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India reduces Pakistan influence through Chahbahar port in Iran

Dr p Pullarao

During British times, when India and Pakistan were part of the same government. There were no issues in accessing Afghanistan. But after 1947, Pakistan blocked all access to Afghanistan by road or sea. It is doubtful whether any other landlocked country in the world was made as isolated as Afghanistan. Central Asian countries were parts of the Soviet Union and they had no issues of access. But after the 5 Central Asian countries were formed from the old Russian Bloc, they still hadgood access through the old Russian network or the newly developed Chinese network. Even Mongolia did not suffer isolation the way Afghanistan did.

 

You have some landlocked countries in South America. But they had free access to the sea. Bolivia is the best example of a land-locked country having great access to the sea.Perhaps Pakistan went too far in denying Indian its traditional access to Afghanistan.

 

It was always the dream of India to have an alternate route to Afghanistan and Central Asia other than through Pakistan. Pakistan could very well have been reasonable and got great commercial advantage if it gave access to India   to Afghanistan and central Asia. But some muddled thinking about strategy, tactics and geo-politics in Pakistan made it refuse easy and reasonable access to India.

 

Nearly 10 years ago, there was a proposal for Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline. Pakistan was ready to be part of the this  pipeline as it had no problems with Iran becoming commercially connected to  India.it felt Iran was too big a country and will not come under Indian sway. At the same time, there was also the suggestion for the Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline for transporting gas and oil. Pakistan refused to permit this pipeline as it would open up the entire central Asian and Afghanistan oil and gas commerce to India. If both the pipelines came up, Pakistan would earn transit fees of Rs. 2000 crores a month.

 

Since Pakistan refused the TAPI pipeline, the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline deal failed. Pakistan gambled that there is no other  alternate viable route except though Pakistan to Central Asia and Afghanistan.Now that India, Iran and Afghanistan  have signed a Trilateral Transit and Transport Agreement, there is an alternate route.

 

The port of Chahbahar in Iran will be developed and goods can be sent to Afghanistan and central Asia and trade can happen-without Pakistan. The net loser is Pakistan. If Pakistan had been reasonable, it would have collected great transit fees for use of a route to Central Asia. It would also have great influence because of it. But it over-sold itself. Simple economics would have taught Pakistan that when you use a monopoly situation, don’t over-price yourself. Alternatives will be developed.

 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi just completed a 2-day visit to Iran and an agreement was signed to develop Chahbahar port and other facilities. The Iranian Port of Chahbahar will also give land-locked Afghanistan access to a port. Afghanistan will also be a transit country for central Asia. Iran got un-expected maritime and shipping business.

 

Iran also said that it would lay a railway line to Afghanistan and central Asia which India could use. Iran mentioned that the rail network would soon be connected to the European rail network. Incidentally, Iranian port of Chahbahar is within a very short distance of the Chinese developed Pakistani port of Gwadar. The development of Iranian port of Chahbahar will also curtail the economic prospects of Gwadar.

 

The land-locked countries of central Asia and Afghanistan have now alternatives in the shipping sector. Karachi will also see a fall in its importance. This is a major development in economics for the entire West Asia area and India.

 

By helping develop Chahbahar port, Indian has really removed the Pakistani hold on Afghanistan and Central Asia. They have an option as India does too. Perhaps the lesson for Pakistan is that in the modern world, never put hurdles in way of trade. There will always be alternatives and you will whatever leverage you had in the first place.

 

 

Dr P Pulla Rao is a Socio-political and Economic analyst

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