By Gazi Hassan
The geo-political situation in South Asia is changing swiftly. This can be credited to the fact that the emerging powers in the region are redefining their presence. Friends are becoming foes and vice versa. The proximity of the South Asian region to the oil rich West Asia has changed politics of the region. Pacts are being signed; alliances are being made between countries of the region, befitting their economic and political interests. For instance, Pakistan’s quest to boost its ailing economy by signing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with People’s Republic of China is seen as a landmark of economic cooperation between the two nations.
Pakistan as part of a CPEC agreement handed over construction of Gwadar Port to China. Gwadar is a deep sea port located in the Baluchistan Province, the Southwestern part of Pakistan. The location of port of Gwadar is strategic as it is located at the confluence of Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz. China’s dependence on the Gulf oil is huge; it amounts to approximately 60%.
It takes China about three months to transport oil from Gulf of Oman to China through Indian and Pacific Oceans. In order to lessen time travel and thwart piracy in the Somalian waters, China is developing Gwadar to meet its requirements and a safe passage. It will also ensure continuous flow of oil from the Persian Gulf under all weather conditions round the year. The Port of Gwadar is connected through roads to the Chinese city of Kashgar via Karakorum Highway in Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan.
India’s concerns are clearly understood as it is considers Gilgit-Baltistan as a disputed territory. Chinese presence there exacerbates these concerns. Gwadar port will also facilitate trade between the China, the Central Asian and Middle Eastern nations. The port is majorly Chinese sponsored, funded on the cost-sharing basis with Pakistan in the ratio of 80-20.
On the contrary, a commercial contract has been reached between the Islamic Republic of Iran and India for the development of infrastructure and regional connectivity. This cooperation includes development of the Chabahar Port in Iran by India which is part of a broader Trilateral Agreement (Chabahar Agreement i.e. Transport and Transit Corridors) signed between India, Iran and Afghanistan. The agreement signed between India and Iran is in line with Tehran Declaration (2001) and New Delhi Declaration (2003) under the Vaijpai governmentt. Chabahar port is a joint venture of India Ports Global Pvt Ltd and Iran’s Arya Banader.
Chabahar is the Iranian port city on the banks of Gulf of Oman. This port is connected to the national highways network of Iran. Chabahar Agreement will facilitate India’s access to the oil and gas rich Persian Gulf and Central Asia. Developing a port in Iran will provide an alternative access route to Afghanistan via Iran. Iran will also use it to increase its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia. India is providing more than 4000 crore rupees for the development of the port.
India’s process of developing highways in Afghanistan is in resonance with the construction of port in Iran. Apart from developing the port, India is planning to lay a pipeline to transport oil and gas resources from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan in to Iran and from there to Gujarat. Thus, India would bypass Pakistan, which however provides a much shorter route under TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) project, for transporting oil resources to India. Port development by India will also boost International North-South Transport Corridor and its alliance with Russia. Iran’s port will be the gateway for moving freight among Iran, Russia, India and countries in Central Asia with an objective of increasing trade between major cities of these countries.
Chabahar-Gwadar ports are at a distance of about 72 km from each other. Both India and Pakistan have been constantly undermining each other in the region. Developments of these ports will increase this animosity. The importance of both these ports has led to the struggle for strategic dominance in the region. The fact is that Gwadar holds an edge over Chabahar in terms of its geographic location. Chabahar is part of the Gulf of Oman and not part of Indian Ocean where India has its dominance. Also, Pakistan’s Naval Base is located in the region which remains an irritant for India. And, if Pakistan allows China to dock it’s Naval Ships or Submarines at Gwadar port, it will further increase India’s sufferings. However, this may not be same in case of India as Iran may not allow India to use Chabahar for military purposes. The ties between India and USA will have a profound impact on Iranian strategic thinkers. In addition, Indo-US alliance in the Indian Ocean is against Iran’s interests.
Contestation between these two ports banks on the possibility that both Chinese and Indian Naval presence in the Arabian Sea will increase, leading to Sino-Indian rivalry in the Indian Ocean. India’s apprehension of China encircling it by pursuing Strings of Pearl strategy is balanced by the apprehension in Pakistani establishment that India is trying to isolate it in its own backyard.
South Asia is becoming a region witnessing a rise of the New Great Game. America’s alliance with India should also be seen in this context. Recent agreements signed between the United States and India validates the fact that rising China is threat to regional balance of power. The United States is also concerned with the rise of Chinese economic power in the region. China’s CPEC coupled with its ambitious “One Belt, One Road”(OBOR) are considered by India and the United States a as threat to their strategic interests in the region. This will lead to foreign power shaving influence in the policy making decisions in nations of the region. The relationship between India and Pakistan will also undergo significant changes in the coming years. In the conclusion, it can be inferred that if the Pakistani establishment effectively encourages its administration, military and diplomacy to maximize the potential of the Gwadar port, it can successfully ensure effective connectivity to the world as well as lead to the movement of its goods and services. On the contrary if Pakistan fails in doing so, it will allow India and Iran to reap all the benefits.
The author is a Research Scholar of International Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at: [email protected]