Rebuilding the Northern Alliance, India Courts Iran

After months of under-the-radar discussion, India will be part of a regional initiative on Afghanistan along with Iran. It’s learnt that foreign ministers of India, Iran and Afghanistan are working on meeting on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York to signal the start of this trilateral.Significantly, the formal proposal for the meeting came from Iran last week and, sources said, the three countries have agreed and officials are busy setting it up. Also, Tehran has sent a letter supporting New Delhi’s candidature for a non-permanent member in the UN Security Council.

The trilateral initiative will be an important breakthrough for India because it has been left out of every other regional effort at the behest of Pakistan. Islamabad’s discomfiture is what led to Turkey not inviting India to a regional meet last year. Then, of course, India was quite taken aback with Russia not including India at the quartet — Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan — meet in Sochi last month.

India discussed this proposal at length with Afghanistan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul when he was here last month and then followed it up with the Afghanistan NSA Rangin Dadfar Spanta. If all goes by plan, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, Iran Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Rassoul will meet in New York during the next 10 days.

With Pakistan making its intentions clear to block Indian efforts, India began quiet talks with Iran given how both are in sync on Afghanistan. Both countries worked closely when the Taliban was in power in Kabul and are now cooperating on key infrastructure projects. Given that Pakistan does not allow transit rights to India, most Indian equipment and goods are transported via Iranian ports.

However, the chill in India-Iran ties following New Delhi’s decision to vote against its nuclear programme in the IAEA upset equations in the relationship. At that time, India was also pursuing closure of its nuclear deal with the US and other western powers. More so, India has maintained that another nuclear armed country in the region was not in its interests.

Despite these reservations, New Delhi has often put a rider that Iran has a right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy as long as it abides by its international treaty obligations. Two actions on the part of India in the past month, sources said, have sent out the signal to Iran that New Delhi does not always toe the US line on the Iranian nuclear programme.

First, India decided to approach the UN on removing Iran-o-Hind, an Indo-Iranian shipping joint venture, from the list of entities that UN recently sanctioned in Iran. Second, India supported a strongly worded NAM resolution against the IAEA on the DG’s recent report on the Iran programme. New Delhi seemed to have agreed with the NAM view that proper procedures were not be followed.

India had also floated the idea of a India-US-Afghanistan trilateral, the fate of which is still not known, said sources.