NEW DELHI: With the Taliban advancing dangerously close to Kabul and the security situation deteriorating in Afghanistan at a rapid pace, India has been on tenterhooks with regards to its assets in the war-torn country. Another worry haunting the Indians would be the fate of the Chabahar Port in Iran, built jointly by India, Afghanistan and Iran.
Experts feel that should the militant group assume power in Afghanistan, Chabahar, which was built with an aim to side-step Pakistan and counter its Gwadar Port, stares at becoming irrelevant.
“Chabahar’s fate itself might not be affected by recent developments in Afghanistan, but the broader vision of expanding the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) eastward into Afghanistan and beyond (E-NSTC+) is a different story. It seems unlikely that India can continue to rely on E-NSTC+ as its primary economic mode of engagement with Afghanistan, especially since it doesn’t have any formal ties with the group but openly continues to support its opponents in Kabul,” Russia-based political analyst Andrew Korybko said.
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External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in the recently held connectivity summit in Uzbekistan, had proposed to include Chabahar Port in the International North-South Transport Corridor.
Echoing his views was international relations analyst Sanjay Kapoor, who felt that India stands to lose a lot of influence in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, due to the lackadaisical attitude in completion of the port project.
“New Delhi did not want to do anything to antagonise the US government after it had imposed sanctions on Iran. Now, the Americans have partnered with Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan to make a new connectivity corridor! Not only did India baulk at its promise to provide a line of credit in 2018 to build a railway route from Chabahar to Zahedan, the Indian company that is supposed to build and manage port Shahid Behesti, India Port Global, is a leaderless entity that is in a state of drift,” he said.
Korbyko said India if changes its policy with regard to the Taliban, albeit late, out of pure economic pragmatism in order to safeguard the viability of its ambitious E-NSTC+ vision, it arguably benefits average Afghans by creating sustainable economic opportunities for them. “New Delhi’s E-NSTC+ vision is more endangered by the day the longer that it delays talking to the Taliban and cutting off its military support for Kabul,” he added.
Another aspect related to Chabahar Port that the Indians would be closely watching is the possible rise of China. A security analyst, who did not wish to be named, said that China would like assert its influence on West Asia through Afghanistan by bringing the war-torn country into the scheme of things in connection with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Media reports claimed that the Chinese government had recently said that it would be willing to recognise the Taliban government if it came to power. These reports emerged after the Taliban leadership met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on July 28.