India has signed the lease for Chabahar port in eastern Iran which is 90 km west of Gwadar Port in western Pakistan (the port, China is developing). India has taken a strategically important port in Iran with this lease, which could make a possible bulwark against China’s growing influence in the region.
The Gwadar Port of Pakistan has become the main area for China to make it as the site of China’s second overseas military base. China is already conducting infrastructure programme in Pakistan and the Gwadar is its centerpiece.
On the other hand, Iran and India have been in contract for 18 months for Chabahar port after Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had talked about the agreement in New Delhi. Once the construction at the port completed, it will open a new sea-rail route between Afghanistan, India, and Iran.
According to estimations of Indian officials, this new sea-rail route will boost annual trade of US$700 million to US$1 billion with Afghanistan in three years. Last year, New Delhi used Chabahar port to sent shipment of wheat.
It has been announced from New Delhi that the relations between India and China are troubled by regional disputes and India’s suspicion because China is surrounded India through investment in its neighboring countries under Belt and Road Initiative.
A South Asia specialist, Zhao Gancheng considered the Iranian port as India’s backup plan, “If China turns Gwadar into a military port, I believe India will, by all means, do everything it can in the region to contain China, including using Chabahar.” He added, “but now that China is not doing anything in that direction, it is too early to judge what India will do.”
He stressed that India was in need of a port in Iran to continue ‘free to trade’ after Pakistan refused to allow India accessing the corridor of Gwadar.
India has been urging repeatedly that the corridor passes through the areas raised by both New Delhi and Islamabad. It also sees the ports-building activities of China in South Asia, in which there is an attempt to make “a string of pearls” to incorporate the regional power of India.
The tensions shared between Iran and the United States impeded the talks of India and Iran to develop trade from Chabahar port since 2003.
According to a London based South Asia expert Rahul Roy Chaudhary from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the new agreement between India and Afghanistan will be seen as playing a key role in Afghanistan’s stability and security as the agreement was in line with the White House’s regional strategy.
Roy-Chaudhary said, “This deal has more to do with Pakistan-Afghanistan rather than China, but strategically, it helps counter China’s expanding influence in the Indian Ocean.”
The assistant professor of the Jindal School of International Affairs, Tridivesh Singh Maini explained the importance of trading route of India through Chabahar port. The trade route through Chabahar port aimed to develop an alternative narrative to the Belt and Road Initiative.
Singh stated, “Chabahar is part of this narrative, yet New Delhi is realistic enough to realize that matching the belt and road project is a Herculean task. Iran [is providing] India with the best opportunity to link with Central Asia and Afghanistan through this port.”
However, as per the the statement given by Zhao Iran could try to limit the port’s role in global politics, “Even if India tries to make it a strategic port of geopolitical value, its plan may not be adopted or backed by Iran, which is not interested in any kind of Sino-Indian dispute and wants economic benefits.”