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UPSC Sansad TV: In Depth: Geopolitical significance of Chabahar Port

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Introduction:

India and Iran have signed a 10-year contract for the operation of a terminal at the strategically important Chabahar port in Iran, a move that will boost regional connectivity as well as trade ties. This is the first time India will take over the management of an overseas port that will also have a multiplier effect on trade among India and Iran.

Chabahar port:

  • Iran’s Chabahar port is located on the Gulf of Omanand is the only oceanic port of the country. The port gives access to the energy-rich Persian Gulf nations’ southern coast.
  • The first and foremost significance of the Chabahar port is the fact that India can bypass Pakistan in transporting goods to Afghanistan. Chabahar port will boost India’s access to Iran, the key gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that has sea, rail and road routes between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia.
  • Chabahar port will be beneficial to India in countering Chinese presence in the Arabian Seawhich China is trying to ensure by helping Pakistan develop the Gwadar port. Gwadar port is less than 400 km from Chabahar by road and 100 km by sea.
  • With Chabahar port being developed and operated by India, Iran also becomes a military ally to India. Chabahar could be used in case China decides to flex its navy muscles by stationing ships in Gwadar port to reckon its upper hand in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Middle East.
  • With Chabahar port becoming functional, there will be a significant boost in the import of iron ore, sugar and rice to India. The import cost of oil to India will also see a considerable decline. India has already increased its crude purchase from Iran since the West imposed ban on Iran was lifted.
  • Chabahar port will ensure in the establishment of a politically sustainable connectivity between India and Afghanistan. This will in turn, lead to better economic ties between the two countries.
  • From a diplomatic perspective, Chabahar port could be used as a point from where humanitarian operations could be coordinated.

Significance of the port for India

  • Chabahar Port is of particular significance to India because of its location as it is the only oceanic port of Iran that can be accessed from the western coast of India bypassing Pakistan.
  • In short, it is an unobtrusive gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Pakistan denies overland transit facility to India through its soil and India’s commerce with Afghanistan and Central Asia gets hampered. Herein lays the elevated strategic importance of Chabahar port for India as it can open new frontiers of engagement with the region bringing in shared prosperity.

Geo-Political Importance

  • Chabahar s geopolitical significance rises considerably as it is also a gateway to INSTC (International North-south Transport Corridor).
  • It will boost India’s presence in the region and hence this strategic project has been pursued by India in the right earnest.
  • Chabahar port will also act as a check for increasing Chinese presence in the Arabian Sea as China is heavily involved in the construction of the Gwadar, a deep sea port in the Balochistan area of Pakistan.
  • The chances of an extension of ties to Indian Iran military cooperation is also possible and will be highly beneficial to counter Chinese navy in the Indian ocean too.

Economic Importance

  • Costs of imports of products like iron ore, oil, sugar, and rice to India will be significantly lowered. A study commissioned by the Ministry of Commerce has found that cost of imports via Chabahar port along with INSTC is 30% cheaper than those via Mediterranean-Suez route.
  • Economic ties between India and Afghanistan which were in limbo due to political uncertainty will significantly improve once Chabahar is completely operationalized. India will link Chabahar port to Zaranj-Delaram highway in Afghanistan and is keen on developing a rail link there with the cooperation of Iran.
  • India will also be developing various industries (aluminum and urea plants) in the Chabahar Economic Zone.

Diplomatic Importance

  • Chabahar port can be used by India to launch humanitarian operations in Afghanistan and also in Horn of Africa regions.
  • The Zaranj-Delaram highway constructed by India can be a access point to four major cities in Afghanistan namely Kabul, Heart, Kandahar, and Mazar-e-sharif which can be accessed via the Garland highway in Afghanistan.
  • Keeping this geostrategic significance India’s transport minister Shri Nitin Gadkari has termed the port as ‘a gateway to golden opportunities’.

Way Forward:

  • It will be important to operationalise the port quickly and smoothen the route to Afghanistan.
  • Keeping timelines and delivery of New Delhi’s commitments will be key to the port becoming a regional hub for transit trade, steel and petrochemicals.
  • It will be necessary to encourage Afghan companies to use the route more.
  • With Chabahar, India has done well to keep a place in the intricate connectivity network of the region.
  • Given all the competing interests over Chabahar, it will require sustained and nuanced diplomacy to stay ahead in this game.

SANSAD TV 21-5-24