All roads lead to Kabul at present. With the situation in Afghanistan rapidly worsening, India is looking to keep allies in the region close. The External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s surprise visit—a technical halt as it was termed—to Tehran enroute to Moscow is an attempt to keep what is vital alive: connectivity.
“The two sides exchanged views on regional and global issues of mutual interest,’’ said Arindam Bagchi, MEA spokesperson, at the weekly virtual press briefing on Thursday. “They also discussed the evolving situation in Afghanistan and expressed concerns over the deteriorating security there. Both sides also discussed joint connectivity initiatives in the region, including the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and Chabahar Port.”
Chabahar Port—if it becomes fully connected with the railway line—will be essential for India to keep its footprint in the region, as New Delhi is keen to have a route to Afghanistan that doesn’t pass through Pakistan. The relations between India and Pakistan, which had been inching towards civility, have soured once again with the drone strike and Pakistan’s allegation that India was behind the Lahore blasts—a charge India has strongly denied.
India is keen to keep relations with Iran warm. The EAM also carried a personal message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the President-elect Ebrahim Raisi. Jaishankar has become the first foreign dignitary to meet the newly elected leader.
“Thank President-elect Ebrahim Raisi for his gracious welcome. Handed over a personal message from PM @narendramodi. Appreciate his warm sentiments for India. Deeply value his strong commitment to strengthen our bilateral ties and expand cooperation on regional and global issues,” Jaishankar tweeted.
His visit came even as Iran was holding talks in which an Afghan government delegation met Taliban leaders in Tehran. The talks come at a time when the peace negotiations—despite international pressure—are floundering. “Bravery in peace is more important than bravery in war because for peace, one must sacrifice and set aside maximum demands and consider the other side’s demands,” Iran Foreign Minister Javed Zarif has been quoted telling the delegation.
The Kabul situation will certainly be high on the agenda for EAM in Russia too. Jaishankar “reiterated India’s interests in the region and support for efforts to maintain peace, security and stability,’’ in Iran, signalling his visit was to cement India-Iran relationship, but also to find ways to cooperate on Afghanistan. As Taliban gains more territory, inching closer to Iran border, Tehran will be keen to be in the driving seat of the peace-process.
It is clear that India is increasingly concerned over the violence in Afghanistan, and how this will impact its nationals. Two consulates have been shut, but and Consulates in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif are functional. “We are, however, carefully monitoring the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and its implications on the safety and security of Indian nationals in Afghanistan. Our response will be calibrated accordingly,’’ said Bagchi.
Jaishanakar’s Iran visit also comes at a time when there is another difficult peace process that is being attempted with talks to get Iran back to the nuclear deal. This is being perceived as more hopeful than the intra-Afghan talks, as there is chatter of a breakthrough. New Delhi will be monitoring the situation closely, waiting for the sanctions on Iran by the US to be lifted.