The recent visit to India of the Iranian president, Mr Syed Mohammed Khatami, has, by all accounts, been a success. Although New Delhiís relationship with Tehran is hardly of recent origin, Mr Khatamiís presence at the Republic Day celebrations and the substantive cooperation that has been initiated during the visit will do much to improve bilateral relations. There were three immediate gains from the Iranian presidentís visit. First, India and Iran agreed to intensify collaboration on transport projects that could link India with the Persian Gulf, Afghan-istan, central Asia and Europe. In this context, India will cooperate with Iran in the development of a new port complex at Chah Bahar on the coast of Iran. This port could provide the entry for India to Afghanistan and central Asia. India has agreed to help construct a network from Zaranj on the Iran-Afghan border to Delaram on the garland road that leads to all major cities in Afghanistan. A trilateral conference of India, Afghanistan and Iran has recently been held in Tehran, and this has already initiated detailed planning on the proposal.
The second project involves linking Chah Bahar port to the Iranian rail network, which is very well connected to central Asia and Europe. In many ways, the proposal will mean that Pakistan will become marginal to Indiaís relationship with the central Asian region, and therefore, New Delhiís relations with central Asia will no longer be a hostage to Islamabadís policies. This new proposal has also made the issue of an overland oil pipeline from Iran to India through Pakistan redundant. The second gain is that Iran has offered to supply more crude oil to India in case of a disruption caused by an American military attack against Iraq. In fact, Mr Khatami described India as one of the countryís best customers. Given Indiaís concerns about the supply of oil in case of a war in the gulf, this gesture is important and timely.
Finally, a number of bilateral agreements for cooperation in a diverse range of areas, including information technology, water resources and the financing of economic cooperation, have also been signed. It may well be asked what Iran would gain from this new relationship with India. Clearly, while Iran is rich in oil resources it is still under-developed in terms of technological resources and human capital. Given Iranís poor relations with the developed world, India is seen as a vital partner. The fact is that Tehran, for all the anti-West sloganeering, is very keen to rehabilitate itself with Europe and North America. It sees India as a possible conduit to the West and helpful in fostering a dialogue between civilizations, an idea which Mr Khatami has been promoting aggressively over the last few years. There is also, of course, a clear strategic convergence between India and Iran on promoting stability in central Asia. This convergence is the motor driving this particular bilateral relationship.