In Iran, Modi projects Vajpayee’s vision Investment
In Iran, Modi projects Vajpayee’s vision
The recent agreement between Iran, Afghanistan and India to build the Chabahar port on the Iranian coast and link it with the existing rail and road network and related industrial corridor into the heart of Eurasia is a diplomatic triumph for India.
In one sweep, New Delhi has balanced the advantage Pakistan had got by letting China invest $45 billion to construct a deep sea port at Gwadar and link it with Islamabad and across the Karakoram to Xinjiang in China – a flanking China-Pakistan effort to confine India.
The Chabahar port agreement with Iran and Afghanistan, signed in Tehran between Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, has ramifications that have not been fully understood by the Indian public. As a result, its wider significance has lost sight.
Chabahar will be developed as an all-weather port with related facilities. It is just around 70km from Gwadar, the Pakistani port that the Chinese are developing as a commercial-cum naval facility.
The Chabahar agreement has rightly been described as a “game-changer”. The Indian railways’ subsidiary, Ircon, is constructing a 300km rail link from the port to the Iranian border town to the north of Zabedan. A rail and road connectivity from there to the Afghan junction town of Zaeanj will enable further call up to the Afghan capital of Kabul and major centres of Herat and Kandahar.
Most of these connectivity projects are being or are to be built by Indian companies. In addition, at Chabahar itself, an aluminum smelter will come up that is to be built by National Aluminum Company Limited. Several other Indian companies are also planning to make use of the industrial corridor along the rail project and the free port area to make use of the mineral rich area for new projects.
The entire length from Chabahar to Kabul and beyond into the Central Asian region will throb with industrial activities and contribute substantially to the progress of this now-backward area. A fertiliser plant between Indian company and the Iranian Government, container handling berths at the port through a Rs500 crore joint venture between the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and the Kandla port is yet another venture planned for.
Apart from the geo-politics of the Chabahar project, India benefits most importantly from the energy security that it provides for moving Iranian oil and gas on to our west coast. For this, Indian public sector energy companies are investing in exploration and extraction. Also, discussions are on for an under-sea pipeline connecting Chabahar to Kandla, to evacuate Iranian and Central Asian oil and gas tour refineries on the Gujarat coast.
What it offers us is an alternative to the land pipeline for oil and gas from the Central Asia to India via Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. In the current situation of Taliban domination in some areas, and the Pakistan Army’s objection to anything that will enhance Indian capabilities, civilian as well as military, the proposed multi-country pipeline has remained on paper only.
Now, India has an alternate route via friendly Afghanistan and Iran. That is also an unsaid blow to Pakistani entities that are jealous of the economic progress and political stability India is presenting to the global investors and Governments. Every year, new evidence is surfacing from political sources and academic studies that the Pakistan Army remains firmly anchored to the idea of denying and (if possible) disrupting Indian progress.
With Iran and the US keen on finding common concerns despite continuing anti-American hatred in the Persian historic area, India’s close economic and political relations, as evident by Prime Minister Modi’s recent visit to Tehran, will help ease tension in the Persian Gulf in the wake of Iranian intention of pursuing its nuclear weapons path.
The subsequent easing of these tensions that followed the US-Iranian nuclear deal had also helped quicker conclusion of Indo-Iranian agreement over the Chabahar port and related economic initiatives.
How such opening for the Indian economic and political diplomacy has been patiently worked out by the Modi Government after the previous Government made no progress in the 15 long years of stalemate on the port proposal, brings out the larger vision of the Prime Minister. This is a story from one NDA Government to another NDA Government so to say.
For it was when former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami issued a New Delhi declaration in 2003, that the Chabahar port and related railway line connecting it to Afghanistan idea was born.
The subsequent UPA Government made little effort to get cracking on it even as Iran became adamant in pursuing its own nuclear weapon course, despite bitter opposition from the the US and Europe.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was pursuing during this interregnum, the historic India-US civilian nuclear deal and anything seen by the US to help Iran would have to take a back seat. Iran then sought to change the joint venture partner to enable it to go forward with the building of the port.
The change of guard in New Delhi in May 2014 brought a fresh thinking on Chabahar’s strategic value and Modi constituted a inter-ministerial team comprising of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Prasad to revive the Indian interest in the project. It was Modi’s insight into Chabahar port as part of a security grid as well as a oil and gas grid for India that changed the entire scenario and approach.
When he visited the Central Asian republics last year, this vision was made clear. India will actively participate in building multi-modal transportation systems in the CAR-Afghanistan-Iran-Omanregion to keep oil/gas flows into India. These systems can also be used to transport energy resources from Russia and to Europe besides India.
For instance, a 900km India built railway line can connect Mushahad near the Caspian Sea to Zahadam that will in turn be connected to Chabahar. Beside opening alternate transport routes to the Arabian Sea port and then to India, these ventures can nullify Pakistan’s reluctance to join another proposed oil/gas pipeline from Tajikistan to India through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As India builds rail and road links in these naturally rich potentially industrially rich areas and provides linkages, it will be playing a major role in the development of the region as well as gaining energy and minerals from the region for its own development. Besides, the Muslim majority countries of the region will have a true idea of how Muslim minorities in India are treated as economic ties lead to greater political understanding.