Prioritise strategic interest and hold ground on Chabahar

India also continues to import arms and ammunition from Russia while the US sanctions are in place.
A ship bearing various flags is parked at the Chabahar (Shahid Beheshti) Port in the southern Iranian coastal city of Chabahar.
A ship bearing various flags is parked at the Chabahar (Shahid Beheshti) Port in the southern Iranian coastal city of Chabahar.File Photo | AFP

India’s pact with Iran and Afghanistan to facilitate transit of passengers and goods through the Chabahar port in Iran has triggered a threat of US sanctions against India. A US state department spokesperson said the countries doing business with Iran were opening themselves to the risk of sanctions. The warning came despite the fact that the Trump administration had exempted the Chabahar port’s operations from sanctions in 2018.

India’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar rightly pointed out that the pact benefits not only the three contracting parties, but serves a much wider strategic purpose. He said India will communicate with and convince others on how the project benefits everyone. India, Iran and Afghanistan have been working on the Chabahar port since 2003, when the three countries signed a memorandum.

India needs to stand its ground on the pact, as it offers significant strategic advantages by providing a new trade route to western and central Asia and beyond via Iran and Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan and countering China’s plan to develop Pakistan’s Gwadar port as a major regional hub.

The worsening relations between India and Pakistan have seen projects such as the Iran-Pakistan-India and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipelines go into cold storage. Pakistan has obstructed India’s trade with central Asia using its land routes. It is, therefore, imperative that India develops an alternative trade route to the energy-rich central Asia by going around, notwithstanding the US warning.

India has shown strategic independence in its foreign policy. It had disregarded US sanctions on Russia and imported huge amounts of Russian oil, so much so that Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran to become India’s largest crude supplier. India also continues to import arms and ammunition from Russia while the US sanctions are in place.

It has been boldly pursuing its interests. It knows well that the US would not take any step that would push India into a corner and force it to work with greater intensity towards realising the BRICS goals of developing a common currency and easing trade among the five partners of the formation—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. India’s Chabahar decision is a calculated move to counter China and register its presence in western and central Asia. It should stick to it.

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