Chabahar Port | Strategic Importance for India
- International North- South Transport Corridor (INSTC) connects South and Central Asia to North Europe via Russia.
- Iran is a partner nation in INSTC and Iran’s efforts to enhance utility of Chabahar Port by developing linkages that will connect it with Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics most economically should also be seen in this context.
Strategic Importance and India
India and Iran agreement signed in 2002 to develop Chabahar into a full deep sea port.
- Circumvention of Pakistan
- Route to landlocked Afghanistan which has security ties and economic interests.
- Trade with Europe.
- Indian Ocean outlet for New Delhi’s grand International North- South Transit Corridor (INSTC) initiative.
- With India’s overland access to Central Asia blocked by Pakistan, this will provide New Delhi vital access to Central Asian, Russian, and ultimately European markets, enabling India to effectively compete with China.
- Compared to current Indian Ocean-European transport route via Red Sea, Suez Canal and Mediterranean, Chabahar-based INSTC is estimated to be 40% shorter and will reduce cost of Indian trade by 30%.
- Recently India also proposed membership for Turkmenistan for NSTC.
- Possibility of importing gas from Iran via Mundra Port along with enhanced trade and oil import opportunities – South Asia Gas Enterprises Pvt Ltd (SAGE) – undersea pipeline to bring gas from Oman and Iran to India.
- For protection of interests in Afghanistan, India requires a viable access and Iran provides India most viable transit.
Strategic Importance | Benefits for India
- India’s intentions to build a 900 kilometer rail link from Hajigak iron ore mines in Bamiyan to Chabahar Port and 600 kilometer road from Chabahar to Iranian city of Zahedan.
- India considering investing in Chabahar-FarajBam railway.
- Chabahar port will serve as a cost-effective outlet to bring iron ore.
Past Hiccups and Future Prospects
- Until 2012, India ceased construction of Chabahar port under US pressure to toughen international sanctions against Iran.
- However in 2012, when a China took over administration of Gwadar port, India resumed construction of Chabahar port.
- Whereas original Chabahar port project and transit corridors involved a trilateral agreement between Iran, India and Russia, Indian- led 2012 resumption of project involves participation of 11 additional countries from Middle East, Caucasus, Central Asia and Europe, each lured by benefits of easier access to Indian Ocean.
- Trade between Afghanistan and Chabahar will bolster Iranian and Indian influence in Afghanistan after NATO’s withdrawal, providing a measure of counter- balance to Pakistani influence.
- India’s substantial investment present and future in Chabahar and traditional old ties with Iran, also provide India with an opportunity to become a player in Middle East and Indian influence over Chabahar could be leveraged in many ways.
Strategic Importance Vs Gwadar | India Vs China
- Chabahar is located on Arabian Sea’s Makran coast in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
- Pakistan’s Gwadar port also is situated on Pakistan’s Baluchistan province’s Makran coast.
- Both offer direct access to Indian Ocean.
- Both China and India are seeking closer relations with Afghanistan and Central Asia.
- For India, Chabahar is nearest port to Indian Ocean providing direct access to Middle East and Central Asia.
- For China, Gwadar with a substantial head start over Chabahar could be a terminus for pipelines in its oil and gas supply chain from Africa and Middle East, allowing it to bypass congested pinch point that is Strait of Hormuz.
- Gwadar also brightens prospects for a pipeline corridor bringing oil and gas to China from Middle East as an alternate route to transport oil around Indian Subcontinent and through increasingly disputed territorial waters of South China Sea.
- Route will be cheaper, less vulnerable and give Beijing greater freedom of action to pursue its claims to sovereignty over South China Sea.
- Direct access to India Ocean would give China a strategic post of observation and a key location for its navy and a listening post from where Chinese may exert surveillance on hyper-strategic sea links as well as military activities of Indian and American navies in region, and second, dual-use civilian-military facilities providing a base for Chinese ships and submarines.
- For India, Gwadar port being so close to Straits of Hormuz has implications for India as it would enable Pakistan to exercise control over energy routes along with challenging Indian assertion over Indian Ocean.
- Iran is more stable than Pakistan, it has better relations with Afghanistan and Central Asian states, Chabahar route goes through relatively stable parts of Afghanistan and Iran already has good relations with everybody along route leading north (including local “warlords”) into Tajikistan.
- Significantly, it is in Tajikistan where Iran has already been financing several transport projects including Anzob tunnel.
- Luckily for Iranians, U.S. constructed a bridge over Amu Darya that fits in nicely with Chabahar to Khojent route.
- Problem with Gwadar is that while port has been built -supporting infrastructure of railroad link, industrial capacity, and civic structures at Gwadar is almost non-existent and proposed Gwadar route also goes through more problematic areas of Afghanistan.
- Countries of Central Asia will likely benefit from both Chabahar and Gwadar.
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