India has finally fulfilled one of its major commitments in the neighbourhood — activating the Chabahar port. Along with the Sittwe port in Myanmar, Chabahar in Iran was one of the long pending projects. It got delayed due to bureaucratic divide within, and also external pressure. India’s decision to send the first consignment to Afghanistan through Chabahar is likely to cement Indo-Afghan and Indo-Iran relations further. Chabahar has been an Indian dream for a long time for three specific reasons. First, unaffected by Indo-Pak political environment, Chabahar would provide an all-weather access to Afghanistan. Second, it would bring India and Iran closer. Third, it would enable India to move beyond Afghanistan in travelling further in its dream project — the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), linking Mumbai with Moscow. On Chabahar, there is more attention towards the Indo-Afghan link. Chabahar would intensify the Indo-Iran relations further. From the days of Persia, India had a robust network with Iran; in the recent years, however, there was a decline in interactions between the two countries. An important predicament has been the physical connectivity besides the political distance between Iran and New Delhi. India’s efforts to build its relationship with the US witnessed so much of a political capital invested in Washington, at the cost of the immediate neighbourhood. The Indo-US nuclear deal came with a cost; it made Beijing wary of India’s political leanings. A similar development took place in New Delhi-Tehran equation. Though a section would refuse to accept, the Indo-US strategic partnership did impact the Indo-Iran relations. The Indo-US nuclear deal came with a cost; it made Beijing wary of India’s political leanings. A similar development took place in New Delhi-Tehran equation. Though a section would refuse to accept, the Indo-US strategic partnership did impact the Indo-Iranian relations Realising the above, India started improving its relationship with Iran; Chabahar became one of the strategies. For India, building the port also means, enhancing its Afghan connectivity through Iran. So Chabahar is just not a bilateral project, but also a trilateral one. Chabahar would also help India move closer towards it larger INSTC dream — a multi-mode network involving road, rail and sea links. Although the Chinese OBOR has got the global attention, there was skepticism about India’s INSTC, an idea which is a decade older than the former. Rightly so, due to Chinese resources and Beijing’s ability to bulldoze its way through. On the contrary, India’s democracy and the argumentative Indian within that system have an impact in realising the promises. However, despite the critics ridiculing some of the projects, the Indian system did move ahead. The External Ministry in particular needs to be congratulated; it considers the connectivity projects as strategic and started investing more in addressing the bureaucratic bottlenecks. The support from Prime Minister Office for such projects in the recent years, gave a further fillip. One could see this trend not only outside India, but also within, in terms of India strengthening its border road networks in the north and east. Does the above mean, there is no Pakistan angle in India going ahead with Chabahar? Obviously, there is. It helps India reach Kabul, and even beyond into Central Asia without any connectivity veto by Islamabad. Chabahar expands India’s Afghan and Central Asian options outside Pakistan. Moreover, if there is a Pakistan angle to India’s Chabahar strategy, it should be Wagah, rather than Gwadar. For long, India has been demanding transit to Afghanistan through Pakistan. Historically, goods and people from India to Afghanistan and beyond, passed through Khyber and Chaman. For India, it is not only New Delhi and Kabul; rather it is from Kolkata to Tashkent. Some would even extend to Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh in the east. From Sher Shah Suri’s Grand Trunk Road (historians would even link to the Mauryan empire) to Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwala (narrating the story a Pashtun merchant from Kabul in Kolkata), the people, goods and history crisscrossed Khyber and Chaman for centuries. The stories and myths, did not go through Chabahar, rather through those areas that became Pakistan later. India looked at Pakistan as a natural corridor into Afghanistan and beyond into Central Asia. It had to look for alternatives, when Wagah became a political dead-end instead of a bridge. Chabahar is likely to provide more options to Afghanistan, than undermining the CPEC. Unless Pakistan has envisaged Afghanistan as a part of its Gwadar plans, and would like to use it as a leverage vis-à-vis Kabul. Afghanistan’s external outlet into the Arabian Sea (to any sea port) so far has been through Karachi. Chabahar is likely to provide another option for Kabul. No state would like to depend only on a single option; as a rule, States do want to expand their options pool. Chabahar does not link Kabul with New Delhi; rather, it provides a north-south axis, and serves as a transit between Arabian Sea and Central Asia. India would not have invested in Chabahar, as a transit port into Afghanistan, if Wagah was open. Khyber and Chaman provide a natural transit for India to Afghanistan and beyond. Given the population and the need to move goods in and around, the region would more ports and corridors. In an ideal case, Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran triangle can become a bridge connecting three regions — South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. The above triangle will have to look inward to find ways to exploit their geo-strategic location and make optimum use of it. The writer is a Professor and Dean of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) Bangalore. He edits an annual — Armed Conflicts in South Asia and maintains a portal on Pakistan — www.pakistanreader.org Published in Daily Times, November 3rd 2017.