NEW DELHI, Feb. 18: In a strongly-worded joint declaration, India and Iran expressed their conviction that the fight against terrorism should not only “seek to disrupt and eliminate terrorists, terrorist organisations and networks, but should also identify and address conditions conducive to terrorism as well as extremist ideologies”.
In a repetition of the May 2016 statement, both sides urged an “immediate end to all support and sanctuaries enjoyed by terrorist groups and individuals and were of the view that States that aid, abet and directly or indirectly support terrorism should be condemned”.
While South Block mandarins viewed this as a reference to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism directed towards India, Iranian diplomats perceived this as a reference to Saudi Arabia.
After the bilateral meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, Indian PM Narendra Modi said, “We want to see our region and the world free from terrorism. The people of India and Iran both are linked by the joint Sufi ideology of peace and tolerance. In our joint interest, we are committed to stop those forces which promote terrorism, extremism…”
Rouhani said, “Iran and India have a common stance on confronting terrorism and extremism, and we are determined to confront terrorism and extremism through culture and the exchange of information and experience.”
There has been growing interaction between the National Security Councils of the two countries, which have decided to enhance regular and institutionalised consultations on terrorism, security and related issues such as organised crime, money-laundering, drug trafficking and cyber crime, the joint statement said.
The paragraph on terrorism in the joint statement was stronger in language than the previous joint statement issued in May 2016, when Modi visited Tehran.
The joint statement said that recognising the challenges of terrorism and ideologies of violent extremism, the two leaders reiterated their “strong commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and stressed that there can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terrorism”.
The statement also stressed that terrorism “cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality or ethnic group”.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi by his side after a two-hour bilateral meeting on Saturday, the visiting President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, said with a smile that they “did not disagree on a even a single topic” on all bilateral, regional and international issues.
When asked whether India raised the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir during today’s talks, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’s joint secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran) Deepak Mittal said there was an understanding on how India was a victim of terrorism.
While nine pacts, including double taxation avoidance agreement and extradition treaty, were signed after the meeting, the two leaders came out strongly on terrorism and extremism in the region.
On their vision for Afghanistan, the joint statement said both sides stressed that the “interests of peace and stability in the region are best served by a strong, united, prosperous, pluralisitic, democratic and independent Afghanistan while supporting the National Unity Government in the country”.
This language was different from the 2016 joint statement, which didn’t have the words “pluralistic” and “democratic”. Minorities in Afghanistan are feared to be under threat in a Pashtun-dominated society and are often seen to be marginalised in the power structure.
Both sides also called upon the “countries of the region” to come forward for enhancing regional connectivity and take steps to do away with the “obstacles on land transit” – a clear reference to Pakistan blocking land transit from India to Afghanistan.
While the Chabahar port was one of the main themes in the outcome document, as it featured 13 times in the joint statement – they signed a lease agreement on Saturday – both sides committed to “early and full operationalisation of the Shahid Beheshti Port at Chabahar”. Modi called it the “golden gateway” to access landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asian region.
Rouhani said he and Modi had very good discussions on stepping up cooperation in a number of key areas, including on crucial connectivity projects such as the Chabahar port.
“Today, we are witnessing the development of Chabahar port and a momentum in the construction of Chabahar railway to Zahedan with India’s investment,” the Iranian President said.
On Iran’s nuclear issue, Rouhani said both countries have a common viewpoint that the commitment to the international agreement must be honoured. “We believe that the various issues of the region, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, should be resolved through political initiatives,” he said, targetting Saudi Arabia for intervening in the matter.
The two sides inked nine pacts, which included a lease contract between Iran’s Port and Maritime Organization and India’s Ports Global Limited (IPGL) to take over operation of existing facilities at the Shahid Beheshti Port — Phase 1 of Chabahar — for 18 months.
Other pacts included avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion, ratification of extradition treaty, exemption from visa requirement for holders of diplomatic passports, extending the “e-visa” facility to each other and establishment of an expert group on trade remedy measures.
They also decided to hold the Festival of India in Iran in 2018-19, establish a chair of Indian studies in Tehran University, organise Indology courses for Iranian diplomats and support Persian language courses in India. TIE