Opportunity lost in Iran

Kashmir Times. Dated: 7/17/2020 1:10:21 AM

The Chabahar railway and oil projects are important for India’s regional goals, energy security and relations with Iran

An old time ally and traditional friend, Iran’s decision to drop India from the plans to build a railway link from strategically important Chabahar port to Zahedan on Afghanistan border and natural gas fields in the north-eastern Iran should act as a wake up call for India. Besides building the strategic rail link, gas exploration and partnership over a period of one decade was important for ensuring energy security for India from the traditional and dependable friendly country Iran. The development of the port and the lank link through Iran to Afghan border was considered to be India’s answer to Pakistan’s denial of a trading route through Wagah to Khyber Pass into Afghanistan and beyond to Central Asian republics. Though India’s decision to bypass Pakistan altogether was right or wrong is a debatable topic but appears to have lost the staying power to see the plan through. India played its part very well in developing the Chabahar port with an investment of $400 million, which is operational now. At present, foodgrains and other essential supplies are being made from Kandla in Gujarat to Afghanistan via Chabahar to mutual advantage. Moreover, it was also Border Roads Organisation (BRO) of India that assisted in building 218-kilometre Delaram-Zaranj highway in Afghanistan that cut down the travel time between Iran and Afghanistan. India’s decision to drag its feet on building the railway link from Chabahar to Zahedan due to its tilt towards United States is not only unfortunate but also amounts to losing an opportunity in Iran, where it has already invested a lot of money. The entire episode also points to diplomatic failure on India’s part in guarding its own interests with a traditional ally. Iranian decision in favour of China emanates from two factors. Firstly, the delays in contract agreements since 2003 and secondly hitches for fear of US sanctions after the latter provided ‘carve out’ to India on the port and railway link because of difficulties in finding international suppliers for material.

Chabahar is an example wherein India’s failure to complete ambitious infra-structural projects undertaken in the region have adversely impacted its strategic interests and goals. It is sad that India’s commitment to build power projects, railway links, highways and other infra-structures has not been fulfilled leaving enough room for other powers in the region to cash on it. Most of the projects have suffered from inordinate delays or have not been undertaken as yet. For instance, the Pancheshwar Dam project in Nepal has been hanging fire since 1991. Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to speed it up when he visited Kathmandu in August 2014, but little progress was made. Instead, India is firefighting to salvage a longstanding relationship with Nepal over claims of territory. A yet to be completed highway between India, Myanmar and Thailand has been overshadowed by a Chinese-built highway under One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative that has boosted China-Myanmar border trade. India’s better record in Sri Lanka is not without missed opportunities that were once again snapped up by China. Delhi has no choice but to find a more efficient way of getting around these difficulties both diplomatically and strategically. New Delhi’s indications that it continues to be part of the railway link project in Iran is not sufficient. If it is so, India should get on with it as of now and secure the project in view of the fact that Iran-China 25-year pact is not happening so soon. This is the time that India needs to bring its act together and get into Chabahar project as it is important for India’s strategic and regional goals and must act quickly.

 

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