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Chabahar Post – Has India Lost the Golden Gate?

Chabahar Post – Has India Lost the Golden Gate?

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

Chabahar port — being jointly developed by India, Iran and Afghanistan — is on the Indian Ocean about 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of the Pakistan border.

The port of Chabahar is located on the Makran coast of Sistan and Baluchistan Province, next to the Gulf of Oman and at the mouth of Strait of Hormuz. It is the only Iranian port with direct access to the Indian Ocean. Being close to Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries of TurkmenistanUzbekistan etc., it has been termed the “Golden Gate” to these land-locked countries.

Benefits:

  • The government has already underlined the geostrategic importanceit attaches to the Chabahar port project.
  • The project, has been a symbol of traditionally important India-Iran ties.
  • Connected by sea lanes to ports on India’s west coast, Chabahar would form the fulcrum of India’s outreach to Russia and Central Asia, enhancing connectivity, energy supplies and trade.
  • Given that Pakistan had blocked Indian aid to Afghanistan and all trade over land. Chabahar provided India an alternative to permanently bypass its neighbour.
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Initiatives taken:

  • As a result, the government fast-tracked plans for the project, and in 2016, was in Tehran to sign a trilateral trade and transit agreement with Iranian President and Afghanistan President.
  • According to the MoUs, India would be granted a 10-year leaseto develop and operate two terminals and five berths, access to the Chabahar free trade zone, and the opportunity to build the 628 km rail line from Chabahar to Zahedan, just across the border from Afghanistan.
  • The government acted quickly to develop Chabahar port facilities, sent exports to Afghanistan in 2018, and has moved over half-a-million tonnes of cargo, including grains and food supplies, for Afghanistan again, through the port.
  • Delayed rail link:
  • However, the rail linehas never taken off for a number of reasons despite a commitment from state-owned IRCON, to undertake its construction at an estimated $1.6 billion.
  • While contract changesby the Iranian side and delayed responses from the Indian side were part of the problem, the main hurdle has been the fear of American penalties.
  • Even though India was able to negotiate a sanctions waiver for the Chabahar port and rail line from the U.S., few international construction and equipment partners were willing to sign on to the project; New Delhi has also dragged its feet on the matter.
  • After appeals to India, including one issued by its Foreign Minister, Iran decided to go on its own, by beginning to lay tracks for the line connecting Chabahar to Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.
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Recent developments:

  • Iran dropped Indiafrom the Chabahar rail project because of “absence of active Indian engagement,” as per the Iranian sources.
  • Iran remains open to all including India for collaboration and investment but Tehran expects future projects should be safeguarded from third party unilateral sanctions.
  • It was expected that in addition to the investment in Chabahar Port, India could also play a more crucial role in funding and constructing this strategic transit route from Chabahar to Zahedan and from Zahedan to Sarakhs at the border with Turkmenistanwhich in the absence of an active Indian engagement and partnership, currently is under construction by Iranian funding and engineering capacities.

U.S. sanctions:

  • The delay has also indicated at possible impact of U.S. sanctionson India’s projects with Iran.
  • Though India secured exemptionfor the Chabahar port from U.S. sanctions, bilateral ties with Iran took a hit in February after the riots in Delhi drew condemnation from Iranian Foreign Minister.
  • That apart India-Iran energy tradewas hit when India shut energy imports from Iran because of the threat of U.S. sanctions, which also affected the IRCON-Iranian Rail Ministry MoU for the construction of the Chabahar-Zahedan rail project.

Chinese inroads:

  • Iran’s latest action drew attention as it came in the backdrop of Tehran finalising a 25-year strategic partnershipagreement with Beijing which was negotiated in secrecy.
  • Iran, however, said the agreement was a “road map for future cooperation”between the two sides

Opportunity lost:

  • Regardless of the reasons for India’s inability to join the railway project, the decision can only be seen as an opportunity lost.
  • The impression that India wavered due to U.S. pressure, especially after India cancelled oil imports from Iran, also questions India’s commitment to strategic autonomy.
  • While Iran claims it will fund the railway using its own resources, it seems to have embarked on the Chabahar-Zahedan project with a confidence borne from an imminent deal with Chinafor a 25-year, $400 billion strategic partnership on infrastructure, connectivity and energy projects.

In a world where connectivity is seen as the new currency, India’s loss could well become China’s gain, and New Delhi must watch this space, created by its exit, closely.

Source:” The Hindu“.

POSSIBLE UPSC CSE MAINS QUESTION:

How is the US sanctions on Iran affecting India – Iran relationship? How does it contradict the US support to India in the global arena?