Analysis: Chabahar-Gwadar port contest does not end in a tie

Published: April 12, 2016


In an ideal world, India’s partnership with Iran in Chabahar completes its strategic goal of encircling Pakistan, as the port’s development aims to bypass her in Afghanistan. Even Afghanistan’s CEO Abdullah Adbullah shares former Afghan president Hamid Karzai’ ambition of forging deeper ties with Delhi to lessen dependence on Islamabad.

Gwadar port to be operational by 2017: Chinese official

Chabahar port plans
Though both countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on development of the port in May 2014, there is little to report about progress on the ground. As per the MoU, the Chabahar port will be used to ship crude oil and urea. India aspires to set up a multi-purpose cargo and container terminal besides petrochemical and fertilizer plants.

Last year, India allocated mere $150 million for work on the Iranian port situated 72km west of Gwadar harbour while core issues, such as land allocation for its special economic zone (SEZ), face teething problems. With sanctions recently lifted, India is promising the moon and beyond to Tehran in its bid to maximise benefits of the project.

Last week, the Indian petroleum minister wooed Iran by projecting likely investment of the private sector of up to $20 billion. Delhi has expressed interest in setting up an LNG plant and a gas cracker too. Unlike the case of China in Gwadar, the Indian official was merely promising what the private sector can do given the enabling conditions.

‘Gwadar will emerge as key shipping point’

Many ambitious proposals made by the Persians and the Indians are too nascent for investment to be pledged and deadlines to be set. Though both sides don’t lack commitment, tricky issues of competitive pricing and tariffs require more than political will. Some reports suggest that India has been offered gas at a cheaper rate of $2.95 per mmBtu but Delhi isn’t happy still. Be it Tehran or Delhi, bureaucracies remain lousy and old-fashioned, even in the absence of UN sanctions.

Is it a win for South Asia?
India wants to grab Chabahar but without a clear plan about its utility. The wish-list is recent and evolving. The bigger questions of feasibility of logistical linkages still remain unanswered. Like Pakistan and India, Iran too is competing for the Afghan market and reconstruction opportunities. The same holds ground regarding trade and services for Central Asian republics. The sanction may have gone but financial liquidity is not there yet. The road network and rail link vital to connect Chabahar to Central Asian states are capital intensive and time-consuming projects. The billion-dollar question here is whether India will come forward like China has, and will the Persians accept it?

In the case of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, no such hiccups exist. Even a change in Islamabad’s power circles in the wake of Panama Papers won’t impede ventures associated with the Chinese corridor.

Sink or swim?
Meanwhile, the Gwadar project has been vigorously pursued by Pakistan and China alike. Balochistan government and security forces have employed political resources and tactical measures alike to impose the state’s writ. With the arrest of senior level Indian naval spy, Islamabad may not treat southern Balochistan as its outpost, which was the case for decades.

Many analysts believe India has greater interest in Chabahar serving as a base for its blue water navy than a harbinger of cross-Central Asia trade. In the same vein, numerous Chinese observers foresee Gwadar port to be as much its economic hub as a strategic naval outpost.

Notwithstanding, Iran has its own share of problems in the predominantly Sunni and marginalised Sistan-Balochistan region. In an unprecedented move, Ayatollah’s praetorian guards are holding full-dress drills with its latest weaponry near Pakistan border. Bypassing the political government, the Revolutionary Guards commanders have been hurling veiled threats to Pakistan. For post-sanction theocratic states, balancing between economic ambitions and strategic aspirations is a tall order. China, for that matter, won’t be pleased over such overture for India is not a bigger investor in Iran than her.

Gwadar residents voice concerns over CPEC benefits

India’s clandestine activities in Southeastern Iran and Tehran’s frustration over Pakistan’s exposure of Indian designs against the country have a lot to do with the mess in Chabahar. Earlier this year, Iranian ambassador publically warned the Indian government for lack of investment in the port.

Things may have paced up a bit between Tehran and Delhi more recently; there are many a slip between the cup and the lips. However, Islamabad has little time to waste in clearing mess in Makran region and Balochistan. Only climate change isn’t to be blamed for mounting temperature of the Arabian Sea.

Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. He tweets @naveed360

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Reader Comments (22)

  • abreez
    Apr 12, 2016 - 7:39PM

    I don’t know why some people think that Iran’s development is not in the larger interest of Pakistan. In fact more prosperous Iran will mean higher inflation and higher inflation rate in Iran will mean bigger volume of Pak-Iran trade. Iran is facing some difficulties in its relations with Pakistan and Pakistan is also facing some difficulties in its relations with Iran and good thing is that people on both side know that their future is in development. Parallel governments in Pakistan and in Iran and limited visibility for those who’re on driving seats, are the main causes but positive attitude in Pakistan and in Iran will ultimately make Pak-Iran relationship fruitful someday. India’s bluff master will lead India nowhere and more dead investments India will make more credibility Pakistan will gain and I think one cannot jump into the future, therefore to see the positive effects of India’s bluff master on Pakistan one can only wait.Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Apr 12, 2016 - 8:03PM

    Great, comprehensive analysis!

    China has always been a dependable friend to Pakistan, while India has a difficult/bullying attitude and problems with every single neighbor, from Nepal(unofficial blockade of crucial supplies by India), Sri Lanka(decades of LTTE terror-group funding), Pakistan + China(full-fledge wars and ongoing problems).Recommend

  • sabi
    Apr 12, 2016 - 10:21PM

    India will not invest in Chabahar for two reasons;
    In case of war Pakistan can block the corridor. second if hostilities end in South Asia India can use cpec without having huge investment for infrastructure development. For public consumption however Indian elites will continue building castles in the air. Recommend

  • NHA
    Apr 12, 2016 - 10:33PM

    Good analysis. It is too late for Chahabahar to take off in compitition with Gawader. Many reasons , among them:

    India has no history of investing so heavily in a 3rd country as the Chinese have done in CPEC including Gawader in Pakistan.
    India merely wanted to engage Iran and keep it away from Pakistan offering this tantilizing investmnet. India’s reluctance to participate in TAPI and IPI gas pipelines is a vivid example to make solid commitments.
    Iran has more pressing problems with India. Among them is India’s military relations with US which are an anathems to Iran. Further. India’s use of Irani soil for sabotage and support of Baloch terorists has made an ugly addition to it. If India can do this to Pakistan , why will it not do the same to Iran.
    India’s foriegn policy is inherently against Muslim countries and muslims. When it comes to strategic issues, India has never aided a Muslim country. There are cases which can be cited. Iran with shining Muslim credentails will not be able to go too far with India.

    It is time for Pakistan and Iran to join hands and develop both ports as complemnetary facilities . There is enough space for both of them in terms of trade and development. Recommend

  • Vijay
    Apr 12, 2016 - 10:35PM

    Nice conspiracy theory to satisfy ur ego.. But iran and india have always been close. You also missed the point that Pakistan is Saudi ally who is enemy of iran. Chabbar deals are moving smoothly. The negotiation is going on for competitive pricing. To make the best deal since oil price have come down. Also this is no competition between two ports, cut this india obessesion. China cannot replace india with China in iran.. Iran has huge link with indian well as india defied world and helped iran during sanction.
    This route is to import export indian goods to Central asian market.. While ur port is for chinese export import. Major difference. So ur port makes no difference to long as our products exports and imports come to us via chabbar.Recommend

  • Chacha Jee
    Apr 12, 2016 - 10:49PM

    First, India is not China and can not match Chinese resources. Second, Iran is not Pakistan. If China wants tomorrow Raiwind because it is closer to India, Pakistanis would hand over to China and will throw in Lahore. Iran would not do any such thing for any foreign power no matter how close that power may be to Iran. Pakistan is willing to compromise it’s sovereignty just because of its hate india mind set. Also, in China if political leadership decide something then there is no questioning from opposition or any body like if money is being well spent or not. It is not same situation in IndiaRecommend

  • Hamza
    Apr 12, 2016 - 11:46PM

    Beautifully written and very well analysed Recommend

  • Ajeet
    Apr 13, 2016 - 1:07AM

    That’s funny. China has problems with everyone except North Korea and Pakistan. Pakistan has three neighbours and all of them hate Pakistan. Recommend

  • Bilal Khalid
    Apr 13, 2016 - 3:48AM

    Chacha Ji Pakistan didnt hate india without reason. See indias past towards Pakistan in 1947 during partiton time india didnot gave the Pakistani share of money for which their own leader Ghandi protested, and in 1971 then about Siachen Glaycier in all books before 1975s all glaycier belongs to pakistan and they have occupeid it in 1980s. India keep killing Kashmiris so why should i love or make friend such kind of a coward nation or country. I would bet if india should correct his mistakes done by him in past. Pakistani people had very big heart to forgive and be friendly again with india.Recommend

  • saleem
    Apr 13, 2016 - 4:27AM

    The writer is either an idiot or this is a paid write upRecommend

  • Asad Janjua
    Apr 13, 2016 - 2:17PM

    Great article! Comprehensive research! ;)Recommend

  • Saeed
    Apr 13, 2016 - 3:32PM

    @Vijay: Just A Few Years Back India Launched An Israeli Spy Satellite Against Iran And Also Voted Against Iran At UN(Pakistan At Least Abstained) What A Great Friend India Is LolRecommend

  • Apr 13, 2016 - 4:26PM

    @Saeed: But it still doesn’t affect the relationship between India and Iran, Probably India is the only country in the world which has good and mature diplomatic relationship between Jews Israel and Arabic countries and Iran.Recommend

    Apr 13, 2016 - 8:00PM

    Does Pakistan has any choice rather than accepting orders from the master…
    India Iran relationship is mutual Recommend

  • Korn
    Apr 13, 2016 - 9:41PM

    @sabi: Please give us your expert opinion as to how exactly will “Pakistan block the Chabahar corridor” when it does not run through Pakistani territory or Pakistani waters? The real castle in the air is the CPEC which runs through the most violent areas of the planet & rife with insurgencies. The CPEC is nothing but a money making tool for the Chinese government, Chinese companies & a few Pakistani elite who will earn commissions on the project. Common Pakistanis will be left with nothing but a bill from China & smoke from the obsolete coal plants dumped by the Chinese. Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Apr 13, 2016 - 10:57PM

    India only floated this “Chahbahar” deal as a reaction to Pakistan’s Gwadar deal. There was no mention of Chahbahar, before Gwadar. Iran has REPEATEDLY and PUBLICALLY complained to India for the absolute lack of progress or funding.

    One can understand that India does not really want to help Iran. Afterall, they are trying to develop better ties with Saudis, and funding a key project to uplift Iran’s economy, would not sit well. India is trying to do a delicate balance between many powers.

    India’s key problem is Hindutva radicalisation. Modi publically made his ministers get “report cards” from the RSS terrorist group. These “ghar wapsi” policies(forcibly trying to convert Sikhs, Christians, and Muslims to Hinduism) are illogical and idiotic. They say we were all Hindus before, so we should convert back. Why don’t Hindus convert back to pre-Hindu practices? This nonsense creates internal strife, which is very dangerous in a multi-cultural society like India.Recommend

  • genesis
    Apr 13, 2016 - 11:04PM

    One gets the impression that India will be mute and take things easy,Those days are gone and the one country that will teak the Chabahar challenge more seriously will be china,not Pakistan China understands the potential of this port on it naval outpost better than Pakistan wait and see.Recommend

  • Indian
    Apr 14, 2016 - 8:55AM

    Point to be noted: China investing and building up port in Pakistan compromising its sovereignty while India doing it in Iran to gain access to Central Asia since India cannot opt for land route via Pak (could raise employment for Pak people though) since it is not safe due to uncontrolled and State sponsored terror.
    On one side gain for China (its own market shrinking up and global demand is less so expanding market base) and on other side for India and Iran.
    Pakistan is just like begani shaadi me abdullah diwana but shaadi is at her own home.Recommend

  • abhi
    Apr 14, 2016 - 11:24AM

    common dnt curse each other countries let see what happened in near furture hope both port give immense development to their respective country.. dnt talk abt histort or else innabsence of clear knowledge( please refer mt. batten plan for history remarks)
    althogh it is good article bt analysis is done more on one side.Recommend

  • Rajesh
    May 2, 2016 - 10:33AM

    you cannot judge the two ports development made by India & China with your analysis based upon feedback from newspapers. Second & most important thing is be positive let pakistan develop its territories & let India reach its trade link with different countries what wrong in that. Please for god’s sake don’t try to immaluate yourself with India. Don’t you have other innovative things to do. The author is very very naive. just see the article published in Dawn it has given an edge to India in chabhar than Gwadar to pakistan.Recommend

  • sher ahmad khan
    May 20, 2016 - 3:55PM

    If we look to the history from the very first day India creating hurdles for Pakistan.For decades we witness the attitude of India toward Pakistan. In recent days Prime minister of India what he said in Dhaka Bangladesh that how the indian government supported separation movements. In the upper comments one comments that Pakistan has not good relation with neighbors but he did not express what’s Indian position in this contest their relation with Nepal, Sri Lanka, For years they supported Tamil Tigers against their Government. So the past experiences Pakistan has reservation on chabahar which india should clarify. Recommend

  • Asif
    Aug 14, 2016 - 4:25AM

    For only Indians info..chaheya bahar is not deep sea port..while gawadar is deep sea port..2nd gawadar will be operational in 2017..if we talk about chaheya Bahar…no time frame..even no development uptill now dear Indians..stop hating..what Pakistan and China r doing..let us to do..whatever we r doing..just wait and see..modhi can’t digest our progress..all terror activities going on in the joint venture of India and Afghanistan..we don’t hate u..BT u people only learn to hate…Recommend

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