India is steadily completing work on Iran’s Chabahar Port to challenge Pak-China’s Gwadar

Despite speculation that India’s interest in developing the Iranian port of Chabahar is waning, India has actually upped its involvement there to counter the growing Chinese presence in the region. There is confirmation that the Chinese are very much in touch with the Iranian authorities to put in their money at Chabahar “basically to edge India out”, but, as of now, no concrete offer has been made by the Chinese.

Sources in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) confirm that India is actively involved in the project and “work at the port is quietly moving on”. India, Iran and Afghanistan, the three major stakeholders involved in developing this port, appreciate the urgency to finish the work as the sirens of Chinese cargo and Pakistani naval ships are quite audible at Gwadar, a Chinese-funded port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Gwadar is just 70 km away from the Chabahar port.

In the past few months, the crucial Assembly elections in the states and the demonetisation drive across India had entirely preoccupied the government and certain decisions related to foreign policy had been delayed, “but India’s approach to Chabahar is very much there”, says Bhaskar Roy, a former RAW official.

India, Iran and Afghanistan formally signed the agreement in May 2016 to complete the port in about 18-24 months. Since the Gwadar port is already functional, there is all the more urgency on India’s part to move swiftly with its commitment at Chabahar. Gwadar and the geographical area around it have already been ceded by Pakistan to China for the latter’s effective control.

Strategic analysts feel that eventually, the Chinese would be placing its troops there on the pretext of protecting its investments and other interests in the region. Therefore, a much stronger push at Chabahar is needed because this is a strategic move worked out by India to facilitate India’s involvements and stay engaged in Afghanistan. This would “strategically put pressure on Pakistan, thereby indirectly applying pressure on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)”, says Jayadeva Ranade, an ex-RAW man. Many feel that India should not be part of the Chinese-sponsored CPEC corridor as it would be going through Indian (PoK) territory.

Development of the Chabahar port will provide India an alternative and reliable access route into Afghanistan, using India’s earlier investment in the Zaranj-Delaram road built in Afghanistan, and also a reliable and more direct sea-road access route into the Central Asian region. The Chabahar port’s location at the Arabian Sea means that it would be able to skirt any challenges posed by developments in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.

By: Sunday Guardian Live

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