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Chabahar and Gwadar – Caught in the Regional India China Competition Trap

Published Jan 16, 2020
Updated Mar 02, 2020

China and Pakistan are hopeful of linking Afghanistan with the CPEC through Gwadar, while India is banking on Chabahar to extend reach to Central Asia and Eurasia through the International North South Transport Corridor.

Chinese Embassy in Islamabad tweeted on 15 January, “Afghan Transit Trade started at Gwadar Port, the first ship full of containers reached Gwadar Port today. CPEC and the Belt and Road Initiative are promoting regional economic ties”.

The containers will be transported to Afghanistan through the Chaman border crossing in Balochistan marking a new port and axis for the land locked country which has been relying on Karachi and Port Qassem in Pakistan and had only just opened the traffic of seaborne trade through Chabahar.

This comes on a day when the Indian Prime Minister in a meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in New Delhi thanked Iran for supporting the Chabahar project which will link to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Recently during the 19th India-Iran joint commission meeting, Chabahar port was discussed and a Trilateral meeting between India, Afghanistan and Iran was held on Chabahar port very recently.

Reflecting on the developments, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a media briefing on 02 January, “And there is lot of good news coming out from that port. You know the port has commenced operation almost a year ago, December 2018. Since then we have had almost 4500 containers, which has moved between the two countries, between India and Chabahar port, almost half a million cargo has moved, what we are working now with Iran is to how we can further enhance the connectivity, how we can take it forward, how we can use this connectivity to expand also our trade links with Central Asia”.

In the 19thIndia-Iran joint commission meeting India and Iran agreed to accelerate work on the strategic Chabahar project, the urgency for which is evident expecting competition from Gwadar.

The United States has also given a waiver for development of the Chabahar port, despite the policy of maximum pressure with very tight sanctions against Iran

Portends of a new competition to connect Afghanistan and Central Asia is now evident as the Gwadar port in Pakistan commences container operations.

While Afghanistan has been relying on the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA) for trade with and through Pakistan, Chabahar had opened options for trading with India.

The opening of Gwadar port will add another avenue while also signalling competition.

Gwadar is at the mouth of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which has been disputed by India as it passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). India is thus also opposing the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

China and Pakistan are hopeful of linking Afghanistan with the CPEC through Gwadar, while India is banking on Chabahar to extend reach to Central Asia and Eurasia through the International North South Transport Corridor.