India has announced that it will try hard to complete the Chabahar port project in Iran as soon as possible in an attempt to get easy access to West and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.

India made an announcement in this regard soon after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Sunday. Swaraj, who visited the West Asian country for the first time as external affairs minister, told President Rouhani that India is worried about China’s growing activities in the Indian Ocean Region and also about the nexus between China and Pakistan (mainly to destabilise the South Asian country).

Swaraj also thanked Tehran for allowing India to develop Chabahar port that is critical to its interests. She stressed that a technologically developed Chabahar port would emerge as a competitor of Pakistan’s Gwadar port that was built with Chinese assistance. For his part, President Rouhani said that Iran is grateful to India for extending a USD 150 million line of credit for the port situated in south-eastern part of his country.

According to a statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry, “President Rouhani spoke of Chabahar as a defining partnership which has the potential of connecting the entire region. He hoped for closer consultations with India on regional issues, especially Afghanistan and the challenge of terrorism.”

Swaraj’s two-day visit to Tehran was significant, as it took place after sanctions on Iran were lifted by the US and Western powers. Later this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, will visit Iran. Indian foreign policy experts are of the opinion that the Modi government in New Delhi is walking the tight-rope, as it is trying hard to balance India’s ties with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. It is a real challenge for Indian diplomacy to engage with Saudi Arabia and its two rival Islamic nations – Iran and Afghanistan – simultaneously. In March, the Indian premier visited Riyadh to strengthen bilateral ties and to woo Saudi investors.

During her meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Monday, Swaraj briefed him on the current Indo-Saudi ties and on New Delhi’s future plan to boost the Indo-Iranian relationship. The two ministers also agreed to finalise a draft agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan on trilateral co-operation. A senior Indian official said: “When the agreement comes into force, it will significantly enhance utilisation of Chabahar port, contribute to economic growth of Afghanistan, and facilitate better regional connectivity, including between India and connections to Afghanistan and Central Asia.”

The Chabahar port project is widely considered as Indo-Iranian answer to Pakistan’s Gwadar port and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. For so many years, Saudi Arabia’s close ties with Pakistan and India’s links with Iran have influenced the West Asian politics. However, the lifting of sanctions from Iran by the US and West has changed the scenario, as the move has allowed Tehran to play a greater role in the region. The move has also encouraged India to invest in various Iranian sectors, including oil and gas, and to emerge as an important development partner of the West Asian country.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]