The recent fanfare regarding the Chabahar Port in Iran has brought this project in direction competition with the Gwadar Port of Pakistan. Chabahar has officially been described as a free trade and industrial area, developed by the Iranian government with Indian assistance and investment. Indian Government has spent over $100 million on constructing of a 220-Km long road in the Afghan province of Nimroz. In the next phase, this road will be elongated to the Chabahar and thus the Chabahar Port will provide a direct access to India to the landlocked Afghanistan. This port has the potential to become an international trade hub that will bond the trading regions on South Asia, the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan and other Central Asian Republics. Furthermore, Iranian rail network will also be connected to this port in order to ensure smooth transportation of goods from the port to the mainland and so forth. With only a distance of 72 kilometers from the Gwadar Port, a direct confrontation in business terms is expected to ensue in the region. However, Gwadar outmaneuvers Chabahar Port in following five ways:
- Experience: This is the very first instance whereby an Indian government has indulged in a foreign port development enterprise in such a grand manner. Since, the Indian trade interests would have to encounter a direct naval confrontation with the Pakistan Navy, this project might be jeopardized in the case of warlike escalation between the two belligerent states. Therefore, India will have to give naval protection to its trading vessels in such a huge region- an exercise that requires colossal amounts of experience. Secondly, Gwadar’s exclusive control is vested in the Chinese government, which possesses immense experience in this field.
- Security: Since the majority of Indian exports will be directed towards Afghanistan, the ever-deteriorating security environment in the country is a major threat to the Indian interests in the region. Moreover, Taliban have no love lost for the Indians since the Indian governments have supported the Northern Alliance, historically. However, Pakistan’s province of Balochistan has witnessed a decrease in the insurgent attacks and terrorism. The security agencies have been able to bring the separatist elements back into the mainstream and the national fold, thereby improving the security situation in the province.
- The Iran Question: The recent euphoria regarding the US-Iran Deal is now subsiding. The Iranian establishment and the clergy has shown visible signs of asserting their independent domestic and foreign policies, which might antagonize the Western powers again. The recent launching of nuclear-capable missile has raised many eyebrows in the West. Additionally, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has declared that Iran “will not collaborate with America over the regional crisis, their objectives in the region are a 180-degrees contrasting to Iran’s goals and ambitions for the region.” This statement has thus sent tremors in the political circles across the globe. Thus, in case of any future United Nations’ sanctions on Iran, the Indian interests would be hampered quite adversely.
- The Afghanistan Pressure Point: Notwithstanding the improved Indo-Afghan political, diplomatic, and commercial associations, Pakistan’s position and authority in Afghanistan has not weakened. Since, Pakistan and China are working quite zealously to further their economic interests in the region, there is a huge probability that these two countries might use their influence to damage the Indian interests in Afghanistan.
- Partnerships and Rivalries: Pakistan and China enjoy a special strategic and commercial relationship, which gives both the countries immense leverage over each other’s activities and interests. Pakistan does not have any direct economic competition with China, and vice versa. However, the situation is starkly different in the case of Iran and Indian cooperation. Pursuant to the Iranian Deal of July 2015, Iran is vying for an economic footprint in the region, especially in Afghanistan and in the Central Asian Republics. Hence, there is a substantial probability that Indian and Iranian interests might conflict in the near future and their aspirations of building a strategic partnership might be dashed.
Thus, in the light of the arguments mentioned above, it can be asserted that Gwadar Port is a highly viable project, both commercially and strategically. On the other hand, the Chabahar Port faces a host of issues that might even strain the Indo-Iran relations, rather than improving them, in the future.