The Indian Council of World Affairs hosted digitally the Second Dialogue between Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and Institute for International and Political Studies (IPIS), Iran. The dialogue together senior Indian and Iranian experts/academics to discuss the current state and future trajectory of India-Iran relations, while looking at trends at global, regional and bilateral levels.
2. In Opening Session remarks were delivered by Amb. Dr. TCA Raghavan, Director General, ICWA, Dr. Seyed Kazem Sajjadpour, President, IPIS Amb., Gaddam Dharmendra, Ambassador of India to Iran and Amb. Ali Chegeni, Ambassador of Iran to India. Raghavan noted there has been discernible dynamism in regional and global processes, the dialogue provides an opportunity to discuss and understand them. Dr Sajjadpour concurred that there should be regular exchange of analyses between ICWA and IPIS on regional and global developments. Such dialogues are important for bridging and promoting cooperation between our nations, governments, institutions as well as ideas. Amb. Dharmendra observed that COVID-19 has affected the globe as well as the anniversary events planned for the 70 years of the India-Iran bilateral diplomatic relations. He noted that visits of Defence Minister of India and External Affairs Minister of India were an occasion for extensive discussions on bilateral relations and regional issues. For boosting economic cooperation, talks between India and Iran over bilateral Preferential Trade Agreement are in the advanced stage. Amb. Ali Chegeni observed that Iran-India relations stand strong amid geopolitical flux. The two countries have similar views on a multi-polar world order. He maintained that Iran sees rise of Asia as an opportunity and doors are open for India and other countries in connectivity and infrastructure development.
3. First thematic session on ‘India-Iran Relations in Global and Regional Context’ was chaired by Amb. Rakesh Sood, Former Ambassador of India to France, Nepal and Afghanistan, Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation. The speakers in the session included Mohsen Shariati Nia, Professor, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Mr. Nandan Unnikrishanan, Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Mr. Mojtaba Roozbahani ,Senior Research Fellow, IPIS. The session saw exchange of views on India and China in the West Asia Theater, the US Foreign Policy under President-elect Joe Biden and peace process and evolving situation in Afghanistan. It was noted that despite the increasing interest and influence of China in West Asia, the two competing alliances of Russia-Iran and their allies and the US-led alliance would largely determine the politics in the Middle East. China’s role in the region has changed from a low profile actor to soft balancing against the United States. Iran-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership has to be understood in this context. With Pakistan, China’s partnership is no longer only about containing India, but about supporting Pakistan economically and financially. The growing economic partnership between China and Pakistan, will reduce latter’s dependence on GCC and may further bring Pakistan closer to Iran. It was argued that for India, new assertive policy of China has emerged as big a challenge which has pushed India for forming many sorts of new alliance and join many multilateral formats. On Afghanistan, it was observed that the US-Taliban agreement of Doha has created an imbalance of power in Afghanistan and has emboldened thee Talban further. In Afghanistan, Taliban has the upper hand. Taliban is attacking Kabul by missile to have leverage in intra-Afghan talks in Doha.
4. The Session II on ‘India-Iran Bilateral Relations’ was chaired by Amb. Sanjay Singh, Former Ambassador of India to Islamic Republic of Iran. The two speakers included Dr. Ahmad Sadeghi, Director for Subcontinent Affairs Department, MFA, Iran and Dr. Deepika Saraswat, Research Fellow, ICWA. The discussions in the session mainly focused on the issues of trade, connectivity and energy in Post-COVID-19 scenario. It was noted that with the new US administration, there are expectation of new opportunities for expanding the ties between Iran and India to maintain peace and security in the region. The momentum of bilateral relations between India and Iran has been maintained throughout the year with constant dialogue between the two partners. As Iran seeks to double its non-oil exports, with focus on neighbouring countries, an early conclusion of negotiations on India-Iran Preferential Trading Agreement, initiated in 2016 will be a step forward in the right direction. On Chabahar port, the focus of both sides is now on economic viability of the project. It was noted that prospects for India in Chabahar are also immense, as the port will not only provide easier transportation of the commodities across the region but also will provide the facilities of warehousing and dispatching. However, there are operational hurdles that India and Iran need to overcome. The inauguration of Kafh-Herat railway line in December 2020 is expected to enhance trade links across the region and provide a crucial transport link for the landlocked country. Energy remains a key strategic area in bilateral relations of the two countries. As India seeks to reduce omission intensity of its GDP and boost the share of cleaner fuel in energy mix, it is only natural that India should continue to pursue investment opportunity in the Farzad-B gas field.
5. The dialogue ended with Closing Remarks from Dr. Sajjadpour, President, IPIS and Dr. Raghavan, DG, ICWA. It was agreed that there is a need for more intensive discussion on Afghanistan between ICWA and IPIS. This could also be a way forward for deepening consultations between the two think tanks as there are fundamental convergences of the views on Afghanistan. Regular exchanges between the two institutions will help in maintaining understanding and trust at a time of a complex web of changes at the regional and global level.