India-Pakistan rivalry for a gate to Central Asia

An India – Pak rivalry is intensifying for the Central Asian connectivity with the Chabahar port deal last week. The Chabahar port which is just 100 km away from Pakistan’s Gwadar port is competing each other to become the gateway for China bound goods traffic to the Persian Gulf.

Chabahar is especially important for India as it gives New Delhi an option to skip Pakistan to travel to Central Asia. At the same time, Chbahar is an alternative to the whole Chinese sponsored OROB (One Road One Belt) connectivities in the region.

As India becomes a non-joiner in the China OROB initiative, the triparty – India – Iran – Afghanistan land connectivity to central Asia from Chabahar becomes a competitor to the OROB.

Competition for connectivity to central Asia is intensifying in recent times especially after the removal of ban on Iran by the West. In February 2016, China has run the first train from Yiwu in Eastern China to Tehran. The train travelled nearly 10000 km through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan before reaching Iran in 14 days. Compare this to cargo ships, that needs 45 days sailing from Shangahi to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas- the land route’s gain is immense.

Understandably, most of the routes under OROB doesn’t goes through Afghanistan because of political instability. Here, India’s triparty Chabahar route involving Afghanistan has some risks.

But a bigger potential threat to Chbahar is consolidation of its opponents and pressure from Beijing on Iran and Afghanistan. The land route will give India considerable economic gain and will dilute the significance of the China-Pakistan sponsored Gwadar port from the Indian perspective.

Already, Pakistan after sensing competition from Chabahar has attributed military colour to the project. For Islamabad, any alternative to Gwadar is against its geo-strategic and economic dreams.

Similarly, the mighty Chinese who lures the neighbours by showing the economic power while reviving the silk route may not like any alternatives, especially one initiated by the non-joiner in OROB -India. In a recent interview with Afghan High Commissioner in Beijing, the Chinese tabloid- Global Time’s interviewer has questioned the stand of Afghanistan joining the Chabahar initiative by declaring it as a competitor to OROB.

The Global Times: India, Iran and Afghanistan have signed a tripartite agreement to turn the Iranian port of Chabahar into a transit hub. Some believe the cooperation is a challenge to the Gwadar port project between China and Pakistan and to China’s “Belt and Road” initiative. What do you think?

Janan Mosazai (Afghan High Commissioer to China): “…We have never and will never look at the two strategic relationships that Afghanistan has with the two important neighbors in the context of any competition.”

There’s is no question that China is going to make huge economic and political gain through the OROB initiative. While doing so, if Beijing is able to support win – win development in the region, the efforts will revive the Silk Road and the glory of the past. But if it is trying to magnify political conflicts and cornering India, New Delhi may depend on the camp that Beijing dislike for breath. For all these, the Chabahar will be a test drive.