ISLAMABAD: Just days after Iran signed a landmark deal with Afghanistan and India to develop Chabahar port, Tehran on Friday indicated that other regional countries including Pakistan could also join the agreement on a project widely seen as rival to the Gwadar deep sea port.
“Chabahar agreement is not limited to three countries. Doors are always open for Pakistan and other regional nations to join the Chabahar deal,” Iran’s Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost said in a keynote address on Pakistan-Iran relations at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI).
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week travelled to Iran and announced plans to invest $500 million to develop Chabahar port, which is just 100km from Pakistan’s Gwadar port. Once completed, Chabahar will provide India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.
India is believed to be increasingly upset over the development of Gwadar port by China under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and hence independent observers suggest that Chabahar and Gwadar could become rival ports in the future.
However, the Iranian envoy strongly dismissed the impression saying that there was no rivalry between Chabahar of Iran and Gwadar of Pakistan. “In fact both these ports complement each other,” he insisted.
Honardoost also disclosed that Pakistan and China were offered to join the Chabahar port development deal before India. However, both Pakistan and China did not show any interest, he added.
Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz also on Thursday insisted that Pakistan considers Gwadar and Chabahar as ‘sister ports’. He said a proposal was under consideration to link the two ports in the future. However, despite this optimism, there is unlikely that India will be willing to allow Pakistan or China to become part of Chahbhar port deal.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2016.