CPEC, Gwadar and Chabahar: Changing regional geopolitics

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Dr Muhammad Khan

PRESIDENT Hassan Rouhani has expressed more than once that upon their operationalization, Gwadar Deep Sea Port of Pakistan and Chabahar Port of Iran can supplement each other as sister ports. In 2002, Pakistan started construction of Gwadar Port with the help of China purely for the economic purposes. Upon its completion in 2006, its operational responsibilities were given to Port of Singapore Authorities (PSA) in February 2007. Unfortunately, PSA could not put it into operation and later in 2013 these responsibilities were given to China. As per contract, the port which will remain as Pakistani property however, it will be operated by the state-run Chinese firm; China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC).

Owing to its proximity with Iran, Oman and other GCC states, it was also envisioned that Gwadar Port and its huge storage facilities can be utilized for the neighbouring states and heavy weight petroleum shipper companies. In a way, this port was envisioned to attain and sustain the larger trade and economic goals which would benefit the countries of West Asia and South Asia alike. Besides, the port and its planned communication infrastructure would establish a linkage between energy efficient and energy deficient countries of the Asian Continent.

Though operationalization of Gwadar Port took a lot of time, however, this deep sea port is all set to undertake the major economies responsibilities for the larger good of Pakistan, China and all regional states. Since India was involved in the construction and funding of Chabahar Port, therefore, there were apprehensions that, this Iranian port could be later used to counter the Gwadar deep sea port; indeed, to the disadvantage of South and West Asian region. In fact, much before the construction of Chabahar Port, India proclaimed itself as the regional hegemon and a dominant naval power.

It started using the site of the Chabahar port and its surrounding zones for promoting terrorist activities against Pakistan, Gwadar Port and the CPEC. This was revealed from the Indian terrorist spying Chief, Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, once he was arrested in April 2017 while entering Balochistan Province of Pakistan for meeting the terrorists. As the senior most officer of Indian spying network (RAW), he confessed his role against the Gwadar Port, CPEC and promotion of terrorism, sectarianism, sub-nationalism and separatism in various parts of Pakistan.

Despite having a free hand in the construction and operationalization of Gwadar Port, India has been exploiting Iran for over a decade now. Rather serving the Iranian purpose, India has been using the port and its facilities for its own strategic objectives and gaining Indian foothold in Afghanistan and Central Asian States. Besides, New Delhi has been using this facility and Iranian energy resources as a blackmailing strategy. After a lot of deliberations, Tehran has finally decided to get rid of Indian exploitation. In the first instance, citing the funding issues, Iran stopped India from constructing the railway line from Chabahar to Zahedan along the Afghan border. Iran will fund the project itself or else, China may fund this since Beijing and Tehran are likely to ink a strategic agreement in the next few weeks.

Contrary to the contents of a leaked, the details of this agreement are yet to be disclosed by either side. However, Mr Zhao Lijian, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement that both states have traditional friendship are in communication. “China and Iran enjoy traditional friendship, and the two sides have been in communication on the development of bilateral relations. We stand ready to work with Iran to steadily advance practical cooperation.” It must be the overt Chinese commitment of financial support for various Iranian projects which obliged Tehran to drop India from the above-mentioned railway-line project. Despite having an earlier agreement with India over the development of Chabahar port and its communication infrastructure, Iranian Transport and Urban Development Minister Mohammad Eslami himself inaugurated the track-laying ceremony for the first 628 kilometres of the line that ultimately will link Chabahar to Afghanistan.

Ariel Cohen, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council considers the likely deal of $400 billion between China and Iran as a great setback to US effort for destabilization of Iran. Indeed, in case the deal is materialized, Iran will come out as a successful state with a new strategic partner, the emerging superpower which may challenge US influence in the Middle East. The timings for the negotiations of this deal are very crucial. Trump Administration is facing serious domestic issues in term of its flawed policies and the ongoing pandemic. The Covid-19 has hit US with record human losses and great economic setback. Besides, the US is heading for presidential elections in November 2020. On diplomatic front, US is losing its grip on its international relations.

Nevertheless, China-Iran strategic cooperation (deal) will disconcert India more than any other country at regional and global level. Through its foothold in Chabahar, India was planning to implement its grand strategy which includes establishing a strategic linkage between India and Afghanistan and India and Central Asian region while bypassing Pakistan. Indian strategic planning had three parts: One, Short-term; isolating Pakistan at regional level. Two, Medium-term; disrupting CPEC and other Sino-Pak projects through terrorist activities; training, funding and harbouring terrorists and sub-nationalists in the province of Balochistan while making use of Iranian geopolitics (Chabahar). Three, on long-term basis, establishing Indian hegemony in the Middle East which also includes a covert collaboration between Zionism and Hindutva against local Muslim population. While India has over 10 million Diaspora in the ME region, its strategists considered Iran as the opening gate to implement its long-term agenda.

Iran has understood the Indian strategy of exploiting Iranian geopolitics and implementing its own strategic objectives. Indeed, this all goes against the Iranian political, strategic and economic interests. Owing to US sanctions on Iran, India has fully exploited Iranian compulsions and its geopolitics in the last two decades. Whereas, Iran had all kinds of sanctions on its economy, international relations and military affairs, India was allowed by US to get cheap oil and gas from Iran and take full advantage of its compulsions, difficulties and geopolitics. It appeared that US sanctions on Iran were meant to benefit India and Indian nefarious designs against neighbouring states.

The implementation of China-Iran $400 billion strategic deal will largely upset the Indo-US planning to derail the gigantic CPEC project. Besides, the Pak-Iranian desire of converting Gwadar and Chabahar into sister ports can be realized for the mutual benefits of all stakeholders. Both Islamabad and Tehran have repeatedly expressed their interests for linking Chabahar with Gwadar. Participation of China will act as catalyst in the implementation of this long-desired goal. Indeed, completion of CPEC and linking Gwadar with Chabahar will entirely change the regional geopolitics to the best advantage of Pakistan, Iran, China and the countries of South and West Asia.

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