By Masood.Ur.Rehman Khattak, Weekly Pulse, August 05, 2013
India and Iran are in close relationship because of their common interests in this region. First to support anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, and prevent any 1996-like situation, and second to get access to Afghan and Central Asian resources to support their booming economies.
India is a trillion dollar economy. It is largely dependent on oil imports from other countries. Iran used to fulfill 12% of India’s energy needs. But currently Iran is under pressure by the West because of its nuclear program. The United States has asked India to reduce its oil imports from Iran. It is reported that India has reduced its oil imports from Iran, which may harm their relationship. On the other hand, Iran is reluctant to abandon its nuclear program and considers it crucial for its future energy security, whereas Israel and its cronies in the West would never like to see any other nuclear power in the Middle East. In such a scenario India is in a crucial situation: on one side, it enjoys good strategic relationship with Israel and America, but on the other, it is heading towards major deals with Iran to establish it foothold in Afghanistan.
India is a huge economy and it is expected that in future its energy needs would increase manifold. To support its economic development, it is relying on other countries to fulfill its energy demands. This is the reason that India is eyeing Afghanistan and Central Asia States to meet its future energy requirements. The shortest route to Afghanistan and Central Asian States is through Pakistan. But due to obnoxious relationship with Pakistan, India cannot use this route for obvious reasons. Pakistan has its own strategic concerns vis-à-vis India’s access to Afghanistan and Central Asian markets. India has realized that Iran could be the best option to get access to natural resources of Afghanistan and its neighboring CAS.
The Caspian region alone holds huge hydrocarbon reserves in the Caspian Sea basin; Iran also holds 14% of share in the Caspian Sea.
According to estimates, natural gas reserves of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are more than 236 trillion cubic feet. The region’s total oil reserves are between 60 billion barrels and 200 billion barrels of oil. To benefit from these huge resources, India has to build huge infrastructure, roads and rail links from Iran to Afghanistan and CAS.
Afghanistan alone holds huge natural resources. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates, northern Afghanistan has an average 2.9 billion (bn) barrels (bbl) of crude oil, 15.7 trillion cubic feet (440 bn m3) of natural gas, and 562 million bbl of natural gas liquids. According to Afghan government, 30% of the country’s untapped mineral deposits are worth between $900 billion and $3 trillion. This is the reason that energy hungry India is looking towards Afghanistan and CAS to meet its huge energy demand in the future.
The best deal for India is to make inroads to Afghanistan from Iranian sea port of Chabahar. The Indian government has already released $100 million for the development of this port. India is also building roads and rail links to connect Afghanistan’s energy rich provinces with Iranian port. India has already secured contracts of Iron deposits in Hajigak in Afghanistan. All these developments would undermine Pakistan’s importance in this region. India would have no dependence on Pakistan for extraction of natural resources from Afghanistan or CAS; it would also use Iranian port to supply its goods to Afghanistan and Central Asian markets. In the same way Afghanistan and Central Asian states may use this link with Iran and utilize this opportunity in future without being bothered by Pakistan.
Iran and India are collaborating in Afghanistan because both have common interests in this war torn country. Historically, both states supported anti-Taliban Northern Alliance because Taliban were considered to be cronies of Pakistan. Today history repeats itself. American withdrawal and likely victory of Taliban raised alarm bells in New Delhi and Tehran. They don’t want to see Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, because if Taliban again comes in power, they would deny India and Iran of any role in Afghanistan. Other major challenge for Iran and India is Iranian nuclear program and Western sanctions. India is a shrewd country; it has strategic relationship with the US, Israel, Russia and many other major powers. It has already voted against Iranian nuclear program which helped sanctions against Iran. In future it is a possibility that if India is pressurized, it would again dump Iran and choose its Western allies.
It is essential for Iran, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to closely work together and build a new silk road to benefit from immense potential of this energy rich region. Conflict or clash won’t benefit any country in this region. It is necessary that regional countries must work together to overcome their issues and work for the betterment of this region.