Chabahar deal redraws regional geo-politics

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The inking of the  Chabahar deal between India and Iran has introduced a new factor  into the geo-politics of the region. The deal which was long in works was signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Tehran. India will build and operate the strategically important Iranian port.  New Delhi would invest $500m to develop the key port, close to Iran’s border with Pakistan. The port would open a transit route to Afghanistan and Central Asia for Indian goods and products, avoiding the land route through Pakistan. The deal is being seen as India’s answer  to  46 billion dollar Pakistan-China Economic Corridor.  The project is a highway which is to run from Kashgar in China to Gwadar in Balochistan, on the edge of the Persian Gulf, in Pakistan.  It is part of China’s “one belt, one road initiative”.

The projects connects West China with Arabian Sea and seeks to economically transform the area from Pakistan to China’s north western Xinjiang province through a network of highways, railways and pipelines spreading across 3000 kilometers. According to the five year development plan of China, CPEC values 17 percent of Pakistan’s GDP and has the capacity to generate more than 25000MW of electricity to the energy starved Pakistan. If implemented successfully, CPEC will be a game-changer. The proposed corridor and a place in the One Belt, One Road plan has brought economic and strategic implications for Pakistan. Washington has broadly supported India and Afghanistan signing a deal with Iran for a transport corridor opening up a new route to Afghanistan.

However, in a new twist, an Iranian envoy  has said that the Chabahar agreement between India and  Iran is “not finished” and Pakistan and China are welcome to join it. “The Chabahar port agreement between Iran, India and Afghanistan is “not limited to these three countries”, Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honerdoost said. He made it clear that Chabahar is not a rival to Gwadar.

With China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project and the growing US slant towards India, a new power game is unfolding in the region. Such a scenario will not only defer the resolution of the festering issues between the neighbours so necessary for the regional peace but also keep the region divided during a fraught transition to a new order post US exit from Afghanistan.

Already, there is a talk of the India-Iran-Afghanistan alliance bracing itself against the China-Pakistan.  Should this rivalry really take shape, it will change the region in unpredictable ways. At the larger level, the tussle will be basically about India and China. What makes India and China natural rivals is New Delhi’s own growing global footprint. The two countries are battling for influence and market share from Africa to Southeast Asia. They are facing up to each other in Indian Ocean and South China Sea. But their competition is intense in South Asia where Beijing is investing heavily in India’s neighbours, chiefly Pakistan. 

And there is every possibility of its fallout on Kashmir. The state could again emerge as a scene for a fresh violent confrontation between India and Pakistan. And this will not be happening in a unipolar world controlled by Washington but in a multi-polar world where US is already facing stiff competition from China followed – albeit farther behind – by the likes of Russia and India.

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