Tehran, Iran – It has been a 12 months since Iran shot down a US World Hawk surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz.
Tensions have escalated since and the 2 international locations got here the closest they’ve in recent times to all-out battle in January, when the United States assassinated one in all Iran’s hottest leaders – Quds Power commander, Main Basic Qassem Soleimani.
Iran retaliated by firing missiles on a base utilized by US troopers exterior Baghdad, injuring dozens of American troops. Each side took a step again however have continued to interact in hostile rhetoric, whereas the US just lately introduced new sanctions in opposition to Iranian delivery firms.
However behind the scenes, all through ongoing tensions, the 2 international locations have continued to cooperate – albeit not directly – on reduction and reconstruction work in Afghanistan.
Chabahar port within the Sistan-Balochistan province of Iran is a hub of exercise and one of many nation’s financial lifelines. Situated on the southeastern fringe of the nation, it’s the solely Iranian entity of its sort that has been spared from American sanctions.
A US State Division spokesperson informed Al Jazeera: “After in depth consideration, in November 2018 the administration granted a slim exception […] to permit a restricted variety of actions that assist the reconstruction and improvement of Afghanistan, a key US nationwide safety curiosity. The exception supplied for the reconstruction and improvement of Afghanistan and allowed for the operation of Chabahar port in assist of those objectives.”
Because of the exception, Afghanistan is ready to import Iranian gas and Iranian-made items thought-about very important for humanitarian help, however the port additionally serves different US pursuits within the area.
The spokesperson mentioned that the president’s South Asia technique “underscores our ongoing assist of Afghanistan’s financial progress and improvement in addition to our shut partnership with India. We search to construct on our shut relationships with each India and Afghanistan as we execute a coverage of most strain to vary the Iranian regime’s destabilising insurance policies within the area and past.”
Chabahar port, with street and rail hyperlinks via Iran, provides a safer different path to Gwadar port in Pakistan, operated by the Chinese language.
It provides India – a key US ally within the area that’s helping with Afghan reconstruction – entry to the landlocked, war-torn nation. Apart from shifting items and gear certain for Afghanistan, for India, it is usually a commerce hyperlink to profitable markets in Central Asia and past.
So, not solely is an Iranian port serving to the US rebuild Afghanistan, however it is usually serving to India act as a counterweight to Chinese language and Pakistani affect within the area. Chabahar port’s strategic location makes it a sort of political Bermuda triangle, the place the conventional guidelines of the US’s hostile Iran coverage don’t appear to use.
“Iran’s affect within the area isn’t ignorable,” mentioned Mohammad-Hussein Ansarifard, a Tehran-based political analyst.
“Iran can affect the entire safety equipment within the area. Iran’s affect for instance in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, even in Yemen, could be very, very huge and really, I feel, important. […] So, if Iran doesn’t collaborate with People […] then the issue within the area can be way more sophisticated and way more pricey for the People. […] I feel it is a superb purpose to let Iran have the Chabahar [port].”
Throughout a cupboard session in Could, President Hassan Rouhani described the port as a very important a part of shaping Iran’s financial future.
“Considered one of our main initiatives in Sistan-Baluchestan province was reviving and utilizing the port of Chabahar,” he mentioned, pledging to proceed improvement work. “Sistan-Baluchestan is a crucial province to our nation. It’s delicate with reference to our nationwide safety. It’s mentioned that Chabahar and Sistan-Baluchestan are the forefront of Iran’s nationwide safety and that’s very true.”
India is presently the one different main investor in creating the port, however Iranian leaders have repeatedly expressed a want to contain as many neighbouring international locations as potential, to make the port a regional hub. The extra international locations investing within the port, the tougher it might be to sanction sooner or later, based on one college researcher.
Seeing it up-close, Asarifard mentioned, it turns into clear the port is greater than only a transit level and has monumental potential.
“I feel it is bilateral commerce, not solely between Iran and Afghanistan and so forth,” he mentioned, including, “It could even be a relaxation port for [ships] coming from Japanese Asia, going to Europe. They’ll cease in Chabahar for refuelling and for taking over new items. I feel it might be a connection – a really important connection – between commerce within the East and commerce within the West.”
He additionally mentioned the port might result in cooperation between the US and Iran on different regional safety issues.
“Each now realise that the quarrel between the 2 international locations weakens each of them and each are paying closely for it,” Ansarifard mentioned.
Current US-Iran prisoner exchanges had been seen as a big step in the identical course.
And despite the fact that there are converging pursuits in Afghanistan – each need stability and to see US troops depart the area – future cooperation would require working previous tensions, which in some circumstances have been simmering for many years.
The previous US embassy in Tehran was renamed the den of espionage museum. For many years, it has been occupied by Iran’s authorities, its boundary partitions a canvas for anti-American art work. The US flag is flown at half-mast and the other way up, the sign for misery.
It’s an ever-present reminder of previous wounds and the damaged relationship between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran. However regardless of a long time of animosity, and no direct diplomatic illustration in one another’s international locations, there have been examples of quiet cooperation.
After 9/11, Iran was instrumental in serving to the US combat the Taliban armed group, topple them from energy and arrange a brand new authorities in Kabul.
A 2010 report revealed by the Combatting Terrorism Middle at West Level mentioned Iranian affect in Afghanistan is inevitable and Tehran might – in equal measure – assist or hinder US forces. Some Iranian specialists hope Chabahar port can develop into a mannequin for extra future cooperation.