Chabahar port is located in Sistan-Baluchistan area of Iran at the mouth of Gulf of Oman. It is a strategically located port because it provides direct access to the Indian Ocean, enabling bypassing of Strait of Hormuz that separates Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean.
It is located 45 nautical miles away from the port of Gwadar which is being built by China in Pakistan’s Balochistan. Gwadar is the outlet to Indian Ocean from the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) termed as a “game changer” in the region by both the Chinese and the Pakistanis. Gwadar provides tremendous strategic advantage to China, not only in its pursuit of encircling India, but also in the domination of Indian Ocean.
Significance of Chabahar Port :-
- State run railway body IRCON International will set up a railway line at Chabahar to move goods right up to Afghanistan. The 500-km rail link between Chabahar and Zahedan will link Delhi to the rest of Iran’s railway network.
- It provide India a much needed access to land locked Afghanistan region & Central Asian Republic Countries which has been continuously blocked by Pakistan through its territory because Pakistan enjoys its geo strategic advantage which helps him to put restraints on India.
It will also ensure in the establishment of a politically sustainable connectivity between India and Afghanistan and Iran. This is will, in turn, lead to better economic ties between these three countries.
Central Asian Republics :- Central Asia Republics stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. Central Asia republics are - Kazakhstan - Kyrgyzstan - Tajikistan - Turkmenistan - Uzbekistan
- It will also act as an effective counter to China’s “string of pearls” strategy for India in the Indian Ocean due to its location viz a viz Gwadar port.
What is String of Pearls ? The string of pearls is a geopolitical theory on Chinese political intentions in the Indian Ocean Region. It refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial facilities and relationships along its sea lines of communication, which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan. The sea lines run through several major maritime choke points such as - the Strait of Mandeb - the Strait of Malacca - the Strait of Hormuz - Lombok Strait as well as other strategic maritime centers in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Somalia.
If we look at this image and connect all these stars it will ultimately shows how China so called Geopolitical strategy named as ‘String of pearls’ will encircle India & it will help China to maintain keep an eye on India where as it will challenge India domination in Indian Ocean.
- It will also help India to fight terror and extremism in the region jointly with the regional players thus isolating Pakistan.As if we look at the recent strategy of Donald Trump policy regarding Afghanistan. He wants India to play an important role with US to bring Peace & Stability in Afghanistan . Thus it is right time to bang on the opportunity given by US to isolate Pakistan because US is completely opposing Pakistan for being safe haven to terrorists in recent times & India completely isolating & diminishing Pakistan image on world forums.
- It will enable India to circumvent Pakistan which has been denying land-route access to India to reach Afghanistan and Central Asia. The way China through its String of pearls strategy can keep an eye on India. Likewise, India can keep an eye on Pakistan & China strategies.
- It will also enable Afghanistan to carry out international trade without its dependence on Pakistan’s Karachi port because the Chabahar port area is more peaceful, stable and will be very efficient and effective to both India and Afghanistan to exchange goods and services freely and far from any restriction to the other markets.
- The Chabahar port will also give boost to the strategic International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
INSTC is a long multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India to Europe which covers Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia & Central Asia. The objective of the corridor is to increase trade connectivity.
The aim behind INSTC is to cut transportation costs giving boost to better trading margins while competing in these markets. Compared to the current traditional sea route to Europe via the Suez Canal, Chabahar-INSTC is 40% shorter and reduces the cost of Indian trade to Europe by 30%. Moreover, international trade will be able to overcome the uncertainties of “Sea Politics” in the volatile Middle- East with the availability of an alternative.
The route from Chabahar to Afghanistan via Iran and the INSTC passes through relatively peaceful regions of Afghanistan thus, making Chabahar as a preferred port for the international trading community and earning a greater share of trade.
- With Chabahar port being developed and operated by India, Iran also becomes a military ally to India. Chabahar could be used in case China decides to flex its navy muscles by stationing ships in Gwadar port to reckon its upper hand in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Middle East.
Gwadar Port (China) VS Chabahar Port (India)
This is the first time India has plunged into a foreign port development venture. Chabahar is a geographical reach for New Delhi, since it is not in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) where India not only has several functional ports (Mumbai, Kolkata, and Goa) but has the shield of Indian Navy also. In Chabahar India would be a guest state, whose borders and territorial waters are at a much greater distance.
On the contrary, Gwadar is not only developed by China — which has a wealth of experience in overseas infrastructure projects — but the government of Pakistan has handed over the control of port to China. Tehran won’t do the same, at least judging by the existing agreement with India.
After Chabahar in Iran, the next stop for Indian goods will be Afghanistan, and then subsequently to the Central Asian states, the security situation is inadequate in major areas due to some major terrorist groups like Taliban & ISIS.
Gwadar too is witnessing security issues, since Balochistan province is subject to low-scale belligerency. Still, the scope and extent of separatist brawls in the area have decreased in recent years while many militant groups have voluntarily surrendered to security agencies.
Some Obstacles :-
Recently Donald Trump threatened to de-certify Iran Nuclear Deal with P5+1 nations. P5+1 known as Five Permanent Members of UN Security Council + Germany & its completely pushing Iran to move forwards with its nuclear test and have nuclear missiles.
However, it will push Iran towards China because China & Iran have good relations since 2000 & the fact is China’s power is growing much in Middle-East region & China is already Iran’s largest trading partner, an important supplier of arms and other military hardware and technology. China has always been crucial to Iran’s foreign policy strategy. Therefore, Iran will not like to take any risk which may incite China—a country which has supported Iran including its nuclear policy.
While potentially worrisome for India, many countries are fascinated by the CPEC. With the possible inclusion of new states in the project, the possibility of Iran’s inclusion also emerged. For this reason, both China and Pakistan has extended invitation to Iran. In fact, there is speculation about Iran choosing CPEC as a preferred trading option.
USA confused politics & strategies can cost India to lose Iran as an ally nation. Since USA trying to put back sanctions on Iran. It will be important to see how USA deals with current conflict with Iran.
So how will India approach these challenges?
There is no doubt that China rise is a fact but since China’s strategy in the Indian Ocean appears to be troublesome, India needs to keep a close watch over China’s policies and capabilities. Whether OBOR represents a threat or an opportunity in India’s strategic imagination, India needs to sort-out the anxieties shaped by China’s vision of OBOR in order to maintain a firm position on it. If viewed through the lens of cooperation, the initiative can be an opportunity to be tapped for greater cooperation and connectivity—from trade to energy.
Apart from that, currently, India has neither the resources nor the capability to compete China’s enormous connectivity networks on a global scale. Therefore, priority must be given to modernise India’s transport and shipping hubs, ensuring coastal surveillance, expanding its maritime domain so on and so forth. Considering these impediments, the Chabahar should not be viewed in isolation, but from wider perspective. Given the enormous strategic potential of the project, India needs to offer well-thought strategic planning, timely action and cautious diplomacy to capitalise its outcomes. On India’s effort to gain greater access to the markets of Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics (CARs), India needs to develop an effective trade and transport infrastructure network. For this priority should be given to maintain stability in the region, Afghanistan, in particular, because Afghanistan’s future is going to play a crucial role in ensuring the success of Chabahar port project.
While competition and cooperation are part of each country’s interests, China is now India’s largest trading partner. Though the continuous rise of China and its intensifying role has possibly made India’s calculation a challenging one, if India has to look for prospects, and not a looming crisis, then India can also use the Chabahar project as a regional cooperative mechanism to which all the countries in the region are invited to join. Alongside, India must promote and enhance other connectivity initiative like Bangladesh- China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC)—as a corridor to the East. That way India can widen its strategic ambit.
India being an emerging power needs to reinforce its presence and is vital for its geo-strategic balancing. And Chabahar is an entry point of India’s strategic ventures in West and Central Asia and further into Europe through the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC). However, the success of Chabahar and India’s geo-strategic ambition in the region to a large extent depend on to what extent India can convince Iran and Afghanistan. India should therefore deliver its commitment to gain the trust from both the countries—Iran, in particular—because, the real challenges would remain on delivery on the ground. It will require firmness and preciseness on India’s part to persuade Iran in order to sustain the momentum of cooperation. India’s failure to pursue the track will only hasten its isolation from any trade and connectivity arrangement.