A Strategic Race – OpEd – Eurasia Review
A strategic race is underway between the development of Chabahar and Gwadar ports and further connect to trade routes to the Central Asian region, the Middle East, to Europe and Russia. Both ports are important due to their geostrategic position as the warm Arabian Sea ports for emerging economic powers India and China. Chabahar port of Iran’a commercial enterprise is funded by India and connected to the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) while Gwadar Port in Pakistan is a ‘Strategic Military Enterprise’ is funded and managed by China and connected to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). There is no doubt that China is now the world’s economic powerhouse as the United States attempts to contain China’s growing global influence. The importance of Gwadar Port in Pakistan will be further enhanced for China in the event of a conflict between the United States and China in the South China Sea. China will then have to depend to some extent on the port of Gwadar and the CPEC once it is fully operational.
Both China and India want to extend their influence to the resource-rich region of Central Asia. The Russo-Ukrainian War and Western sanctions against Russia saw a sudden increase in Central Asia’s connection to China and Russia due to the disruption of international trade and transportation routes caused by the conflict. Even Iran has seen a sudden increase in its importance as a transit and transport hub linking China and Central Asia to Europe and also Russia.
The transport of maritime containers from China through Russia to the European Union in recent years had become a key part of the success of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but the invasion of Ukraine by Moscow and subsequent Western sanctions have forced China to seek alternatives. The Russo-Ukrainian war further reinforced the importance of the ports of Chabahar and Gwadar and the race for their development. As India and China are adversaries, the conflicting competition has entered the ports of Chabahar and Gwadar which are on the Arabian Sea coast separated by a lateral distance of barely 100 km but in two different countries .
Port of Chabahar
- Chabahar Port has an area of 11 km² and is located in Iranian Sistan. The geostrategic position of Chabahar is in a key position to access the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Its location outside the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz has been very beneficial for Iranian trade since the Iran-Iraq war.
- Chabahar has always been a commercial center due to its access to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.
- The port will be connected to the Trans-Iranian Railway with the completion of the Kerman-Zahedan Railway.
- A trilateral agreement was signed between Iran, India and Afghanistan in 2003. India was to construct a road, known as Highway 606, linking Delaram, the border town of Afghanistan to Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province in Afghanistan. Iran was to build a highway from Chabahar to Delaram. The Indian Border Roads Organization constructed the Delaram – Zaranj highway, and it was completed in 2009.
- Chabahar is not in an insurgent area like Gwadar; therefore, it is clear that the nations would prefer Chabahar.
- The port of Chabahar is now connected to the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and a trial has already been carried out.
- The Chabahar port project is crucial for Afghanistan as it would allow the shipment of goods to the Middle East and Europe as well as the influx of vital goods to Afghanistan. This has now become a distinct possibility with the United States and Iran on the verge of reaching an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
- Chabahar Port will also serve as a check on China’s growing influence in the Arabian Sea due to the deep water port of Gwadar in Pakistan’s Balochistan region.
- The shortest distance from Chabahar Kandla port in India is 550 nautical miles to Kandla and Mumbai port with safe travel cost and time and also avoid Pakistan coast by long margin.
Port of Gwadar (Heart of CPEC)
- Gwadar, located in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, is the deepest seaport in the world. it has a large capacity for upcoming ships. Gwadar Port is the third largest port in the world.
- China wants to link CPEC with Iran and other countries in the Middle East.
- China wants to reduce its dependence on the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea; the port of Gwadar would provide China with another shortest and safest route for oil imports from the Middle East, thus minimizing shipping costs and reducing delays.
- The port of Gwadar, will provide a route to warm waters that can help China develop its western province of Xingjian by connecting its western regions to the rest of the world. In 2013, Pakistani leaders handed it over to China.
- Overseas Ports Holding Company (COPHC) on a 49-year lease for further development and trade; the first shipment was made from Gwadar in 2008. Currently, China fully controls the port of Gwadar as it has become the main hub for the CPEC project. The port of Gwadar also has a free zone called (GFZ).
- The Karakoram highway will also be extended by CPEC and linked to the port of Gwadar.
- The Chinese government has decided to build a naval base at Jiwani, 40 km from Gwadar, for the protection of this port and the continuation of trade.
- Pakistan is already heavily indebted due to increased share of profits going to China from CPEC projects. China may take control of Gwadar Port in the future, as it has taken control of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka for the next 99 years
Both ports are located at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, which contains two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves and through which approximately 17 billion barrels of crude oil pass daily.
Once these ports are fully functioning, competition for dominance is likely to intensify further.
Gwadar Port faces many security challenges compared to Chabahar. Port of Gwadar is probably not safe due to the troubled situation in Baluchistan due to local insurgent groups, additional influence of Taliban and other terrorist groups in Pakistan and political instability in Afghanistan . In the future, the people of Gilgit–Baltistan may also rise up against the Chinese presence. China is trying to get other countries to become active participants in prestigious CPEC projects. The CPEC is far from over.
Traditionally, shipments from South Asia pass through the Suez Canal to the ports of Rotterdam (Netherlands), Antwerp (Belgium), Piraeus (Greece) and Valencia (Spain). The Russian-Ukrainian war changed the previous equations. Russia, China, India, Iran as well as many other countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and are sailing to alternatives. A large number of new transport corridors are being developed and opened to traffic in Central Asia. With this, China extends its influence to the CAR, and in the near future it could replace the influence and dependence of Russia, ultimately, thanks to its economic power.
Benefits will also accrue to en route countries. These corridors will arouse the interest of a growing number of countries. If these corridors are to be successful in the long term with physical connectivity between Europe and Asia, member countries in particular will need to consider and involve a new set of partner countries. If these corridors are successful, it will be a big economic change for CAR and West Asian countries considering the benefits.
India is also uneasy with China’s Belt and Road initiative, which was announced in 2013. The massive infrastructure project involving more than 100 countries has resulted in major construction work among India’s neighbors. India, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives. India should continue to promote Chabahar as a strategic port on the Makran coast as it meets both India’s trade ease and security needs in the region. With the current progress and trials on the trade route, this is the advantage of Chabahar Port and INSTC over Gwadar Port and CPEC.