This India-Iran Pact Should Be a Wakeup Call
Pakistan’s policy makers have underplayed the significance of Iran’s Chabahar Port and its connection with India, Afghanistan, and Central Asia over the years. There is time to re-think and revisit the significance of the Gwadar Port in view of the pact signed by India and Iran on 23 May and its ramifications for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Iran on 22-23 May. The visit has its vital significance as it was the first visit undertaken by a high-level Indian leader in the past 15 years. He signed a pact with Iran to promote Chabahar Port and its connectivity in the region.
Chabahar port is located in Sistan-Balochistan Province on Iran’s south-eastern coast, about 100 km from Gwadar. The port has great strategic significance for India, which will get sea-land access route to Afghanistan Central Asia, Russia, and Europe bypassing Pakistan. This will also end Afghan’s maritime dependence on Pakistan for transit trade, giving a strategic loss to Pakistan.
The US$ 500 million pact between India and Iran, signed at Tehran on 23 May, to develop the strategically located Chabahar port, along with the one with Afghanistan on road and rail network, will counter the China and Pakistan alliance in South West Asia, a BMI Research said that was published in Indian media.
Pakistan’s leaders are still confused over the India-Iran nexus to destabilise Balochistan. The India-Iran pact is a wakeup call for them. Modi termed the India-Iran pact as “alliance against terrorism”. Together, they might target Sunni Islam. How India and Iran are combating terrorism in the region is valuable question to be asked? Facts ran counter to their proclamations. India-Iran nexus is counter-productive to Pakistan’s interests in the region. India-Iran collaboration against Gwadar and Balochistan is unearthed by the arrest of Indian RAW’s agent Kukbhushan Yadav, having Iranian visa, who ran a gold shop at Chabahar. So far Pakistani authorities have not done investigation on this geo-strategic perspective.
Pakistan’s peace talks with the Taliban are not clear yet. They are sabotaged. Confusion runs across the Durand Line. Blame game continues. They say not the CPEC, but the trilateral agreement between India, Iran, and Afghanistan is a real game-changer in the region. They say that both Balochistan and Xinjiang are restive regions and not suitable for trade.
The draft of the Chabahar pact was written in New Delhi in April this year, which aims to create a free-trade corridor of road and rail networks from the Chabahar Port in Iran to Afghanistan. The corridor aims to bypass Pakistan, but it will also reduce distance, time and cost for trade among these countries.
The Chabahar pact will clear the way for India to build an infrastructure network of its own in the region to counter initiatives of both China and Pakistan. India will also help develop the 500 km long Chabahar-Zahedan railway line. Chabahar will be linked with Kandla port in Gujarat and it is only 940 km from Mundra port in Gujarat.
The treaty is a major breakthrough in India’s quarter century relations with Central Asia – an unprecedented step in its long-cherished desire to connect with Central Asia without Pakistan. India-Pakistan partition and conflicts blocked this opportunity to India to enter Central Asia. Now Iran has provided that opportunity to India, which was on limbo due to sanctions on Iran for many years.
India no longer waited to capture this opportunity. For India, it was the right time. The trilateral treaty has neutralised Pakistan and China bargaining position via-a-vis India to a large extent. India could flourish its ties with Afghanistan and Central Asia without the interference of Pakistan. India wants to enhance its US$ 9 billion trade with Iran by competing with Iran-China US$ 52 billion trade. Interestingly, Pakistan-Iran trade is hardly US$ 400 million.
Indian intentions against Gwadar and Pakistan-China corridor and its sabotage activities are well known. It opposes the CPEC as it goes through the disputed area of Jammu and Kashmir.
India wanted to break the China’s encirclement from Myanmar to Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. It looks that India, Iran, Afghanistan, Japan, and the United States are working on re-balancing and pivot to Asia restlessly.
Japan has shown keen interest to be a partner of India developing Chabahar port and its industrial zones. Japanese Government has been considering investing in the infrastructural projects at Chabahar. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Tehran in August to discuss the project. A Japanese delegation has already visited the site and JICA is undertaking feasible studies to execute projects. Japan and India have already built a robust economic partnership across Asia-Pacific. Chabahar is a great collaboration between India and Japan against China and Pakistan. On the contrary, Japan has not shown any interest in Gwadar and entangled with China in South China Sea on territorial issues.
The Chabahar pact is practical manifestation of that ambition. Opposing this, China, Pakistan, and Central Asia (not clear if all or some Republics) would be resisting. Russian support to this evolving bloc is not sure at this time, although America and NATO are opposing Russian moves in Europe and the Middle East and it would be having little choice to support the China-Pakistan partnership.
It is clear that Gwadar and Chabahar are rival and competing ports in the Arabian Sea on the mouth of the Gulf in the India Ocean where super powers rivalry has reached at the peak. They are not sister ports as repeatedly confirmed by Pakistani and Iranian leaders and diplomats over the years.