After Ladakh blunder comes the Chabahar shock. While the former inflicts a haunting military trauma, the latter deals a deadly diplomatic blow — shattering India’s dream of regional hegemony that had already been jolted due to the latest situation in Afghanistan where Narendra Modi’s ally Ashraf Ghani is only delaying a Taliban-led administration. All this points towards India’s growing regional isolation. Not to forget that New Delhi’s all eggs are in the Donald Trump’s basket, while the latest popularity poll shows the American President lagging significantly behind his presumptive Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.
Coming to the latest setback to Modi, Iran has excluded India from the Chabahar rail project. Featuring the construction of rail line between Chabahar port to Zahedan, the project was part of a trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan, envisaging a trade route connecting the three countries and providing them access to Central Asian and Europe. However, Iran has now decided to construct the 628km rail line by March 2022 without the assistance from India. What has caused Iran to opt out of the agreement signed four years back?
While Tehran has cited financing delays on the part of New Delhi for fears of US sanctions, it is now widely reported that a $400 billion strategic partnership deal between Iran and China has resulted in the Chabahar rail project ending up a political casualty. According to the reports, the cooperation between the two sides will span 25 years and extend from investments in infrastructure, manufacturing and upgradation of energy and transport facilities, to refurbishment of ports, refineries and other installations, and will commit Iranian oil and gas supplies to China during that period. Chabahar rail line is now a part of this massive deal.
While the $400 billion strategic partnership provides the much-needed lifeline to Iran whose economy has been crippled due to the international sanctions, it will give China more access to the Indian Ocean region through the Chabahar port. As for India — for which the Chabahar port was to counter-balance Pakistan’s Gwadar Port — the deal serves a knockout punch.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2020.