How Chabahar Port cracks the Indian-Iranian relations

Chabahar Port at Night

Since the time exists, sea trade has been playing a significant role in the regional states economies

Gwadar and Chabahar ports have gained tremendous significance as both leverage their geo-strategic location to the two rising powers in Asia, China and India.

How Chabahar Port cracks the Indian-Iranian relations. The earlier vision of gaining the regional hegemony through Chabahar seems fading as the new geopolitical environment comes up.

Importance of seaports

Before jumping into the politics and the tensions in the South Asian region, did you ever realize what importance does a seaport hold? Today, as the Information Age creates a new emphasis on global governance ,the shipyards, docks, harbors, warehouses, inspection facilities and commercial cargo-loading sites along waterways have risen in importance. Ports in the different regions perform an absolutely critical economic role. These vital economic hubs allow businesses to export raw materials and manufactured goods overseas, in addition, to receive imports from these same global markets.

In order to enjoy the full economic benefits of rapid technological advances, states must strive to maintain and upgrade ports to ensure they continue to serve the needs of maritime commerce. It’s the growing demand regarding energy ,oil and other supplies of a state that pushes a state to take infrastructure improvement measures and the one key consumer for this? Ports-transporting, shipping, and transferring commodities locally and to global markets. 

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Port politics and route to Eurasia

Since the time exists, sea trade has been playing a significant role in the regional states economies as mentioned earlier. In this context, the role of ports remained critical which have been providing for connectivity between land and maritime trades. Currently, different ports play a role in figuring the politics, prominently between the Indian, Iranian, Pakistani and Chinese foreign policies which have heightened the regional geopolitics over ports. It appears to be understandable in the context of two contradictory developments—Gwadar and Chabahar ports in the South Asian region. 

The Eurasian region holds a significant position in India’s, Pakistan’s and Iran’s geostrategic and geo-economic spheres . However, Pakistan a central place in India’s moves toward Eurasian connectivity, but due to deepening friendship between China and Pakistan and tensions between Pakistan and India,  it has become part of China’s geo-economic designs such as China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and One Belt One Road (OBOR) instead. China has started a joint venture with Pakistan for the development of Gwadar Port, which is one more important part of the “String of Pearls” as Indians call it.

These dynamics have heightened the interdependency and strategic proximity between China and Pakistan, similarly, between Iran and India as well. Pakistan’s association with China can be seen as counterbalancing the power of India to have a political shield in the region. Through Islamabad’s lens, Pakistani scholars have verified the statement that China supports Pakistan to balance India regarding its energy, connectivity, and military superiority in the region.

Indo-Pak Rivalry

Thus, Indo-Pak deep-rooted rivalry and China’s emerging concerns about New Delhi–Washington strategic cooperation in the region have been one of the significant factors to bring them closer. Some scholars  also believe that Pakistan remains a big deterrent for India’s connectivity with Eurasia, and Pakistan’s alliance with China has made Iran significant in India’s present geopolitical calculations. I interpret these moves and countermoves of India and Sino-Pak axis in ironical terms, calling it the beginning of the “New Cold War” in the region which led to the heightened competition for energy, connectivity, and trade in Eurasia.

Limited studies have discussed only the connectivity via Iran. However, it appears from the aforementioned investigations that the emerging issue of the geopolitics of ports has not been taken into account much. Therefore, the subject of Indo-Iran relations vis-à-vis Sino-Pak ties and how the Chabahar Port is an essential factor in the region’s foreign policy.

India’s Eurasia pivot; Gwadar port countering Chabahar port 

Gwadar and Chabahar ports have gained tremendous significance as both leverage their geo-strategic location to the two rising powers in Asia, China and India. The Gwadar port is being managed by China under the China – Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), whereas the development of Chabahar port is funded by India under the tripartite Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with Iran and Afghanistan, signed on May 23, 2016. Both are located at the international energy trading route and provide connectivity not only to Europe and Central Asia, but the Middle East and Africa too. The nature of the capitalist system and basic economic cost has the potential to put both ports in competition with each other.

However, Iran and Pakistan deny any kind of such competition; rather both States aspire to build on cooperation and linkages between these two ports. But things are changing now due to the rising tensions among Iran, China and India. Chabahar and the Gwadar ports have been a topic of discuss all over the internet and the news these days. Both share importance of their own and have different prominence in the region but have the same purpose i.e. business and strategic routes to Europe for better economic conditions. One port is in Iran and the other is in Pakistan.

Iran’s Chabahar port is located at a distance of mere 70 km from Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. The growing rivalry of India with its neighboring countries China and Pakistan has led to the development of Gwadar port by China in Pakistan. Through Gwadar, China is planning to enter the Arabian Sea and expand its maritime silk route. The Gwadar port is built for carrying greater tonnage of cargoes through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Strategic Location of Chabahar

The Chabahar port offers strategic land access to Afghanistan via Iran. Pakistan never allowed India to trade with Afghanistan using its land-route, which compelled New Delhi to explore alternate strategy. Hence, the Chabahar port was developed which completely bypasses Pakistan.

India is also hoping for access to the north-south economic corridor to increase its share with the five central Asian countries. Through Chabahar Port, India will definitely increase its presence both domestically as well as through economic and trade linkages. On the other hand, China already has access to large exports to Central Asia in trading activities, benefitting Pakistan too ,of course.

Pakistanis have always viewed Chabahar and Gwadar port as not in competition but as sister ports. But India and China are contributing significantly towards the development of their respective ports as a part of their economic interventions in Middle Eastern Countries and Eurasia as well.

For India, the building of port is a mean of survival in competing for the world and especially against China. On the other hand, China is keen on retaining its presence and power in the Arabian Sea.

A crack in the bilateral relations of India and Iran

The crack in the India-Iran relationship got exposed back in march when the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned “the wave of organized violence against Indian Muslims”, and urged the Modi government to “not let senseless thuggery prevail”.

Not surprisingly, India also called it an “internal matter”, but that did not stop Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei from commenting that incidents like the recent violence in Delhi, if not prevented, could lead to India’s “isolation from the world of Islam”- India should have understood what’s coming their way.

Changing sides; the Pakistan, China, Iran nexus.

As China faces increasing heat from the international community ,specifically America, over its political and military postures, ranging from Ladakh in the high Himalayas with India, the South China Sea region and beyond, Beijing is also looking to solidify its relations with Iran in the Middle East as it faces a “maximum pressure” policy from the US in the form of crippling sanctions and military options. The foundation of this impending “deal” between Beijing and Tehran was laid during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Iran in 2016.

Apparently, Iran has attributed putting India’s participation aside on account of delays in Indian funding and other aspects of project implementation. Iran now claims that it will provide USD 400 million project cost through its own resources. However, its financial position is precarious because of the growing stranglehold of American sanctions. But the Chinese are here to help. China says, it will spend USD 400 billion over the next twenty years in Iran. These massive numbers are a direct challenge to both Western, and more specifically, American economic might on a regional and global stage, but also creating new geo-political flash points as Beijing expands its reach around the world, which now includes a base in Djibouti, operations of the Gwadar port in Pakistan, ever increasing naval port calls across the world and so on.

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