Troika of India, Iran and Afghanistan signed strategic agreements on Chabahar Port located in Southern Iran. These pacts are for the development of Port as well as to provide transit and transport by laying a railway line connecting Afghanistan to India. Once this project is realised Chabahar Port will connect India to the land-locked Afghanistan, giving Kabul an alternate route to the Indian Ocean.
Moreover, India will gain full-fledged cargo handling facilities on a large scale on the Gulf of Oman. Three of these newly strategic partners will acquire not only territorial but also marine routes for the improvement of trade, sharing resources and to have secure access to the Arab states. Also one should not forget how the resource full, advantageously located central Asian states having direct route from Afghanistan, will be available to India after the development and functioning of Chabahar.
This tripartite definitely challenges the existing regional set up by upsetting China and Pakistan in their joint venture of Gawadar Port. This strategic development is undoubtedly a geopolitical game changer in regional politics. However, despite all the claims by the Indian and Iranian authorities that Chabahar is no threat or rival to Gawadar Port, still it brings various queries and challenges to the region. One cannot ignore that the development of Chabahar Port will allow India to bypass Pakistan (India will not rely on Pakistan for opening of trade routes reaching Afghanistan and then Central Asian states anymore). Through Chabahar India is also motivated to counter China’s expanding influence in Indian Ocean.
Chabahar is a city and capital of Sistan and Baluchistan Province in Iran. At 2006 census, its population was 71,070, in 13,837 families. It is officially designated as a Free Trade and Industrial Zone by Iran's government. Due to its free trade zone status, the city has increased in significance in international trade.
India’s financing and engineering assistance is not limited to Chabahar Port; it is actively developing a highway as well that leads from the Chabahar Port to Afghanistan. Chabahar Port is well-suited for linking southern ports of Afghanistan and a few Central Asian States. The port is located at the securest and closest route to Central Asia and Afghanistan market. It’s proximity to the largest energy resources in the world makes it the apple of India’s eyes.
Nevertheless, the port is well-connected to other cities of the country as well with a wide network of roads as well as air links. Through the activation of the port Iran, India and Russia would establish a multi-model transport link connecting Mumbai with Saint Petersburg, providing Europe and the former Soviet Union Republics of Central Asia access to Asia and vice versa. Iran and Afghanistan have signed an agreement to give Indian goods, leading for Central Asia and Afghanistan, preferential treatment and tariff reduction at Chabahar Port.
On the other hand, the very same region is eyeing movements of Pakistan and China as both are working fervently on plan to develop Gawadar to accommodate foreign trade of the Central Asian Republics and the Xingjian, Sichuan provinces and the Tibetan region of China. The construction of a rail and road network between Gawadar and Xingjian also seems imminent given the growing Sino-Pak economic ties. Gawadar port besides opening the large avenues for the people of Mekran engaged in fishing and agriculture will also facilitate easier and time efficient transportation. Gawadar Port has all the capacity to generate massive revenues for Balochistan. It is poised to be a trade hub, once road and rail links are established to other parts of Pakistan as well as Afghanistan and Central Asia.
On the contrary, India is ready to invest more than Rs 1 lakh crore. Iran is offering gas to India at $2.95 per mmBtu to set up urea plant at the Chabahar port in Iran. India is negotiating the gas price and has demanded it at $1.5 per mm Btu rate. The rate offered by Iran is less than half the rate at which India currently imports natural gas from the spot or current market. India, which imports around 8-9 million tons of the nitrogenous fertilizer, is negotiating for a price of $1.5 per mmBtu with the Persian Gulf nation in a move which if successful will see a significant decline in the country's Rs 80,000 crore subsidy for the soil nutrient.
Gawadar Port will have to face stiff competition from Chabahar. It is still not as operational as Chabahar. The supporting structures at Gawadar Port are still not existent. Even after the lapse of many years, there is no mentionable economic activity at this port. Several projects such as 950-km railway and 900-km motorway to link with railway and highway of the country have so far remained only in files. The 200-km branch road to link coastal road to the Indus Highway at Ratto-Dero is still not developed. There are no internal roads and services of water. The very interesting trio of Chabahar and duo of Gawadar port forces one to look into the strategic doctrine of India.
Analysing India’s timely and tactical move of investing in Chabahar one can recall the great strategic thinker of his times who has always been source of inspiration for India’s policy, Kautilya. Indian Political tradition (Kautilya’s Raj-mandala theory) explains the very basis for this new trio ‘Your neighbor is your natural enemy and the neighbor’sneighbor is your friend". Kautilya proposes a Raj Mandala or Secular Power Realm, a monarchical balance-of-power arrangement for the utilization of regional power within and between states. Rajmandala or Mandala places the king in center of the circle (mandala) making other actors function around.
As India declares itself a regional hegemon so it very aptly adopts the policy of no nation should be defended solely along its borders. This can be done only when India extends its gaze out to its strategic frontiers that extend from Suez Canal in the west to the South China Sea and beyond in the east as noted by Rakesh Chopra while analyzing Kautilya’s influence in 21st century India.
China and India – Asia’s two economic giants of the region traces back their tussle since decades. India being a democracy, technologically advanced country could not invite as much as global influence as its rival China. China holds advantage against India in its perception of power globally and undoubtedly this perception helps her in exercising its power. Both nuclear armed states are now developing their marine strength. These new developments generate the debate of returning of Mandalas in 21st Century. While talking about Kautilya’s Raj mandala one cannot ignore the Chinese mandala of middle kingdom period which explains ‘China is the center of global civilisation and all the nations must acknowledge its political and cultural supremacy by paying tributes’. This explains today’s behavior of this giant that it will not allow any other nation, at least in Asia, to be as important as it is.
However, through these pacts, India, Iran-Afghanistan challenges the unbridled, unopposed strategic partnership of China and Pakistan in the region and shall definitely disturb the balance of power. Though, this balancing of power doesn’t seem to be correct allegation as India is now not balancing its power; India is proliferatingits power. Undoubtedly, Chabahar will prove not only an economic rival to Gawadar but also will affect the security of the region one way or the other.
The establishment of Free-Trade and Economic Zones and Export Processing Zones (EPZs) would, surely, attract foreign investment that will be an impetus to the development of Balochistan in particular and of the whole Pakistan in general.