In response to the $46-billion project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the US broadly supported India and Afghanistan in signing a deal with Iran for a transport corridor, opening up a new route to Afghanistan via the Iranian port of Chabahar. In this context, during his visit to Tehran, on May 23, 2016, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed 12 agreements with Tehran, including a deal to develop Iran’s Chabahar port.
India will spend $500 million on the project, with a plan to invest an additional $ 16 billion in the Chabahar free trade zone. Chabahar—located about 1,800 kilometres south of Tehran—is more than just a port with an adjoining free trade zone. But, CPEC is much bigger and viable project than Chahbahar, if Pakistan develops the project with speed, efficiency and transparency, it needs not be worried about Chabahar.
On November 11, this year, the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Shari inaugurated the Gwadar Port warm-water; deep-sea port located on the Arabian Sea in Balochistan province, and is the center of the CPEC project. The port has formally been operationalized for trade activities through the western route of CPEC.
The establishment of CPEC between deep Gwadar seaport of Balochistan and the historic Silk Road city in western regions-Xinjiang of China will connect Gilgit-Baltistan through Khunjerab Pass. Beijing would also build an international airport at Gwadar, while the roads infrastructure in Gwadar would link the communication network of rest of the country to facilitate transportation of goods.
When Gwadar seaport becomes fully operational, it would connect the landlocked Central Asian Republics (CARs) with rest of the world. Being the commercial hub, the port is likely to increase volume of trade, bringing multiple economic and financial benefits to Pakistan like the Suez Canal which changed the destiny of Egypt when Israel returned it to the former. It will enable high-volume cargo vessels to move in the major oceans. Gwadar project will not only uplift the impoverished people of Balochistan by providing thousands of employment opportunities and is likely to develop whole the province by redressing their grievances. The resulting prosperity in the province would trickle down to the Baloch people and damp the separatist sentiments, which the hostile elements, supported by the US, India and Israeli do not want.
Regarding the two projects—CPEC and Chahbahar, on June 13, 2016, a Chinese newspaper, Global Times has blamed India for damaging the prospects of Gwadar by investing in Chahbahar to isolate Pakistan; however, it will not succeed in its designs. The paper elaborated, “Pakistan’s Sindh Province saw a bomb attack against Chinese engineers and small-scale protests against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) recently. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government claimed that anti-CPEC activities by foreign forces have been busted in Baluch Province. At the Beijing Forum held in Islamabad in late May, countries including the US and Japan have shown concerns over CPEC construction and even bluntly criticized the China-Pakistan friendship. CPEC is a significant part of the Belt and Road initiative, which is not only a domestic strategy of China to open up its central and western regions, but also Pakistan’s domestic development plan as well as regional integration.”
However, the recent India-Iran-Afghanistan agreement to develop a trade route from Chabahar to Central Asia has been portrayed by Indian commentators as having changed the historical Great Game for control of the connection between South and Central Asia through Afghanistan. But, the project will remain a dream after the collapse of the inter-Afghan negotiations and acceleration of the attacks by Taliban on the US-led NATO forces and installations, including those of the Afghan soldiers. Afghanistan is moving to further lawlessness.
The Kabul administration feels paralyzed due to the acts of violence and is incapable to reinstate peace in the country, as both India and puppet rulers of Afghanistan want to prolong the stay of the US-led NATO forces in that country. As part of the double game, American CIA, Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad are destabilizing Afghanistan.
Bringing the northerners into the mainstream, arming and equipping them are very much in the same connection. Fanning the flames of violence is and has always been their policy. Iran built Chahbahar Port for the same purpose and it was inaugurated at a time when Pakistan’s Gwadar Port is about to be launched and when China is determined to construct a port of international standard at Gwadar.
On the enticement of New Delhi which is against Pak-Iranian cordial relationship, Iran as a first step was able to convince and muster the support of India to partner Iran in the construction of Chahbahar Port. Thus, India not only undermines Pakistan’s interests, but also renders Afghanistan—unable to stand on its feet.
India entrapped Iran by making its contribution in the development of Chahbahar Port has relieved Tehran of its stress to get Central Asian Republics (CARs) ready for transit of their trade goods only through Chahbahar. Therefore, Iran is not only constructing railway track and metalled roads for its trade with CARs via Turkmenistan, but also taking away roads and railways track from Afghanistan.
On line sources suggest that on the enticement of New Delhi, Iran’s intelligence agencies have tasked writers and experts to propagate for the Chahbahar project. Among these paid works is Tolo TV which has been appointed by Tehran in the TV channel. The said TV channel portrays the port in such a way, as if Afghanistan would harvest great benefits from it. The Kabul administration is also very active in this regard and defending the projects by resorting to narrative which is a mixture of facts and lies. The Kabul administration is like more loyal than the King in this respect.
Few writers say that Chahbahar is closer to Afghanistan than Gwadar and Karachi and freight charges would be less and the cargo would reach its destination in shorter time. It is a blatant lie and distortion of facts. In reality, Chahbahar is farther than Gwadar, Karachi and Wagah For instance, Kabul-Islamabad-360 km, Islamabad-Karachi-1100 km, Islamabad Wagah-290 km, Kandhar-Karachi-740 Km, Kandhar-Gwadar -760 km, Kandhar-Zabul-450 km, Zabul- Chahbahar-650-km, Kabul-Kandhar-500 km, Kabul-Wagah-360+ 290= 650 km, Kabul-Karachi – 360+1100=1460 km, Kandhar-Chahbahar-1100 km, Kandhar-Gwadar-760 km, and Kabul- Chahbahar-500 + 450 + 650 =1600 km show the real distances in this regard.
It is now clear that Kabul-Wagah is the shortest route, while the longest route is Kabul-Chahbahar. If Kabul is declared as the business centre then Kabul-Karachi route via Torkharn is 1460 km, while via Kandhar and Chaman it is 500+740=1240 km; Kabul-Gwadar via Kandhar is 500+760=1260 km while Kabul-Chahbahar is 500 + 1030 = 1580 km.
If Kandhar is considered as the business center then Kandhar-Karachi is 740 km and Gwadar is 760 km, while Chahbahar is one and half, and two times farther which is 1100 km.
Notably, each container coming via Chahbahar would cost US $ 500 to 1000 less than those reaching Afghanistan via Karachi. It is such a blatant lie which can be uttered only by a man without any scruples. If we subtract 700 km out of its (Chahbahar) total distance then the Chahbahar Port should exist either inside Afghanistan or close to Iran border rather than South of Iran.
A write who falsely said that Chahbahar Port is mere 70 km away from Gwadar, and also mentioned incorrect information about the distance from Gwadar to Karach, while the fact is that distance between Gwadar and Karachi is 180 km.
It should also be kept in mind that by preferring Chahbahar, Pakistanis, on one hand are relinquishing the Pakistani market for fruits and agricultural products and on the other hand, they are inviting problems by exporting Afghanistan’s fresh fruit to India via Wagah. Chahbahar is by no means an alternate route for export of fresh fruits from all provinces of Afghanistan, except few types of fruit, which do not come quickly, like those from Farah, Nimroz and to some extent from Herat and Kandhar.
Neither, it is feasible for melon and grapes from Northern Provinces nor other agricultural products from Logar, Laghman and Ningarhar. Because of Indian factor, Iran, on one hand does not provide space to Pakistan’s fruits and agricultural products in its markets, and on the other hand, Islamabad is giving away markets in Pakistan and India, which if lost once, will be very difficult to find again.
What Afghanistan can do is to better prefer Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project which is lifeline for Pakistan and India and other related countries—Afghanistan may convince Islamabad to facilitate Kabul in accessing Indian markets via Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistan can also convince New Delhi not to hunt for routes to access CARs other than through Afghanistan.
It is of particular attention that the US pro-Israeli and pro-Indian President-elect Donald Trump has stated that he would abandon the Iran nuclear deal, while differences are already deepening between the Russian-led coalition of Iran, Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Iraq which has broken the backbone of the US-CIA-assisted ISIS terrorists, Al-Qaeda’s Al-Nusra Front and the rebels who have been fighting to oust the Syrian President Assad’s government and against the current Iraqi regime as part of America’s double game to obtain Israeli interests.
Nevertheless, due to these developments including other dimensions, the US-backed Chahbahar project will remain a dream.