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Editorial

December 5, 2017

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Chabahar Port

Chabahar Port

The inauguration of the first phase of the Chabahar Port – Iran’s closest sea link to the India Ocean – is a confirmation of how badly Pakistan has failed to develop close diplomatic and economic ties with its neighbours. Last year, when India and Afghanistan signed a deal with Iran for the development of the port and associated railway links, it was meant to give India access to Afghanistan, Iran and the larger Central Asian area without having to cross Pakistani territory. It is telling that the very first shipment using the Chabahar Port this week was that of wheat from India to Afghanistan. Pakistan was deliberately kept out of the original deal last year, and there was a reason Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made an impromptu visit to Tehran after the just-concluded SCO summit in Sochi while there was no similar offer made to Pakistan. As much as the Foreign Office is claiming that the Chabahar Port is not part of an alliance against Pakistan, the only reason for it existing in its current form is to bypass Pakistan. For years, Afghanistan has been trying to convince Pakistan to sign a transit agreement to allow Indian goods to be transported to Afghanistan through Pakistan. Our refusal to do so let directly to the deal for the Chabahar Port after international sanctions on Iran were lifted.
Pakistan might have been in a better position to be part of the agreement had it maintained good ties with Iran. Unfortunately, border skirmishes with Iran and the suspicion that we are going to be part of what is seen as an anti-Iran Saudi-led military alliance in the Middle East have kept the two countries apart. The Chabahar Port, which is only 80 kilometres from the Iran-Pakistan border, is also meant to be a direct competitor to the Gwadar Port. India may enjoy a high volume of trade with China but it also sees the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the larger One Belt, One Road Initiative as a direct threat. The two countries are vying for regional supremacy and the Chabahar Port is seen as one way for India to compete. It will give India access to the natural gas reserves of Iran and the Central Asian countries without needing to build a pipeline that runs through Pakistani territory. India and Afghanistan will both be given special economic zones in the Chabahar Port, while we are frozen out altogether. No matter what spin we may try to put on this, the Chabahar Port will mostly be seen as a foreign policy disaster for Pakistan.

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