A plethora of news and views at home and abroad pitch Chabahar against Gwadar. An oft quoted expression goes:” India invests in Chabahar to by-pass Pakistan”. Or “India’s Chabahar plans rival Gwadar Port built by the Chinese”. But try looking at it from a different lens: India has essentially invested and helped launch Pakistan’s sister-port to-be. Just how cute is that. For a country that has been to wars with Pakistan to actually builder sister-port.
For those who have not been following the developments, Iran and Pakistan have signed a Memorandum of Understanding of Sister Ports for “further convergence of Chabahar and Gwadar ports”. Symbolising the bond of trust and blood between two sisters, the notion of sister-ports revolves around keeping a strong commercial bond between any two shipping ports focusing on technology, operational improvements, infrastructure developments, sharing of shipping facilities, sharing of information and other areas of cooperation.
Those who still like to romanticize geo-politics should consider this: in its official inauguration Chabahar port earlier this month, Iran ensured the participation of a number of officials from regional countries, including Mir Hasal Bizanjo, Pakistan’s Minister for Ports & Maritime and the Chairman of Gwadar Port.
That should debunk the theories of competition between Gwadar and Chabahar, although this column had debunked those theories back in May 30, 2015 when it published its column “Gwadar & Chabahar: Competition of what?”
That column made two arguments. First, the size of potential trade passing through Gwadar dwarfs the potential trade passing through Chabahar (Read that column for details). Second, Iran cannot afford to rub China the wrong way for both economic and diplomatic relations. Remember that China acted as an arbiter between the US and Iran throughout the P5+1 negotiation.
China is, therefore, as we argue often, the force of stability in the region, which goes back to Deng Xiaoping’s guiding principle of “heping yu fazhan” which means “peace and development”. It is at the centre of the interdependence and cooperation in various sub-regions of Asia. On that note, would it be preposterous to explore the possibility of a C.A.P.I (China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) Forum.
Since the 1990s, a host of agreements, forums and regional accords have emerged; ECO, BIMSTEC, CAREC, and SAARC. Yet their implementation has been rather slow largely due to Iron Rivals (Pakistan and India). With China increasingly becoming the force of stability by steadily weaving the threads of economic interdependence, perhaps she could give the principle of heping yu fazhan great leap forward and initiate a C.A.P.I Forum to at least arrive at a minimum framework of cooperation amongst these countries.
India would obviously be hesitant to it because of its concerns over the CPEC route. But while politics is the art of the possible, for great leaders, politics is the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible. Chinese President Xi Jinping has already established his legacy as a great leader; he could further his legacy by founding C.A.P.I and having the parties agree over a minimum framework of economic cooperation