Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has recently kept busy with diplomatic visits to neighbouring countries.
On May 23, he arrived in Islamabad, his third trip to Pakistan since Prime Minister Imran Khan took office in August 2018, and held talks with Khan, army chief Qamar Bajwa, Speaker Asad Qaisar and his counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Few details of the meetings were shared with the media, except for comments underscoring their focus on reducing tensions in the region and on connecting the Iranian port of Chabahar and the Pakistani port of Gwadar.
The fate of Chabahar has important consequences for relations between Iran and India, Pakistan’s archrival.
The port has been a focal point and pillar of an emerging partnership between Tehran and New Delhi over the past decade or so and is the only territorial facility that the Iranian government has been willing to lease to a foreign state.
For India, Chabahar is vital to its strategies toward West Asia, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. So far, India has notably managed to persuade the Donald Trump administration to exempt its presence there from sanctions.
Yet, Iran is now talking about connecting Chabahar and the rival Chinese-Pakistani route, that is, Gwadar and the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Iran has almost 3,100 miles of coastline on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman with several ports better equipped than Chabahar, which is a relatively small and undeveloped facility in a poor and remote area.
It has been willing to accommodate India’s use of Chabahar in order to enhance its strategic partnership with the rising Asian giant and to nudge it to become more involved in the region on Iran’s side.
Given these desired outcomes, Iran has been taking costly risks in the form of provoking Pakistan to react to the presence of its archrival on its western border.
Of note in this respect is Pakistan’s arrest of the alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, who held a valid Iranian visa and later claimed to have been guiding and supporting Pakistani terrorist groups from inside Iran in connection with India’s consulate in Zahedan, and the April terrorist attack on the Karachi-Gwadar road, which Pakistan blames on Iran-based separatists.
For Iran, hopes of strategic ties with India justify these costs.
Recent developments have, however, dashed some of Tehran’s hopes.
Iran was astonished in May when India stopped importing oil in compliance with the Trump administration’s unilateral sanctions.
Previously, Iran had deemed India walking away from its third-biggest oil supplier as an unreasonable prospect, especially given the generous privileges granted to it and the complicated and long-discussed mechanisms by which India was supposed to pay for such imports.