Is Chabahar not a rival to Gwadar?

By Sidra Ahmed

In an attempt of reconciliation, Mehdi Honerdoost, the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, on Friday lucidly voiced Iranian vision of regional cooperation with reference to Chabahar port agreement between Iran, India and Afghanistan.  To him, the accord on Chabahar port is “not finished” and “not limited to these three countries”. Rather, it could well be extended to other neighbouring countries as manifestly clear from the tone and tenor of the ambassador. In a nutshell, Iran deems Gwadar and Chabahar ports as sisters and both are not geared against each other.

In his speech on Pakistan-Iran relations at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad (ISSI), Honerdoost cleared the dust by unambiguously saying that before clinching the deal with India, Iran had formally offered both Pakistan and China to cooperate on Chabahar port.

A research fellow at the ISSI, Mr Ahmed saffee assumed that Iran wanted to relish the ample benefits of port business through cooperation by labelling “Chabahar, not a rival to Gwadar”. He added that the deal was still available for both Pakistan and china to participate in it.

The ambassador added that due to their geographical proximity and similarities, both Chahbahar and Gawadar could be considered as sister ports. According to him, since the deal is not finished, Iran is looking for new members. Moreover, Honerdoost warmly welcomed both Pakistan, as a brotherly neighbour, and, China as a great partner of the Iranians. At the same time, he optimistically specified India as a good friend, and the only country which used to import oil from Iran during crushing sanctions.

The envoy said that Iran was perusing a bigger agenda for the betterment of regional countries; it was ready for any rapprochement between regional countries which directly impact the interests of the people of our countries. “We should separate the politics from business in favour of extended interests of our people.” He added, “Iran has experienced the challenge of international isolation and the hefty sanctions. After P5+1 deal, Iran is now revitalising.”

Though the ambassador employed an amiable and amicable diplomatic language, the ground realities implicitly suggest something to reckon with and take into considerations on burgeoning regional geopolitics and geo-economy. Presumably, Iran has jumped into the regional bandwagon of India while bestowing adequate space to the latter to clandestinely capitalise upon the soil of the former against Pakistan. The port of Chabahar, undoubtedly ,can be regarded as a “sphere of influence” for India to play at the much-touted regional Great Game which is on the horizon. Considering Gwadar and Chabahar as complementary to each other is just only a diplomatic rhetoric recommended by Machiavelli in his renowned book, The Prince.

On Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signed a three-way transit agreement on Iran’s southern port of Chabahar. According to the deal, India will invest up to $500 million in a deal to develop Chabahar port. Apart from that, both India and Iran planned a number of projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The development of the port at Chabahar will help Iran and India to expand the trade route to the land-locked countries of central Asia via Afghanistan. Such geo-economic development is an obstruction and a formidable challenge to Pakistan and China in terms of regional connectivity. Arguably, if India and Iran succeed in constructing Chabahar before, they would outsmart Pakistan in terms of dominating and reaping rich dividends from the increasing regional trade.

Despite detained Indian spy Kulbushan Jadhav,s disclosure, the ambassador said that Iran would never allow any spy agency or terrorist group to use Iranian territory against Pakistan. What is needed is that Iran should come clean on the matter of Indian special mission allegedly based on the Iranian soil to stir up and foment insurgency and perpetuate disruptive terrorism in Pakistan. Such missions are mainly designed to instigate stumbling blocks for competitors and rivals so as to dominate the game being played. Apart from Jadhav, Uzair Baloch also disclosed about the secret funding of Iran to ramp up the low-level insurgency in Balochistan. However, the army in Pakistan has constituted a special force calculated to beef up foolproof security in Balochistan.

The Gwadar Port is our national assets that provides us with marvellous economic and strategic opportunities. Pakistan should exercise effective leadership by employing its bureaucracy, military and diplomacy to maximise the port’s potential, and should coordinate and cooperate with China in constructing the CPEC as soon as possible. If Pakistan along with China succeeds in this regional game, the Gwadar Port will ensure connectivity to the world as well as the speedy movement of their personnel, goods and services to the world. And the CPEC will result in qualitative up-gradation of Pakistan’s land connectivity related infrastructure. If we do not succeed, India and Iran will end up reaping the benefits. We should not believe and trust diplomatic and idealistic language because all that glitters is not gold. As a realist country, Pakistan should give top priority to its core national interests at any costs.

Sidra Ahmed is editor op-ed at The Asia Watch.



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