India and Iran agree to work for Afghan stability – Modi, Rouhani sign pact

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (center), holds hands of his Indian counterpart Ram Nath Kovind (left), and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his ceremonial reception at the Indian presidential palace, in New Delhi, India, on Feb 17. Rouhani, who is on three days state visit to India has strongly criticized the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and urged Muslims to support the Palestinian cause. (AP)

NEW DELHI, Feb 17, (Agencies): Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed on Saturday to step up efforts to bring stability to war-ravaged Afghanistan. Modi reiterated India’s commitment to help Afghanistan become “a peaceful, secure, permanent, prosperous and pluralistic country” after holding talks with Rouhani in New Delhi on the last day of his three-day visit. “Looking at our common interests, we are committed to stopping the expansion of such forces that promote international organised crime in terrorism, extremism, illegal drug trafficking, cyber crime and various forms,” Modi said “We want to see our region and the world free from terrorism.”

There was no mention of financial assistance or providing weapons to help Afghanistan fight militants by either leader. They did not name Pakistan but it has long been accused of supporting insurgents in President Ashraf Ghani’s govt. India has been a key supporter of Kabul’s government and has poured more than $2 billion into the country since the Taleban were toppled in 2001. In 2016, India offered $1 billion in economic aid to strengthen various sectors in the war-torn nation including education, health and agriculture.

Modi said both countries wanted to increase economic cooperation, regional connectivity and improve energy security to reach landlocked Afghanistan and central Asia via the southern Iranian port of Chabahar. The port, which was inaugurated in December, has been touted as a way for India to establish trade routes that bypass its rival Pakistan.

India has been a key purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and maintained trade ties even as international sanctions were imposed on Tehran over its nuclear programme between 2012 and 2016. However, local Indian media have reported frustrations over delays in awarding a contract to develop a major gas field known as Farzad B in the Gulf. India’s foreign ministry said Saturday that “discussions continue” on Farzad B.

India and Iran on Saturday signed agreements including Tehran leasing to New Delhi operational control of part of the Iranian east coast port of Chabahar for 18 months. The $85 million project, just 90 km from the Chinasponsored Gwadar port in Pakistan, creates a transit route between India, Iran and Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

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