million from India to construct a container terminal and a multi-purpose cargo terminal. Moreover, in New Delhi, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif offered India a deal to develop the second phase of the Chabahar Port and operate it.
Both Iran and India have invested considerably in the development of Chabahar. A 600-kilometer long highway linking Chabahar to Zahidan in Iran’s north – only 240km from Malik on the Iran-Afghanistan border – is already operational. India spent $100 million on building a 220-kilometer Zaranj-Delaram highway in 2009 in the south-western Nimroz province of Afghanistan which is 700 km away from south-eastern Iran and can be easily extended to link Chabahar. Iran has also commenced construction of a railway line from Chabahar to Zahidan where it connects the Iranian rail network to Central Asia.
Recently, Afghanistan also finalised a tripartite trade agreement with Iran and India on using the Chabahar Port as an alternative route.
As for Chinese economic interests, China needs the Gwadar Port to import Middle Eastern oil and gas, which, according to the BP 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy, possesses 48 percent of the world’s oil and 38 percent of natural gas reserves. Also, it wants to access mineral rich Africa via the same port because the port provides the nearest and less expensive route. In return, China will export different sorts of products, ranging from economic to military purposes.
China’s existing sea route passes through the risky South China Sea, Pacific Rim, the Strait of Malacca and Sri Lanka, and Chinese vessels have to cruise about 10,000 km to reach the trading partners in the region. But the Gwadar Port will reduce the sea distance to 2,500 km instead of 10,000 km and land distance for Kashgar to 2,800 because Kashgar is 4,500 km from the main Chinese port, the port of Shanghai, while Gwadar is 2800 km from Kashgar. Resultantly, it will not only save time, but also millions of dollars for China.
China has an eye on the obtrusive copper and gold reserves at Reko Diq in Balochistan. According to recent estimates, it is the world’s fourth largest reservoir of gold and copper – with 10 billion kilogram copper and 370 million gram gold worth about $260 billion.
As far Chinese military interests, China needs the Gwadar Port to achieve its strategic objective of becoming an ‘impregnable naval power’ in the Indian Ocean. That will help it check the Indo-US domination of the Arabian Sea, and use the Gwadar Port as an alternate sea route in case India blocks the Strait of Malacca. China will also establish a listening post here to observe the naval manoeuvres of the US in the Persian Gulf and those of India at nearby Indian bases of Gujarat and Mumbai.
Moreover, China also intends to monitor the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs) from the Persian Gulf because about 60 percent of China’s energy requirements come from the Gulf. It also wants to control the oil sea routes and trade links among regions such as South Asia, Africa, Central Asia, Gulf and the Middle East.
India needs the Chabahar Port to dominate Iran’s crude oil reserves of 157.8 billion barrels and 1,187.3 trillion cubic feet gas reserves. Furthermore, it is also inclined to access and fully utilise $3 trillion’s worth resources of Afghanistan while hampering China there. Moreover, Delhi intends to import energy resources from Central Asia where only Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan possess 3.6 billion barrels of oil and 663.8 trillion cubic feet gas reserves, and Kazakhstan holds 679,300 tonnes uranium and 33.6 billion tones recoverable coal reserves. In return, it wants to export cars, computer and information technology related products to Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Over and above, India will use the Chabahar Port for military purposes soon because of its apprehension about the Chinese being so close to its naval bases of Gujarat and Mumbai.
By relying on the Chabahar Port, India will endeavour to encircle Pakistan strategically. India’s immediate concern is that the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project might finally become a reality with Chinese financing after the success of the Iran nuclear deal. Therefore, it is using all kinds of tricks to sabotage the pipeline.
An intense competition between China and India to dominate the region is on the horizon. Imminent economic and naval competition could end up increasing armament and bellicosity while inhibiting meaningful cooperation and coordination in the region.
The Gwadar Port provides us economic and strategic opportunities and challenges. Pakistan should exercise effective leadership by employing its bureaucracy, military and diplomacy to maximise the port’s potential. If Pakistan succeeds in this regional game, the Gwadar Port will ensure connectivity to the world as well as speedy movement of its personnel, goods and services. And the CPEC will result in qualitative up-gradation of Pakistan’s land connectivity related infrastructure. If we do not succeed, India and Iran will end up reaping the benefits.
The writer is an independent researcher, blogger, columnist based in Karachi.
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