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Gwadar port versus Chahbhar port

By Saima Afzal

The distance between Pakistani Gwadar port and Iranian Chahbhar port is just 72 kilometers. Geographically both ports are important. Gwadar port enhances the geo-strategic importance of the underdeveloped province Baluchistan. Chahbhar is located in southeastern province of Sistan-o-Balochistan of Iran. Sine 9/11, Indo-Iranian Naval cooperation is seen in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. On the other hand, Pakistan and China are collaborating on the development of Gwadar port which is much significant for China to fulfill its economic and strategic needs.

India and Iran finalized a delayed Chahbhar port deal on 20th May, 2015 for promoting regional trade. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen for the development of Chahbhar port near Iranian border with Baluchistan which would link Central Asia along with landlocked Afghanistan.   In 2003, both states agreed to carry out the development of Chahbhar port but this process slow down due to the US sanctions over Iranian nuclear program. Currently, over Iranian nuclear program sanctions are eased by US and P+5 states and India want to get benefit of it. India also has developed a highway from Chahbhar to Kandahar-Heart. India has completely bypass Pakistan for trade with Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia because she has got direct access to Afghanistan mineral resources.  Even Iran and Afghanistan are keen to use this corridor because it not only bypass Pakistan but also bypass Taliban stronghold areas in Afghanistan.

The development of two important ports Gwadar by China and Chahbhar by India has brought not only rivalry among these two states but competition between the two emerging regional powers in the region. It has also elevated the debate for the economic and natural resources of South Asia. The growing relations between Iran and India can have diverse effect on Pak-Iran relations because the Pakistani Gwadar port and Iranian Chahbhar port are the main factor of their geo-strategic and economic competition.  India has dual objective first it want to encircle Pakistan by maintaining cordial relations with Iran and Afghanistan secondly to counterweight China. China is the only power that can compete with Indian supremacy in the region.

India, which is dreaming to become a hegemonic power of the region and to dominate the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, is upset due to the growing influence of the China in the Gwader port. A fully-developed and functional Gwader port near the Strait of Hormuz enables China to frustrate India’s dream of dominating regional waterways. New Delhi feels that the Gwadar port would have serious strategic implications for India. It perceives that it would empower Pakistan to control strategically important energy sea-lanes on the Persian Gulf. India also views Chinese involvement in Gwadar with suspicion and thinks that China wants to set up bases and outposts across the globe to monitor and safeguard energy flows.

Pakistan need to hard work to build the Gwadar port because merely speaking about this would not work out.  It is also need of hour that China should speed up in functionalizing the port and most importantly it should be consider as true free trade zone. China should also speed up building road network and provincial and federal governments must ensure safe passage. The best way forward for Gulf States is to carefully encourage a balance of power in the region where no state could establish its hegemony and domination and should maintain the status quo.

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Saima Afzal

Saima Afzal works as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad and can be reached at saimaafzalsvi@gmail.com

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