Muhammad Usman Ghani
A few years ago, India and Iran entered an agreement that envisaged the development of Chahba-har port. The bilateral agreement on the Chah-bahar port bore the pote-ntial to provide India acc-ess to Afghanistan and C-entral Asian Republics (CARs) via Iran bypassing Pakistan. Since Cha-hbahar is located in Si-stan and Baluchistan pro-vince in the Southea-stern part of Iran -70 km away from Gwadar port- it bec-ame a strategic competit-ion for the China Paki-stan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
For Pakistan, the Chahbahar port agreement between Iran and India posed challenges on many fronts. As Iran shares a border with Baluchistan, the least developed province of Pakistan, India eyed on propagating instability in Baluchistan on the accounts of partnership with Iran. The arrest of the Indian spy Kulbhushun Yadav from Baluchistan was the testimony of the Indian operations from Iran. Through this agreement (Chahbahar port) India envisioned its access to Afghanistan, this was yet another setback for Pakistan because India could counter Pakistan’s intentions to have an approach to CARs. Furthermore, the realization of the Chahbahar port agreement could be detrimental to the thriving operation of the CPEC. Apart from that, this project could have catapulted India to become regional power by challenging China’s stance of connectivity with other countries through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In this way, it stroked fear in China and Pakistan.
Here comes the United States’ chapter; the equation of US-Iran relations is under the cloud since Donald Trump assumed the power saddle of the US. In May 2018, Donald Trump unilaterally torpedoed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the US-Iran Nuclear deal. This development deteriorated US-Iran ties, and Trump heralded the imposition of economic sanctions on Iran. On the other hand, India enjoys cordial links with the US. China, the most prominent economic competitor of the US, also shares a sour equation with India. Ergo, the Indo-US bonhomie aims to counter China in the Asia-Pacific region. However, the rapprochement between India and the US proved to be harmful to the Chah-bahar project. Following the enforcement of harsh US sanctions on Iran, India had to comply with US sanctions. India had to limit its oil purchase from Iran, and its investment on Ch-ahbahar port came to halt. In that wise, the Chahbahar port project had to be shelved. Iran, unprecedentedly suffering economically, couldn’t tolerate red-tapism. Therefore, it found an alternate of India.
Let’s move to China; China has been at loggerheads with the US for long. As China vies for global economic hegemony, the US finds China as a dominant competitor in contemporary times. Both countries are entangled in a trade war, which has shocked the whole world. Moreover, both countries find themselves in competition in the Asia-Pacific region. The quadrilateral group, comprised of the US, India, Japan, and, Australia aspire to entrap China. The US urges India to boost up its naval capabilities to counter China. The shipment of oil to China occurs via Malacca Strait, remains exposed to several threats while cruising to China. Driven by such discontentment, China seeks partnership with more countries to come on par with the US. In this regard, Iran, being the anti-camp of the US, is the best choice for China to foster economic links. After dropping India from Chahbahar, Iran has decided to go for nurturing connections with China, which shares Iran’s common opponent (the US). Iran and China have finalized a $400 billion strategic partnership deal. The cooperation will extend from investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, and upgrading energy and transport facilities to refurbishing ports, refineries, and will commit Iran oil and gas supplies to China during that period. Such cooperation between China and Iran is a setback to the Indo-US nexus.
India has a long aspiration to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. India has endeavored to nurture warm ties with Pakistan’s immediate neighbors: Iran and Afghanistan. Moreover, India has forged an unprecedented empathetic alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These countries turned deaf ears to Pakistan, whenever Pakistan looked up to them for the Kashmir issue. On the accounts of the changing dynamics of the geopolitics, India, these days, is experiencing some diplomatic setbacks. As Islamophobia has overwhelmed India, problems like the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and Babari Mosque, which suppress Indian Muslims, have forced Bangladesh to exhibit proclivity towards Pakistan.
By reading the trends of the time, Pakistan ought to offer even hand to Bangladesh. As Iran has dropped India from the Chahbahar project, Pakistan should make strong overtures to sail on good connections with Iran. Establishing strong links with these countries would help Pakistan make its strong position on the Kashmir issue. Last year, when India revoked article 370 on Kashmir, Iran voiced its concerns against Indian illegal annexation of Kashmir. Pakistan should also enter in new agreements with Iran that benefit Baluchistan. Bilateral development agreements with Iran can ensure Baluchistan’s progress. Besides, Baluchistan’s security links are concerned with Iran. Good bonds with Iran have the potential to secure peace in Baluchistan.
Initiating development projects in Baluchistan by the cooperation of Iran and China are likely to abbreviate and wane the insurgency. The US presidential elections are due in November 2020, the presidential candidate Joe Biden, if assumes Oval office, can adopt soft stance against Iran and might lift sanctions against Iran. Also, unlike his predecessor, he is likely to forge good links with Pakistan. This development can be favorable for Pakistan. Time is ripe for the government of Pakistan to benefit from the changing geopolitical dynamics before it is too late.