The Chabahar Challenge

- India has taken a huge leap of faith by signing the 10 year agreement to manage Iran’s strategic port, Chabahar. The first foreign port it will run. - But the question is - - Is it 6 years too late? - Or is it the right move at the wrong time? - For India, it is the ultimate strategic move, attempting to outmanoeuvre Pakistan and China which had invested heavily in Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, which is currently the target of the Baloch separatists - But as the Middle East turns into a powder keg with Iran on one side and US backed Israel on the other, is this India’s ambitious hedge against a rising China, which has attempted to aggressively edge the U.S. out of its old hunting ground in Afghanistan and the Middle East. And could it work? - As for the US rattling India’s cage over renewing links with the Shia giants, that had been curtailed by US sanctions. - India did give in to US pressure and stop buying Iranian oil. But is the US going to skirt around the threat of sanctions this time, as it did over India continuing to buy Russian oil? some are saying that the US would like Iran to partner India and not China, as one way of nix long China’s ambitions to rise in the mid east. - Is the Iran India tie up therefore the new hedge against China?! As we examine what benefits, the control of a strategically located deep sea port like Chabahar gives India, there’s no question the primary signal is that India is no longer willing to take a back seat as it has done before. It has dragged its feet on Chabahar since 2003. And 2018. It’s no longer willing to do so. - Does this mean India will finally have its own connection to Central Asia - and Europe - with the INSTC international north south transport corridor - part driven by iran and partly by Russia - getting off the ground as opposed to the hugely impractical U.S. and Israel -Saudi driven India mid east Europe corridor IMEC and China’s chokehold - the Belt and Road initiative, in Pakistan-Afghanistan running aground in debt and violence. - India can now bypass Pakistan, which has blocked access to Afghanistan. India can reach out to Central Asia however minimal trade is at the current juncture. - Can we also safely assume that India Iran ties which had run aground over our inability to move forward on Chabahar, are on the mend? Why has Iran acceded to India? Is it a quid pro quo to ensure India’s ships don’t face Houthi fire? - Is India looking at other ports too? - Most importantly, Is this India finally flexing its muscles as it places a long overdue emphasis on safeguarding its own land and sea trade routes, creating new supply chains and emphasising energy security with an amped up naval presence in the West Asia region. - We’re keeping one eye on the big power rivalry, knowing well that If sucked into a U.S. versus Iran-Russia rivalry, India will be caught in the middle, pay a heavy price. - But if the US sees Delhi as a hedge against China. - And Iran’s primary motive is to keep India engaged as a hedge against the US, anything can happen. - Talking to us today on how India will tread these treacherous waters is - Vice Admiral (retd) Shekhar Sinha, and Chabahar Afghan expert Sumeer Bhasin and journalist Sanjay Kapoor.

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