A Strategic Race is on between the Chabahar and Gwadar Ports development and further linking to trade routes to the Central Asian region, Middle East,onwards to Europe and Russia. Both the ports are significant due to their geostrategic position as warm water ports of the Arabian Sea for the emerging economic powers India and China. Chabahar port of Iran ’a Commercial enterprise’ is funded by India and linked to International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) while the Gwadar port of Pakistan a ‘Strategic military enterprise’ is funded and managed by China and linked to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). No doubt China is now the economic power of the world while the US is trying to contain China’s growing global influence. Importance of Gwadar port of Pakistan will further be enhanced for China in case of a conflict between US and China in the South China Sea. China then will have to some degree depend on Gwadar port and the CPEC once it is fully operational.
China and India both want to extend their influence to the resource-rich region of Central Asia. The Russia–Ukraine War and Western sanctions on Russia have seen a sudden rise in connecting Central Asia to China and Russia because of the disruption in international trade and transport routes caused by the conflict. Even Iran has seen a sudden rise in its importance as a transit and transport hub connecting China and Central Asia to Europe and also to Russia.
Moving shipping containers from China through Russia to the European Union in the past few years had become a vital part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) success story, but Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and the Western sanctions that followed have forced China to search for alternatives. The Russia–Ukraine War has further enhanced the importance of both Chabahar and Gwadar ports and the race of their development. As both India and China are adversaries the conflict competition has entered into Chabahar and Gwadar ports which are on Arabian Sea coast separated by a lateral distance of barely 1oo km but in two different countries.
Port of Chabahar
- Port of Chabahar has an area of 11 Sq km and is located in Iran’s Sistan. Chabahar’s geostrategic position is in a key position to access the Oman Sea, Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. Its location outside of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz has been very beneficial to Iran’s trade since the Iran – Iraq war.
- Chabahar has historically been a trade Centre because of its access to the Oman Sea and 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 build a road, known as Route 606, connecting Delaram, the border city of Afghanistan to Zaranj the Capital of Nimruz province in Afghanistan. Iran was to build a highway from Chabahar up to Delaram. Border Roads Organization of India constructed the Delaram – Zaranj highway, and it was completed in 2009.
- Chabahar does not lie in an insurgency-ridden area like Gwadar; therefore, it is clear that nations would prefer Chabahar.
- Chabahar port is now linked to the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) and a trial has already been completed.
- The Chabahar port project is crucial for Afghanistan since it would enable shipping goods to the Middle East and Europe as well as allow inflow of vital goods to Afghanistan. This has now become a distinct possibility with the US and Iran about to reach an understanding on Iran’s Nuclear program.
- Port of Chabahar will also serve as a check on China’s growing influence in the Arabian Sea because of Gwadar deep seaport in Pakistan’s Baluchistan region.
- The shortest distance of Chabahar Kandla port of India is 550 nautical miles to Kandla and Mumbai Port with a secure travel cost and time and also avoid the Pakistani coast by a long margin.
Port of Gwadar (Heart of CPEC)
- Gwadar located in Baluchistan province of Pakistan is the world’s deepest seaport; it has a large capacity for upcoming ships. Gwadar port is the third-largest port in the world.
- China wants to connect CPEC with Iran and other countries of the Middle East.
- China wants to decrease dependence on the Strait of Malacca’ and South China sea; the port of Gwadar would provide China with another shortest and safe route for oil imports from the Middle East, thereby minimizing shipping costs and reducing times.
- Gwadar Port, will provide a route to warm waters which can help China to develop its western province Xingjian by attaching its western regions to the rest of the world. In 2013, Pakistani leadership handed it over to China.
- Overseas ports holding company (COPHC) for 49 years lease for further development and trading; the first shipment was made from Gwadar in 2008. Currently, China completely controls the Gwadar port as it has become the prime hub of the CPEC project. Gwadar port also has a free zone called (GFZ).
- Karakoram highway will also be extended through CPEC and linked with Gwadar port.
- The Chinese government decided to construct a naval base in Jiwani, 40 km away from Gwadar, for the protection of this port and ongoing trade.
- Pakistan is already in a deep debt burden due to increased share of profit to China through the CPEC projects. China may in future take over Gwadar port as they have taken over the 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 an estimated 17 billion barrels of crude oil travel every day.
Once these ports are fully functioning, it is likely that competition for dominance will further increase.
Gwadar port faces a lot of security challenges as compared to Chabahar. The Gwadar port is not likely to be safe due to the Baluchistan disturbed situation because of the local insurgent groups, further influence Taliban and other terrorist groups in Pakistan and the Political instability in Afghanistan. In future the people of Gilgit – Baltistan may also rise against the Chinese presence. China is trying to get other countries to become active participants in the prestigious CPEC projects. CPEC is far from completion.
Traditionally, shipments from South Asia go via the Suez Canal to the ports of Rotterdam (The Netherlands), Antwerp (Belgium), Piraeus (Greece) and Valencia (Spain). The Russia-Ukraine War has changed earlier equations. Russia, China, India, Iran along with many other countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and are navigating for alternatives. A large number of new transport corridors are now being developed and opened to traffic in Central Asia. With this China is extending its influence to CAR and the near future may replace Russian influence and dependency ultimately through their economic power.
Advantages will also accrue to the countries en-route. These corridors are going to attract the interest of a growing number of countries. If these corridors are to succeed in the long term with physical connectivity between Europe and Asia member countries especially will have to consider and involve a new set of partner countries. If these corridors are successful it will be a big economic changer for the CARs and West Asian countries given the advantages.
India is also uneasy with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which was announced in 2013. The massive infrastructure project involving over 100 countries has meant major construction taking place in India’s neighbours, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives. India needs to keep promoting Chabahar as a strategic port on the Makran coast as it addresses both the ease of trading as well as India’s security needs in the region. With the present progress and trial on the trade route it is advantage Chabahar Port and INSTC over Port of Gwadar and CPEC.