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INDIA’S NEW SPRING

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COLUMNISTS

Tuesday, 05 December 2017 | Pioneer | in Edit

The opening of the Chabahar port in Iran lends India a strategic depth like no other

India scored a strategic win with the inauguration of the first phase of the Chabahar port on Sunday, which is expected to create a trade and transit route among India, Iran and Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. This will also help India access CIS and land-locked Central Asia for trade, blocked as it was by Pakistan’s refusal of transit rights, and revive the historically flourishing silk and spice route corridors. Access to these markets and cross-flow of volumes will enable India to establish itself as a robust and reliable economic powerhouse in the region. Barely 100 km from the Gwadar port in Pakistan, built and managed by China, this is another counter that comes on the heels of our quad approach with US, Japan and Australia, which calls for inclusiveness in the Asia-Pacific region. India’s investment of $235 million for expansion of Phase II and another $ 500 million for a port-linked SEZ is expected to not only bolster its steady economic grip but to prove that it could be as efficacious in the build-operate-transfer model in international projects. This would give it considerable weightage vis-à-vis China’s aggressive push in foreign infrastructure projects. Iran is believed to have asked the Indian government to “manage” or operate the first phase of the port, until work for the second phase is finalised. That India means serious business is proven by the fact that ahead of the inauguration, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Iranian counterpart Javed Zarif held a meeting to review the implementation of the Chabahar port project. Coupled with the trilateral agreement on Transport and Transit Corridor with Iran and Afghanistan, Chabahar has become an arrowhead of India’s strategic depth in the region that once entrenched is expected to neutralise Pakistan. Already the shipment of wheat to Afghanistan on a grant basis has helped it win a game of perception. The development of Chabahar will help us tap into the energy-rich Central Asia to stave off our looming energy crisis. Without a direct land access to the region, we would find it difficult to acquire stakes in the Central Asian gas fields. It may be more circuitous but is nonetheless more feasible with a long-term impact. With Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announcing plans to link the port to the country’s railroad network, the economic corridor clearly widens our market beyond CIS and Central Asia to eastern and northern Europe through Russia, a complementarity that will make us viable. This project will further strengthen bilateral relations, exports and investment at a time when sanctions against Iran have been diluted. By supporting a major infrastructure project in Iran, it seems that India regards Iran as a partner, one with which it has historical links, and doesn’t need to stutter about. The US, while not actively opposing any engagement between Iran and India post the P5 deal with Iran, too, sees the trade corridor’s potential in the stability of the region. Afghanistan stands to benefit the most from the project as it can now work its wares at markets in Europe and the Middle East and strengthen itself economically. That works for us in the strategic backyard as it does for the US

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