Geopolitics

Why Chabahar Deal is so Important for India?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 20 Mar , 2017

The Chabahar deal is an extremely important strategic decision which would help India to get a transit route to Afghanistan and further to Central Asian region and beyond. This 500 million $ investment would give India a much wanted access to the region’s resources bypassing the land route via hostile Pakistan. Secondly, this port is located very close (around 100kms) to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, which has been developed by China. Therefore, a geo-strategic game is at play between the two regional powerhouses (India and China) in the region.

India has strategically circumvented the hostile Pakistan by by-passing its territory in order to reach Central Asia via sea-land route. This circumvention couldn’t be done by India in the TAPI pipeline project.

India’s trade relations and economic relations with Central Asian region in future depends a lot on the utilisation of Chabahar Port because it provides direct sea-land route access for India to reach Central Asia via Iran. The distance between India’s Kandla Port and Chabahar Port is quite short, thereby reducing the transportation costs of the goods. It can be inferred that this is a win-win situation for India. The Chabahar deal would also help in countering the China’s string of Pearl of strategy against India.

Once the Chabahar port is developed, goods from India will not only travel up to Afghanistan, but beyond, along the yet-to-be developed International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to Central Asia. Talking on this issue, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “the arc of economic benefit from this agreement could extend to the depths of the Central Asian countries. When linked with the International North South Transport Corridor, it would touch South Asia at one end and Europe at another.”

Narendra Modi’s visit to the five Central Asian States presented an excellent opportunity for India to nurture peace in a region being swept by radical extremist winds. Scholars have argued that the India’s Connect Central Asia Policy wasn’t fruitful at its inception because the previous Indian government of UPA (United Progressive Alliance) had a lack of enthusiasm while dealing with the region.

The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government which was voted to power with absolute majority in the 2014 union elections had a very different outlook when compared to the previous regime. In his eight day visit to Central Asian countries, Modi focused on strategic defense alliances and boosting economic ties with the region. In this context, Chabahar can act as a game-changer in India’s favour.

…because Pakistan doesn’t want India to prosper, though in doing that Pakistan fails to realize that not letting TAPI function, it would also lose out on energy front. But, Pakistan doesn’t mind that as long as their policy hurts India.

In the case of Chabahar, India has strategically circumvented the hostile Pakistan by by-passing its territory in order to reach Central Asia via sea-land route. This circumvention couldn’t be done by India in the TAPI pipeline project. The Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI), also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, is a natural gas pipeline being developed by the Asian Development Bank. The pipeline if gets functional is supposed to transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India. This would hadbeen quite fruitful to both India and Pakistan and would have brought economic prosperity in the region, apart from providing the adequate natural gas and oil to this resource hungry region.But, not a single drop of oil or natural gas has reached India because of instable Pakistan, which is lacking both the ‘intent’ and ‘capability’ to let the oil and gas reach India.

Intent, because Pakistan doesn’t want India to prosper, though in doing that Pakistan fails to realize that not letting TAPI function, it would also lose out on energy front. But, Pakistan doesn’t mind that as long as their policy hurts India. Capability, because Pakistan as a state state is not able to tighten its control on its own territory from terrorists and radical groups.

In that light, Chabahar deal is India’s big hope to connect to Central Asia, which India considers its ‘extended neighbourhood’. But China again is acting as a detrimental force against this project with Pakistan as it doesn’t want India to get access to Central Asia’s resources. This is because the resources would prove to be hugely beneficial to India’s energy requirements and would strengthen the Indian economy.

Though Chinese economy is far ahead of India but still China is aware of India’s emerging power status and therefore it wants India to stay out of Central Asian geo-politics where China fears competition from India and Indian companies for resources. At this juncture, the role of multilateral forums become quite important as these forums often act as ‘ice-breakers’ between hostile nations. India’s admission to Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in June 2016 is one such important which might ease Indo-Pak relations in the context of cooperating for projects like TAPI which would prove beneficial for both the neighbours.

India’s engagement with the region must be holistic in its nature and character. It should not be just about energy, oil and natural resources but about cooperating in every sphere, be it politics, culture, defence etc.

On India’s admission to SCO, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that India’s entry to the SCO in 2017 would lead to even “closer Russian-Indian cooperation”. He further mentioned that it will provide them an opportunity to closely work with India, which was then at the floor of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” the Russian President said. India’s quest to become a full-fledged member of the SCO is a reflection of its desire to diversify its trans-regional ties in the emerging regional order in Eurasia. Among the factors encouraging this, geopolitical proximity may force India (and China for that matter) to expand its strategic relations to secure energy supplies.

India needs to use its ‘Soft Power’ while dealing with the region. Indian culture which includes Indian cinema is extremely popular in the region since the time of USSR. People there listen to Hindi Music and watch Indian Movies from Bollywood. India needs to exploit this in its favour. In that way, India can increase its attractiveness to the region’s countries then by any other means. Sometimes, soft power can achieve what hard power can’t.

India’s engagement with the region must be holistic in its nature and character. It should not be just about energy, oil and natural resources but about cooperating in every sphere, be it politics, culture, defence etc. Additionally, this policy shouldn’t just remain on paper but it should be realized in practice and if India manages do that, India’s stature will rise in the international system. On a whole, this policy would be a game changer in times to come and the central Asian regional dynamics will become very interesting with India’s involvement in the region in coming years, once the Chabahar port fully develops.

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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.

About the Author

Martand Jha

Junior Research Fellow at Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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