India Foundation hosted the 3rd round of bilateral discussions with Institute of Political and International Studies (IPIS) on the theme, India-Iran Relations: Civilisational Links and Modern Challenges. The event took place in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh on November 9-10, 2022. The Bilateral began with a visit to the residence of Shri Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh where the delegations discussed various aspects of India-Iran relations and the potential for economic cooperation between the two countries. The Chief Minister highlighted various trade and investment opportunities in Uttar Pradesh and how UP is rising as a manufacturing centre as well as the growth engine of the India Economy, and invited Iran to invest in his state as well as encouraging business to business initiatives. The Chief Minister also invited Iran to join the Global Investors Summit that will take place in UP in 2023. He also spoke of UP’s role in the defence manufacturing sector of India and the potential for cooperation between the countries in this field. The Iran Delegation members showed interest in having economic ties with the various states of India and how Iran can provide 4 of the 5 (Energy, Raw Materials, Connectivity, Money and technology) main drivers for economic growth to India namely energy, raw materials, connectivity and a market for India goods,
The Inaugural Session was held later in the evening at the Centrum Hotel, Lucknow. The session was chaired by Shri Suresh Prabhu, Former Union Minister, Government of India. The speakers of the session were, Dr. Mohammad Hassan Sheikholeslami, President IPIS, Shri Shaurya Doval, Member, Governing Council, India Foundation, Shri Danish Azad Ansari, Minister of Minority Affairs, Government of Uttar Pradesh. The session mainly focused on reiterating the historical cultural and present people to people connect between India and Iran and the renewed vigor with which both the countries are working on improving bilateral relations and translating them to on-ground cooperation.
Session 1: India Iran Bilateral Relations—Potentials and Challenges
The first working session of the bilateral took place on November 10, 2022 and was chaired by Dr. Mohammad Hassan Sheikholeslami, President, IPIS with 3 distinguished speakers, Mr. D P Srivastava, Senior Fellow & Cluster Leader, Vivekananda International Foundation, Ms. Prabha Rao, Distinguished Fellow, India Foundation and Mr. Ali Asghar Moghari, Department of South Asia, India Expert, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Islamic Republic of Iran.
The discussions centered around the unique history of the countries and the fact that both the countries were able to preserve their cultural heritage for so long. Despite various differences in approach to geopolitics, both Iran and India have always had mutual respect and understanding of each other’s positions in the global scenario.
At present both India and Iran face common threats and challenges such as rising terrorism, extremism and narcotics trade in the shared neighbourhood, the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan and the current instability in Pakistan. Taliban has been unable to exercise control in the region in 1.5 years of its rule over Afghanistan. They are wittingly or unwittingly cooperating with other terrorist groups and the region is becoming increasingly dangerous. Both India and Iran have investments in the region that are essential for meeting common ambitions and the desired level of growth and development in the two countries.
Similarly, both countries also share certain common ambitions such as the INSTC project and Chabahar Port. The economies of both the countries complement each other with Iran being more than capable of meeting India’s oil and gas demands while India’s growing manufacturing sector and large agricultural economy can be supported with access to Iran’s market where there is a high demand. Specifically, Iran is interested in purchasing pharmaceuticals and related materials as the sanctions have hit the sector hard.
There are several challenges ahead such as the sanctions, the inefficiency of the on-ground middle men and lack of awareness about the other country internally on both sides. However, these challenges will be met with renewed efforts from both sides.
Special Session on India Iran Relations
The discussions of the first session were followed by a short special session on India-Iran Relations chaired by Shri Shaurya Doval, Member, Governing Council, India Foundation with a special address from Shri Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Former Union Minister of Minority Affairs. This session took up many key aspects of India-Iran Relations bringing a brief overview of the cultural ties with an emphasis on the significance of the bilateral being hosted in Lucknow which is also known as the City of Nawabs. There was also a call for more efforts to take the relationship forward so as to reach the full potential of cooperation.
Session 2: Trade and Connectivity: North-South Corridor and Chabahar
The second session was chaired by Shri Siddharth Nath Singh, Former Minister, Government of Uttar Pradesh and the speakers of this session were, Mr. Hussein Ebrahim Khani, Senior Researcher, IPIS, Ms. Gaurie Dwivedi, Author and Senior Journalist, Mr. Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser (Weekly).
The INSTC is an opportunity to go beyond Central Asia to Baltic, Nordic and Arctic regions. This is not just a transport corridor, instead it is a development corridor. There is a huge time and cost incentive with a reduced freight costs by 30% and journey time by 40% in comparison to the conventional deep-sea route via the Suez Canal. Iran is the pivot that can connect Russia and other landlocked countries to India.
The delay in the development of Chabahar port was acknowledged as well as the challenges present from both sides. Some of these challenges are unfortunately beyond control of both nations. However, both countries are working on addressing any slowdown from the government or institutional bodies. Moving forward, focus should go beyond the current phase to the next 4 phases planned for the future of the port.
Another important point discussed was Iran’s over dependence on China and the possibility of future challenges arising as a result. The Indian vision of its future was also discussed where it was noted that India seeks to be a righteous power rather than a super power. In other words, India seeks to inspire, not control.
Session 3: Current Regional Dynamics—Southern Asia and Persian Gulf
The third session was chaired by Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, Member, Governing Council, India Foundation. The speakers of this session were Capt Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation, Swapan Dasgupta, Member, Governing Council and Dr. Hussein Molla Abdollahi, Head of South Asia Study Group.
This session focused on the diversification from geopolitical approach to a geo-economic approach and the role of education, soft power and media in this process. Rise of Taliban in Afghanistan, Economic collapse of Sri Lanka despite having a high human development Index and Bangladesh’s need for an IMF bailout were mentioned as examples of things going wrong. Maldives and its links to Saudi Arabia were also discussed along with how the highest number of people joining global radical outfits such as al-Qaida per capita come from Maldives.
Pakistan and Afghanistan were discussed in depth. With Pakistan in turmoil and Imran Khan attempting to take on Pakistan’s Armed Forces, instability is increasing. The situation has gotten so bad that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan actually took over a Pakistani police station in a scenario that is similar to what was happening in Pakistan in the early 2000’s. Considering the current circumstances, the Pakistan economy will continue to slow down. Similarly, the situation is grim for Afghanistan. Taliban has not compromised with any country which has supported them till now and as they are consolidating power, they are becoming more emboldened. For instance, they are now unequivocal in their assertion that women may not go to school. The reality is that Taliban is an ideological power that cannot be geographically confined and one that is already globally oriented
The importance of the Persian Gulf to India was also discussed. The Persian Gulf is not only important for India’s energy needs but also the biggest source of global remittances for India. Any instability in the region heavily impacts the revenue from these remittances. At present new powers are emerging in the Middle East and Central Asia such as Yemen, Qatar and Turkey. The progress in the region needs to be closely observed and understood.
Session 4: Recent Global Developments—Indian and Iranian Perspective
The final session of the bilateral was chaired by Shri Swapan Dasgupta, former Member of Parliament and Member, Governing Council, India Foundation. The speakers of this session were Mr. Hussein Ebrahim Khani, Senior Researcher, IPIS. The Indian Delegation consisted of, Syed Akbaruddin, Former Permanent Representative of India to UN and Maj Gen Dhruv C. Katoch, Director, India Foundation
The world has become very unsettled in a scenario that looks very similar to the time between the two World Wars. A key difference today is globalisation, a phenomenon of which India has been a beneficiary. Among many benefits of globalisation, India’s technological advancement is a major aspect. Technology has changed the way the world perceives India and also the Indian aims and ambitions for the future. Globalisation however, brought with it the uncontrollable influence of mega trends which include, geopolitics, debt crisis and even the shift from globalisation to regional centres. Today we are seeing weaponisation of non-traditional threats such as energy and food security. We also have nations coming together for cooperation in multiple fields such as the I2U2 grouping where India, Israel, UAE and US are cooperating. Her, Israel has advanced agricultural and other technologies, India which has a huge base of trained manpower, UAE has the financial capital and the US has both finances and technology. The delegations also discussed matters such as the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war, issues in the South China Sea and West Asia
Closing remarks of the day were given by Shri Brajesh Pathak, Deputy Chief Minister, Government of Uttar Pradesh, Shri Ram Madhav, Author and Member, Governing Council, India Foundation and H.E. Dr. Iraj Elahi, Ambassador of Islamic Republic of Iran to India
The commerce, connectivity and culture potential of India-Iran relations were reiterated. Today both India and Iran have emerged as two vital poles in the multipolar world. India on its part is rising as an important power and once again we are emerging as the voice of South Asia with ambitions to go beyond and emerge as an important, influential and responsible global power. Iran, despite all the difficulties, remains the 11th largest economy today racing towards a two trillion-dollar economy. With a 60% youth population, the potential of Iran is immense. In the last few years, a new energy is being infused into the relationship and bilateral trade is also growing.
It is natural that the interests of both countries may not fully converge on all issues; however, mutual respect will allow this relationship to thrive. Our immediate neighbourhood is the most important with the global power axis shifting from the Iranian neighbourhood to Indo-Pacific. It is here where purchasing power and military power exist and we are the most happening region today. Forums already exist where India and Iran are working together like SCO and more common forums will emerge where bilateral trade and development can be fostered.