Chabahar Vs Gwadar: Gaining Advantage Over China-Pakistan Axis

chahabar gwadar port

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, no doubt feeling chipper after the BJP’s recent electoral success, will travel to Tehran on 22 May for a geopolitically significant two-day standalone visit.
Not only does it balance Indian diplomacy in its extended neighbourhood after his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, but it expects to take forward initiatives that began in 2003, over a decade ago.
Modi is expected to meet Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and President Hassan Rouhani during his short visit.
Strategic Importance of Chabahar
Top on the agenda are great expectations on the signing, on a bilateral basis, additional Indian/Iranian investment commitments to the tripartite Chabahar Port and SEZ agreement of 2003, signed between Iran, India and Afghanistan.

The back story to this expected strategic development, however, is indeed fascinating.

Once Afghanistan, rugged, romantic, wild, strategically placed, was the epicentre of the Great Game of empire, with the imperial British and Tzarist Russia vying for advantage. Later, this devolved, as inheritance, to the US versus the USSR, spawning infamous children, such as the Mujahideen and later, the Taliban. And now it is the China-Pakistan axis, versus the India-Iran-Afghanistan troika.

The recent China-Pak bid, has its splendid $46 billion China-Pak Economic Corridor, snaking its way from Kashi in China through the length of Pakistan, terminating at Gwadar Port, on the Arabian Sea, in Pakistan’s restive province of Balochistan.

The India-Iran-Afghanistan troika, nestles close by too, around the port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman, in Iran’s own Sistan-Balochistan province.

India has, since the Chabahar agreement in 2003 built around 218 km road, connecting Delaram in Afghanistan with Zaranj on the northern Iran border. (Photo: Google Maps Screenshot/Altered by The Quint)
India has, since the Chabahar agreement in 2003 built around 218 km road, connecting Delaram in Afghanistan with Zaranj on the northern Iran border. (Photo: Google Maps Screenshot/Altered by The Quint)
Increasing Trade Access

India has, since the agreement of 2003, built a short link highway of 218 km, using its famed Border Roads Organisation. The highway cost about Rs 600 crore, and over 130 lives to raids by the Pakistan-influenced Taliban.
The road connects Delaram in Afghanistan with Zaranj on the northern Iran border, and is located in Afghanistan’s Nimruz province.

And Iran, on its part, built a road from Zaranj down to its Chabahar Port, on the Gulf of Oman. India has also provided a $150 million line of credit for making jetties and berths, plus $400 million worth of steel rails for the project.

Chabahar Port, once fully developed, will provide land-locked Afghanistan an alternative port/infrastructure and linkage, via Iran, to that of Pakistan; and India will gain full-fledged cargo handling facilities on a large scale on the Gulf of Oman.

All three countries will acquire both terrestrial and marine trade access to each other, the oil and gas resources extant, other countries of Arabia nearby, plus the resource rich Central Asian countries.
Battle for Dominance

The waters of Gwadar and Chabahar abut, via the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, large parts of Africa, Asia, Arabia and Australasia.

However, the Great Game rivalry is alive and well. The battle for dominance is expected to see the Pakistan-China axis do everything possible by way of terrorist attacks and diplomacy to prevent the Chabahar initiative from succeeding. Knowing this, however, the troika have decided to go ahead anyway.

To clear the decks for swift progress, India has initiated the process for the payment of the $6.5 billion worth of Iranian crude owed, in Euros, as requested by Turkey’s Halkbank. This oil was bought by India when Iran was under strict US government nuclear and trade sanctions that ended up freezing all payments. These have now been lifted in their entirety, but only as recently as January 2016. Iran, is still hugely cash strapped, and welcoming of the proposed Indian investment, not to mention the settlement of pending dues.

India, in order not to lose its historical and competitive advantage as various nations flock to Iran now, was prompt in showing fresh interest via petroleum minister Pradhan, who visited Tehran in April 2016. It has declared that it wants to invest $20 billion, to develop the port of Chabahar and downstream industry, including an LNG and gas cracker plant, plus petrochemical/fertiliser industries, in the vicinity.

India has prepared its ground with resource-rich but capital-starved Afghanistan as well, including its gift of a spanking new parliament building in Kabul, which Prime Minister Modi had gone to inaugurate in February; and a $300 million Salma dam and hydroelectric power plant at Herat, which he is expected to inaugurate in June 2016.
Not only will the Chabahar outlay yield rich off-shore commercial gains and strategic resource stability for

India, while benefiting its partners Iran and Afghanistan simultaneously; it will prevent the China-Pakistan axis from establishing its unbridled dominance in a sensitive and resource rich region.
Resisting Geopolitical Pressure

Additionally, given the present Shia-Sunni tensions, particularly between Saudi Arabia and Iran, India is likely to be welcomed.

Also the broader geopolitical pressures on India/Afghanistan, from the US or the NATO powers will be negligible, given their disapproval of Pakistani and Saudi Arabian aid and abetment of global Islamic terrorism, and the disquieting Chinese quest for hegemonic expansion.
Narendra Modi is likely to have a very pleasant and successful trip to Persia, a beneficiary of being at the right place at the right time.

(Gautam Mukherjee is a plugged-in commentator and instant analyser.)

Source:- TheQuint

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