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Chabahar’s Opportunities and Challenges

Context:

The recently finalized agreement between India and Iran, granting New Delhi the rights to invest in and manage the Shahid-Behesti terminal at Chabahar Port for an additional decade, has garnered significant attention. The agreement comes at a volatile time in West Asia, with ongoing conflict in Gaza, heightened Israel-Iran tensions, and domestic challenges in Tehran following the deaths of Iran’s President and Foreign Minister in a helicopter crash.

Relevance:

GS2-

  • Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.

Mains Question:

Reflecting India’s strategic perspective, the Chabahar project is vital for both economic and strategic reasons. Discuss in the context of the ongoing conflict in West Asia and Iran’s involvement in this regard. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Significance of the Chahbahar Port:

  • Reflecting India’s strategic perspective, the Chabahar project is vital for both economic and strategic reasons.
  • For India, Chabahar represents an extension of its neighborhood strategy rather than its West Asia policy.
  • The port is a crucial element of the International North-South Transport Corridor, aiming to link India with Central Asia and Russia while bypassing Pakistan.
  • Additionally, Chabahar aligns with the new realities in Afghanistan, as the Taliban-led government in Kabul has expressed support for the port, including a $35 million investment to reduce reliance on Pakistani ports like Karachi or the China-backed Gwadar.
  • Bilaterally, Chabahar reflects the complexities between India and Iran. Despite the public support for the project, India-Iran relations would be less vibrant without it.
  • Various factors influence this, tied to both nations’ national, regional, and geopolitical interests. Instead of expanding economic cooperation beyond Chabahar, many older projects have been abandoned, such as the Farzad-B gas field discovered by India’s ONGC Videsh, and the IranoHind shipping company, dissolved in 2013 due to sanctions.
  • Chabahar, a legacy project dating back to 2003, marks an era when India was actively developing economic assets abroad, including Chabahar in Iran and Sakhalin-I in Russia.

Diplomatic Reflections:

  • The geopolitics surrounding India’s involvement in Chabahar and Iran’s strategic maneuvers offer a fascinating study.
  • This recent deal was signed shortly after Israel and Iran exchanged missile fire, nearly escalating to full-scale conflict.
  • Meanwhile, India’s Adani Group invested in Israel’s Haifa port, acquiring it for $1.2 billion. This investment was facilitated by India’s engagement in new diplomatic and economic initiatives with the United States, Israel, and Arab partners, such as the I2U2 and the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor.
  • The fact that India’s investment in Haifa did not hinder the Chabahar deal underscores the effectiveness of Indian diplomacy.
  • India’s continued development of Chabahar, providing access to regions like Central Asia and Afghanistan, could foster integration and present alternatives to China-backed projects.
  • It also indicates U.S. recognition that India’s strategic access benefits Washington. Recent U.S. remarks about potential sanctions on Chabahar are seen as shortsighted.
  • Despite China’s financial influence and the 2021 strategic agreement with Iran, Tehran remains independent and not beholden to Beijing.
  • India previously suffered by halting oil imports from Iran under Obama’s influence, causing Iran, a longstanding top oil supplier for India, to drop from its top ten.
  • Even though India aimed to gain favor with Washington during the nuclear deal negotiations, the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018 reshaped perceptions of U.S. foreign policy stability and non-partisanship.

Conclusion:

The Chahbahar port project should not be the sole focus of the India-Iran bilateral relationship, as this singular concentration of interests is unstable. Also, the U.S. needs to adopt a more flexible stance on sanctions against Chabahar. Viewing the port solely as leverage against Iran’s policies in West Asia fails to appreciate the broader context of India’s regional outreach, which could align with larger American objectives.


June 2024
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