Indo-Iran Chahbahar Port: Why India is bound to be disappointed

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BEIJING:  The recent Indo-Iran deal to develop the strategic Chabahar Port is part of India’s “larger geo-strategic calculations” to gain access to the Middle East and Central Asia and to counter Pakistan-China’s plan to develop Gwadar port, a media report said in Beijing today.

“Actually, Chabahar is just the tip of the iceberg of India’s geostrategic ambitions. Besides building new berths and upgrades to Chabahar, what interests New Delhi more is a comprehensive scheme that can reshape India’s geopolitics to the northwest and extend its influence further into the Middle East, Central Asia and the Trans-Caucasus,” an article in the state-run Global Times said today.

To this end, India has recently committed USD 400 million in steel to construction of the railway connecting Chabahar and Zahedan, near Afghan border, the report said.

“Although New Delhi ostensibly highlights economic considerations, such as facilitating trade along the International North-South Transport Corridor and extracting minerals, natural gas and oil from the region, its larger geo-strategic calculations and ambitions are obvious,” it said.

“A direct gateway through Pakistan provides the shortest and the most economical access for India to enter Afghanistan and Central Asia,” it said.

However, due to long-standing mistrust, Islamabad is reluctant to grant India access.

“The sea-land route of Chabahar Port is designed to bypass Pakistan. With the new route, some Indian strategists suggest that India can take further advantage of its ties with Iran and Afghanistan and gain new leverage and positioning while reducing Pakistan’s political and economic influence in the region,” the report said.

“Besides bypassing the overland blockage, India also views its investment in Chabahar as a counterweight against Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, a Chinese-funded deep sea port 72 km east of Chabahar,” it said.

China and Pakistan are currently building a USD 46 billion economic corridor linking Pakistan’s Gwadar port with Xinjiang to improve connectivity between the two countries.

“Although India’s expectations of Chabahar and the sea-land route are running high, especially following the lifting of international financial sanctions against Iran, major challenges remain.

India may not be able to meet its generous offers and high-sounding rhetoric due to the following reasons,” it said.

1.Iran may not always align itself with India’s geostrategic goals.

2.China is also crucial to Tehran’s core interests.

3. Iran never publicly articulated its opposition to the Sino-Pakistani project in Gwadar. Instead, it had aided the project by providing fresh water and fuel,” it said.

4. China is Iran’s biggest importer of the Oil and Iran will never want to annoy China against India.

5. Iran may again face US sanctions over its missile programme and the trade with Iran and through Iran may again go into doldrums.

6. Chahbahar is not as a deep sea port as Gwadar port of Pakistan is and the heavily loaded ships may not anchor at Chahbahar unlike Gwadar.

7. India may not invest as much in cash starved  Chahbahar as China is investing in Gwadar.

8. Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics may not support India as much as they may China in their economic goals.

9. India’s route to CAR states and Afghanistan through Chahbahar is much longer than the both Gwadar Port and the China itself hence reducing the time and money both for Pakistani and Chinese products.

10. The developing geo strategic situation vis a vis India heavily aligning with US and US going against Iran may trouble the Indo-Iran equation in future.

11. Relations between Pakistan and Iran may develop in future after removal of the bilateral misunderstandings and economic connectivity may flourish after Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline and Iranian oil flowing through CPEC projects to China may force Iran to reconsider it’s strategic alignment with India.

The report said that if India expected too much from Iran, it is “bound for disappointment”.

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