International

Amid Prophet Row, India And Iran Discuss Connectivity, Exchange Views On Afghanistan

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian recently became the first senior visitor from a Muslim country to India since the controversy over former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma's objectionable comments on the Holy Prophet.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi
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Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian is the first senior political figure from an Islamic country to visit India after the furore over remarks against the Holy Prophet by a BJP national spokesperson. So it was natural that this would be part of the conversation between him and his various Indian counterparts. But Arindam Bagchi said at his weekly briefing on Thursday that as far as he was aware this issue was not raised during talks with foreign minister  Subramanyam Jaishankar.

Yesterday there was a bit of a ruffle when the Iranian foreign ministry’s tweet in Farsi referred to the minister’s meeting with the National Security Advisor, where he raised the issue of the offending remarks and pointed to the "negative atmosphere created by some people". The statement went on to add that Doval had assured him that the Indian government respected the Prophet and that the culprits would be given exemplary punishment so that others will learn a lesson. However, that part of the statement had since been removed and may have been put out to assuage Iran’s domestic constituency.

The Iranian foreign ministry also put out a long statement on Amir Abdollahian’s meeting with local Islamic clerics and scholars yesterday in New Delhi. While he referred to the incident, it was in general terms. He condemned the insult against the great prophet of Islam, saying India has been a land of compassion and tolerance and is always a refuge and a front for different viewpoints. Therefore, he said, such raucous clamour neither suits India nor is rooted in India, and surely followers of all religions in the Indian territory oppose such comments.

This, he said, was a point conversed about clearly, and in different manners, by Indian officials during this visit.

“In the pluralist society of India, different faiths and ethnicities have, for centuries, lived alongside each other in peace and with tolerance and coexistence and governments, elders and leaders of different faiths, with their wisdom and foresight, have offset the obstacles and agents that oppose this unity and empathy, and have defused the designs and plots to disrupt this coexistence and rapport,” the statement quoted the minister as saying.

Abdollahian replaced long-serving foreign minister Javād Zarīf after the presidential elections. This is his first visit to India. New Delhi’s ties with Iran have had its problem, stemming largely from the all-comprehensive sanctions slapped on that country by the US over its nuclear ambitions. India built Shahid Beheshti terminal in Iran at the entire Chabahar port project is now complete but delayed inordinately because of American sanctions. Chabahar was to be a game-changer but has not lived up to its promise so far.

The Chabahar project between Iran, India and Afghanistan is of strategic importance to all three countries. For India, Chabahar was conceived as a means to get around Pakistan for trade with Afghanistan. Islamabad does not allow Indian good to go through its territory to Afghanistan.  The Chabahar port, which is not far from Afghanistan was seen as the best way to do business with Kabul. India had also built the 135-mile road from  Zarang near the Iranian border with Delaram, a major transportation hub in southern Afghanistan. Cargo ships carrying good for Afghanistan can now unload  in Chabahar port and be transported by trucks across Afghanistan.

 But the project faced major delays thanks basically to decades of US sanctions. It is only in since December 2018  that the Chabahar project has been operational though much work remains to be done. But it is being used by India to transport goods to Afghanistan.

The press release issued at the end of the talks between the two foreign ministers noted : ``… that the Chabahar Port has provided much needed sea-access to landlocked Afghanistan and has also emerged as a commercial transit hub for the region, including for Central Asia. They reaffirmed their commitment to continue to cooperate on the development of Chabahar Port. Teams from both countries will be meeting soon to address operational aspects.
 

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