instead start work on the Chabahar-Zahedan railway.

Interestingly, the Chabahar Port is close to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, which is being developed by China as part of its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which links it to the Indian Ocean through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Talmiz Ahmed, Former Indian ambassador to Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman, says that while work on the port has been slowed down due to Trump’s sanctions, China still has had a role to play.

     “In the year 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to push it forward, but then Iranian sanctions came to dominate India as soon as Trump came to America,”

      Iran may not have publicly agreed to separate India from the Chabahar project, but I think now the role of China will certainly expand.” said Talmiz.

However, Talmiz points out that despite the challenges facing India in its bid to improve its ties with Iran amid increased Chinese influence, Indian Defence Minister’s visit is seen as a sign of a promise. “Whatever be the reason, this visit will also be considered as an important stop in good relations between Iran and India,” said Talmiz.

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