Given that China and Pakistan has had close ties in the past years, India needed to take steps to increase its influence in Western Asia while its rival was reinforcing its power in the region.The growing economy of India is envisaging to gain access to Central Asia, Russian and Eastern Europe markets. On this path, it is encircled by China and Pakistan. Therefore, the best way for India to achieve this goal was through Iran’s routes.
By Mohammad Taghi Jahanbakhsh*
Tehran played host to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on May 23-24. The aim of the two high-ranking officials’ visit to the Iranian capital was to sign a trilateral deal on development of Chabahar Port in southern Iran. Tehran and New Delhi had agreed in 2003 to develop the port which sits on the Gulf of Oman, the project was, however, suspended following the imposition of sanctions against Iran over Tehran’s peaceful nuclear program.
In the past months and after the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), senior officials of Iran, India and Afghanistan decided to ink the transit agreement after consultations on more detailed aspects of the project. This agreement can be a start for enhanced regional cooperation among the states in South and Central Asia. It also can help boost the relations among countries at the regional level and at least the three countries’ bilateral ties. Under the current circumstances, the implications of the deal for the three parties in the areas of geopolitics, politics, economy, and security will be outlined below:
Today, India from one side is the world’s most populous nation with a booming and promising economy seeking to have a more active role at the international level, and from the other side is competing with its major rival China amid its age-old tensions with Pakistan. Given that China and Pakistan has had close ties in the past years, India needed to take steps to increase its influence in Western Asia while its rival was reinforcing its power in the region.
The growing economy of India is envisaging to gain access to Central Asia, Russian and Eastern Europe markets. On this path, it is encircled by China and Pakistan. Therefore, the best way for India to achieve this goal was through Iran’s routes. The Chabahar route will allow Indian goods to reach Afghanistan via the Iranian port of Chabahar without crossing Pakistan’s territory. The deal will untie the geopolitical knots of the country.
Afghanistan is a dry and mountainous country located in southern Asia, north and west to Pakistan, east to Iran. It is a landlocked country; this feature is one of the main obstacles in the way of this country’s economic and business prosperity and its connection with the world. Currently, an overwhelming amount of Afghan manufactured goods travel through Karachi port in Pakistan and this had to some extent resolved this geopolitical issue. But due to the political tensions between Kabul and Islamabad, Pakistan’s unsafe routes for transactions, and Islamabad’s pressure on Kabul over the activities of Afghan businessmen, the Afghan government decided to diversify its business routes with the high seas. The transit route in southeast of Iran will connect the districts of Chababar, Iranshahr, Zahedan, Zabol and Milak on the border with Afghanistan. This has solved Kabul’s problem by providing it with safe and cheap routes.
Additionally, if security is established all across Afghanistan, it can turn into a transit route for sending business cargoes to Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. This will help promote Kabul’s geopolitical status.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a country with many geopolitical capacities which need to be tapped. By the Chabahar agreement,many of these potential capacities will be actualized and therefore obstacles in the way of Iran’s geopolitics will be also removed. With Chababahr agreement being materialized, the port can turn into the region’s economic center of gravity and can also connect the economy of the Eurasia countries, including Russia federation, Central Asia, Caucasus and other neighbors of Iran with the Islamic Republic’s national interests. In addition, if Iran’s transport infrastructures are expanded, it has the capacity to turn into a major gate transit linking east to west (China and eastern Asia to Europe). It can come true through interweaving of Iran’s economy with the economy of the above-mentioned countries, which can help untie the country’s geopolitical knots. It can also dramatically decrease Iran’s vulnerability in the areas of politics, security and economy.
India, as a large country, has a growing gross domestic product (GDP), but it is need of some markets for investment, services and its own products. Investment in one of the most strategic ports in Western Asia will bring about economic development for the South Asian country. It will also supply it with a route for having access to potential new and intact markets in Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Russia. Considering Iran’s interest to boost its bilateral ties and business transactions with India, the port can pave the way for the foreign investment in the railway and transport infrastructure, oil, gas and petrochemical, aviation industry, and agriculture.
Given the fact that India cannot connect with Afghanistan and the Central Asia, the southeastern port can prepare the ground for Kabul and Central Asian counties to seize this opportunity. Here, Afghanistan has a difficult situation as it is in dire need of reconstruction and development. As India enjoys a powerful formal diplomacy in Afghanistan, the landlocked country will be an ideal place for Indian investors. Additionally, Afghanistan can turn into a major transit and transport route for cargoes destined for Central Asian countries. It can generate millions of dollars annually for Afghanistan and also reduce unemployment rate in the crisis-hit country.
Development of Chabahar port will also bring about economic prosperity for the Islamic Republic of Iran. India’s plans to invest in the area’s various industries, create proper infrastructure for imports and exports, and improve various essential infrastructures will have a great impact on promotion of Iran’s economic situation.
Also, more investments by India and other countries can be expected in Chabahar if Iran wins their trust. The port can be regarded as a major harbor for boosting exports of domestic and regional countries’ products to the world market in a bid to materialize the resistance economy stressed by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.
Considering Afghanistan’s current critical situation both politically and economically, forging relations with India could be of paramount importance for this country and from the other side, diversification of economic and political partners will be helpful for Iran. Expansion of mutual economic cooperation both in the long and short terms can be extended to other areas as well, including politics, security, science and tourism.
With respect to the impacts of Chabahar agreement on Afghanistan, it should be noted that fighting against terrorism is entirely tied with economic and political issues in Afghanistan. Enhancement of economic cooperation and efforts aimed at all-out development and progress of countries can be one of the most appropriate and effective solutions to prevent infiltration and spread of terrorism in Afghanistan. Poverty and unemployment are two major factors behind the expansion of terrorism in the country. Terror groups usually recruit their forces from the poor, unemployed and culturally-weak people. Therefore, development of trade activities among different nations as well as promotion of cooperation among them for major economic projects can help decrease poverty and unemployment in the region.
Reduction of poverty and unemployment is in direct connection with decrease of infiltration and violent activities of extremist groups. So it can be hoped that the development of Afghanistan’s economy could restore safety and stability in the region, and above all, it would undermine the terrorist and extremist foundations in the country.
In other words, Afghanistan is expected to witness expansion of political stability and security as well as enfeebling terrorist and extremist groups at the same time. At the regional level, one can pin hope in the creation of security and economic situation in the region in addition to expansion of bilateral and trilateral ties among counties who have joined the Chabahar port project.
Mohammad Taghi Jahanbakhsh is a graduate of Iranian Foreign Ministry’s School of International Relations. His main fields of interest are Afghanistan, the Eurasia Region, Public diplomacy, and soft power. He has published various articles and commentaries in scientific publications. The Iranian political analyst has also submitted numerous of his works to domestic and international conferences. He has authored many books as well from among which we can refer to "Russia and New Afghanistan”.