A tale of two ports: Chabahar and Gwadar

south asiaLately two ports, namely Gawadar and Chabahar, have emerged on Makran coast that are located at a distance of about 70 kilometers. One is located in Baluchistan province of Pakistan and other is also situated in Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran. Both the ports have been constructed with the stated objective of finding efficient and cost effective routes to energy-rich Central Asian countries passing through Afghanistan.

The point to be explored is that both the ports have been constructed by two rivals, China and India, one an accepted world super power and the other a self-proclaimed regional super power. The story is not as simple as being narrated because the United States is fully supporting India in establishing its hegemony in the region by not taking any action against India for supporting Iran facing economic sanctions for more than three decades.

Afghan transit trade has been passing through Pakistan since independence. Arms, ammunition and combat forces also used this route when USSR attacked Afghanistan and also when the United States attached Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11. While this route has been used for supplies for combat forces for more than four decades, the need was felt for developing another route that could provide easy access to landlocked countries to ‘warm waters’.

Since the United States could not construct an alternative rout passing through Iran at its own, it encouraged India to support Iran, facing economic sanctions for more than three decades, in building a port outside Strait of Hormuz and link it with Central Asian states via Afghanistan.

The work on both the ports started around the same time. While the rulers in Pakistan remained engrossed in ‘war against terror’ and didn’t raise any objection on Indian involvement in an Iranian port, India remained critical of Chinese involvement in Gwadar. On almost every forum India tries to prove that Chinese involvement in Gwadar is a threat for its (Indian) existence.

The plea taken by India is that Indian Ocean should remain ‘arms free’. However, navies of almost all the major powers are present in the area to protect their maritime trade. It is on record that almost 60% of global maritime trade passes through Indian Ocean. It may not be wrong to say that in the name of protecting their maritime trade certain countries have deployed their submarines and aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean, which could become a ground for proxy war.

Pakistan has over 1,200 kilometer long coastal line, which offers the country opportunities to establish Special Economic Zones and attract huge foreign investment. However, presence of insurgent and resistance groups in Baluchistan has kept foreign investors away from Pakistan. Fallout of the war going on in the neighborhood is that some of the militant groups have found safe havens in the province.

There is also a loud talk about creation of ‘Greater Baluchistan’ comprising of one slice each from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since India has played a major role in turning East Pakistan into Bangladesh, keeping an eye on its involvement in Chabahar, growing insurgency in Baluchistan and armed conflicts at Pak Iran border is necessary.

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