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Is India backtracking on Chabahar Port ?
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Ravi Mishra | Date:29 Jul , 2018 0 Comments

The United state has imposed fresh sanctions on Iran and it has warned its ally along with India to cut oil import from Iran. The US has given the deadline to India to cut oil import from Iran to ‘Zero’ by 4th November. According to the data from industry and shipping sources, India’s monthly oil imports from Iran have declined to 592,800 barrels per day (bpd) in June, which is 16 per cent lower than that of May, which was 705,200 barrels per day.  This is very volatile issue for Iran as India is the second biggest consumer of Iranian oil. Owing to this, Iran’s Deputy Ambassador to India, Massoud Rezvanian Rahaghi recently said, “Iran will end special privileges being provided to India if India tries to cut Iranian oil and imports oil from countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq and the US.”

Chabahar port is strategically  very important for India to tackle Chinese presence in this region as China is also developing Gwadar port, 74 km away from Chabahar port in Pakistan. “It is unfortunate that Indian investment promises for expansion of Chabahar port and its connectivity projects have not been accomplished so far. It is expected that India takes immediate necessary measures in this regard if its cooperation and engagement in Chabahar port is of strategic nature,” Massoud Rezvanian Rahaghi said, while addressing a seminar in New Delhi on ‘Emerging challenges and opportunities in the global diplomacy and its impact on bilateral ties with India.’

At this juncture, it is important to mention the US sanction on Iran. The  US administration recently imposed sanction on Iran’s central bank claiming that it funded Hezbollah group, which the US has described as a global terrorist organisation. Hezbollah group has a strong presence in Lebanon and it is a Shia Islamic organisation and somehow considered to be the most powerful non-state actor in the world, which closely works with Iran, a Shia country. Hezbollah group is more vocal against Israel because in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and captured southern part of Lebanon, and subsequently, Hezbollah came into existence to counter Israeli forces.

Hezbollah is a close ally of Iran. It also works with Russia in Syria in support of Syrian president Basher al-Assad’s government, who is being opposed by US allies such as Britain, France, Germany, etc. Now, it is important to understand that the US-supported Syrian rebels are getting weakened against Russia, Iran and Hezbollah-supported Assad government. Owing to this, the US and its allies are trying their hard to isolate Russian allies and hence sanctions on Russia and Iran. The US wants to weaken Russia and Iran financially. Now the point is clear why the US is restraining India-Russia defence deal and barring India to cut to ‘zero’ oil import from Iran.

Keeping all these facts in mind, it is now clear that the US wishes India to follow its trail, and according to the present situation, it will be very difficult for India to deal with the US. India will have to follow the US mainly in the Iranian context. India cannot go against the US right now. India is gradually depending on US defence technology as US defence industries in collaboration with Indian companies are supporting India’s indigenous ‘Make in India’ initiative. Companies like Apple, Walmart, Amazon are investing more in Indian market and this is the reason why India cannot go against the US. On the other hand, India can also not distance itself from Russia as the majority of Indian defence equipment still depend on Russian technology and Russia is also helping India extensively in pharma, and energy sectors. Recent deal of S-400 triumf air defence system between India and Russia, despite US sanctions, clearly points out that India is not willing to give up its time-tested friend Russia. However, it is also strange that Israel, a staunch US ally, also wants Russian-made S-300 triumf air defence syste, though Russia has denied Israel the triumf air defence system.

Also. Iran is strategically important for India and the decision to build Chabahar port trilaterally by India-Iran-Afghanistan was part of a strategy to tackle Chinese presence and Pakistan’s intent of disruption.

With help of Chabahar port, India would be able to do business with Iran and Afghanistan and other

countries in that region, as Pakistan has denied the use of its land corridor for India-Afghan business. This could also boost India-Iran-Afghanistan trilateral relations, which are very vital in dealing with Pakistan. Therefore, Iran is strategically significant for India. On the other hand, India also cannot go against the US and Israel,

major defence partners. Owing to this, it might be a very difficult situation for India to deal with the US and Iran. Strategically, India should never give up Chabahar port, but keeping in mind the Indian interest, it cannot oppose the US, a major business partner.

The Indian government is pushing hard to bring FDI in India, and it is not possible without the US and its allies. As a result, India has succeeded in bringing more FDI in comparison to other countries. India cannot compromise on development and investment and due to this; it will not be a surprise, if India reduces oil import from Iran. Perhaps, Iran is also aware of US compulsion over India, and therefore,Iranian

Foreign Minister Dr Javad Zarif invited Pakistan to participate in Chabahar project. “We offered to participate in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). We have also offered Pakistan and China to participate in Chabahar,” Dr Zarif said during in his Pakistan visit recently. Whatever it may be, the participation of China and Pakistan in Chabahar project will strategically be a big blow for India. This is the worst situation for India to deal with, given the present geopolitical development in the world. But India has to deal with this situation in a stiff and conscious manner.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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