Oil import from Russia, Chabahar deal with Iran… still understand how India is helping America.

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
7 Min Read

Harshvardhan Shringla: No country can choose its geography or its neighbours and the constraints associated with them. India's 15,200 km long land border is more than twice as long as its 7,500 km long coastline. Geographic and geopolitical factors ensure that 90% of India's trade by volume and 70% by value is carried by sea. Therefore, sea routes of trade have been a major concern for India. Barriers to terrestrial trade and movement linking Afghanistan and Central Asia and the Eurasian landmass beyond have been particularly problematic. India has supported multi-modal transport corridors to its east and west to overcome these constraints. Investments in Myanmar's Sittwe port and Iran's Chabahar are two examples of this strategy. Sittwe is part of the Kaladan Multi-Modal Project

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Chabahar raised America's eyebrows

India is also working on the India-Middle East-Europe (IMEC) corridor with the US, UAE, Saudi Arabia and several European countries. While the situation in Afghanistan and Central Asia has changed with the US withdrawal, the reality of India's geography is in front of us. The agreement between Indian Ports Global Limited (IPGL) and Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO) should be seen in this context. However, within hours of the signing of the Chabahar agreement, the US warned against engaging in trade with Iran, citing the potential risk of sanctions. This statement fueled speculation of tensions in US-India relations. These statements should be put in proper perspective.

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Strengthening of India-US relations

Indo-US relations have matured significantly over the past decade. This change has been marked by increased strategic cooperation between the two countries, especially in the defense sector. The latest in this series is the $4 billion deal to buy MQ-9B armed drones in February. This has led to a $20 billion jump in defense trade since 2000. This is when defense trade between the two countries was negligible. Some of the major developments in this regard include the Indo-US Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (ICET), India's entry into the Artemis Accords in outer space, cooperation in semiconductors, cooperation in fighter aircraft engines, and cooperation in ensuring security of sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean. Additionally, the two countries have shown a united front on global issues such as climate change and counterterrorism. High-level diplomatic engagement has further strengthened this partnership, making it one of the most important relationships of the 21st century.

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Both countries are ready to discuss their differences

A measure of how much progress has been made in India-US relations is the unveiling of an ambitious roadmap to establish India and the US as 'trusted technology partners'. This understanding institutionalises a framework to remove regulatory barriers and export controls, especially on the US side. The achievement of this understanding is considered a significant milestone in India-US relations which have been on a progress path for nearly 25 years. It is natural that there will be disagreements between the two countries on certain issues. But the days of India and the US talking past each other are now behind us. Given the current state of relations, when irritations arise, the two sides sit down to discuss and resolve them. For instance, when India decided to import oil from Moscow despite Washington's objections, India was able to explain the need for this decision to maintain stability in global oil markets. This pragmatic approach helped the US understand India's position. Similarly, the Chabahar deal is not just about India's interests but also about regional stability and connectivity, which the US values.

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India's step on the lines of America

By investing in the development of Chabahar port, India aims to improve connectivity with Central Asia and Afghanistan. This in turn will benefit the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which has suffered setbacks due to the conflict in Ukraine. India’s action is similar to the US action in 2015, when the P5+1 signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. The approaches may differ, however. Both the Chabahar port agreement and the JCPOA share the dual goals of preventing Tehran from pursuing its nuclear programme and enabling Iran to integrate into the global economic system. Given this, a more nuanced understanding of the situation is needed.

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How is India gaining global power?

India and the US have a very unique history and as a result, their ways of engaging with other countries are also different. Washington has been working with treaty-based alliance partners for decades. In contrast, New Delhi has traditionally safeguarded its independence through its non-aligned approach. This difference in approach highlights the need for a more sophisticated understanding of the dynamics at play. India and the US have agreed that their cooperation will be for the ‘global good’. Therefore, it is important that the US understands that India’s deal with Iran is a connected effort to bring prosperity. It is beneficial to the wider international community, which is in line with Washington’s vision of a rules-based world order. The US has shown flexibility and maturity in its dealings with India in the past – something that New Delhi hopes will carry forward in this relationship.

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