Chabahar may be just a blip on the map south of the Persian Gulf but the city boasts of a rich history. The city has endured the armies in the Bronze Age during the Mesopotamian Wars. That’s more than 2,000 years before Alexander the Great’s Macedonians took the city as they swept toward India. 
With western countries beginning to lift sanctions on Iran and its oil exports ramping up, Chabahar may soon see a frenzy of economic activity  as it is Iran’s only port with direct access to the ocean. Situated near the shipping lane for nearly a fifth of the world’s oil, it makes the city commercially and strategically important. [3, 4]
India traditionally has been one of Iran’s largest oil customers and will provide a big push in this direction. In August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, pledging $85 million toward the Chabahar port project.
If contract negotiations come off without a hitch, Chabahar could give India access to a prime spot closer to the Persian Gulf than Gwadar port, the final stop on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. [5, 6] Gwadar, part of China’s plan to get around the pirate-infested Malacca Strait, may be a big reason why President Xi Jinping promised to invest $46 billion in the route when he visited Pakistan in April.[7, 8]
Trade with Iran doesn’t just give India leverage over China in the Indian Ocean but allows India to sate its domestic demand for oil. [9, 10]
With the renewed economic relationship, India may also hope to temper Iran’s ambitious foreign policy which has even encroached on eastern Afghanistan in the past. But for New Delhi, Tehran can also be a multilateral troublemaker as Iran has used its seat on the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to condemn India’s conduct in Kashmir.[11, 12]
That may have been par for the course. New Delhi has voted against Tehran several times at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and enforced sanctions on the Islamic Republic, even after those penalties bit into two Indian companies that traded missile materials to Iran in 2005. 
Iran’s cold shoulder, however, was a tough blow to India. The world’s largest democracy houses the world’s second biggest Shia population. According to the Pew Research Center, more Muslims will live in India by mid-century than anywhere else on earth. Ties with Muslim communities outside India will come to weigh heavily on the country’s domestic politics. 
Public diplomacy is not the only element of India and Iran’s relationship that has fallen by the wayside. Facing the brunt of sanctions, India cut oil purchases from Iran to just 6% of its imports in 2015. That’s down from nearly three times that amount a few years ago. 
But that trend may not hold. India does not have the luxury of choosing its friends and allies from an ocean away. Living in a neighborhood with failing democracies and endemic poverty, India must go to great lengths to preserve energy relationships and political alliances, even if those ties aren’t built to last.
So Iran, likely, for the time being, will enter India’s fractious coalition. It is not a reliable ally, but India, feeling its way through a complex neighbourhood, can’t little hope for reliability. What it needs now are alliances, energy, and facilities. For now, Iran can offer some of that.
Jack Detsch is a writer, researcher, and journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Detsch has written on local, national, and international affairs for The Diplomat, The National Interest, and the NPR-affiliated KQEDPublic Radio. He is a graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University.
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