As New Delhi complied with US sanctions on Iran and stopped buying crude oil from the Islamic Republic this month, Tehran responded by offering to connect its Chabahar Port with Gwadar Port of Pakistan.
India is concerned over the proposal Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif mooted during his recent visit to Pakistan late last week. Zarif proposed to connect Chabahar Port of Iran with the Gwadar Port, which was developed by China on the south-western coast of Pakistan.
New Delhi has been investing in Chabahar Port on the South-Eastern coast of Iran as it would give India sea-land access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan, which has been playing spoilsport to initiatives for connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia. The Chabahar Port’s strategic importance for India grew further after Pakistan handed over the control of its Gwadar Port to China.
Sources told the DH that Iranian Foreign Minister’s proposal to link the Chabahar Port with Gwadar Port of Pakistan appeared to be Tehran’s response after New Delhi had to completely stop importing of crude oil from the Islamic Republic.
New Delhi is concerned over the prospect of Pakistan and China expanding footprints on Chabahar Port if it is connected with Gwadar Port.
New Delhi perceived Chabahar Port in Iran as a counter to the Gwadar Port, which China developed as part of its “String of Pearls” policy to develop strategic assets around India.
What also made New Delhi worried is the possibility of the Chabahar Port being linked to Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China, if it is connected with the Gwadar Port – the end point of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
New Delhi has been stayed away from the BRI, as the CPEC, linking Xinjiang in China and Gwadar Port of Pakistan passes through parts of Kashmir that India has been claiming as its own and accusing Pakistan of illegally occupying.
Zarif was in New Delhi on May 14 when he met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and discussed with her ways to continue export of crude oil from Iran to India despite United States sanctions on energy exports from the Islamic Republic. New Delhi remained non-committal.
Iran was the third-largest oil supplier for India after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. India bought 23.6 million tons of oil from Iran in the 2018-19 financial year.
India, however, has been slashing its energy import from Iran after the US on November 4, 2018, re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran, particularly targeting the energy exports from the West Asian nation. The sanctions came into effect almost six months after President Donald Trump’s Administration in Washington D.C. decided to withdraw from the deal that the United States, four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and Germany, as well as European Union, had inked with Iran in 2015 to end the row over the controversial nuclear programme of the Islamic Republic.
Trump Administration earlier this month ended the waivers, which it had granted to India, China and six other nations last year to enable them to continue to import crude oil from Iran without making their entities liable to the US sanctions.
The US withdrew the waivers to step up pressure on India, China and other nations to completely stop importing crude oil from Iran.
Harsh Shringla, New Delhi’s envoy to the US, told a news conference in Washington D.C. on May 23 that India had completely stopped buying crude oil from Iran after the withdrawal of the waiver American Government granted to it earlier.
The US, however, kept the Chabahar Port out of the ambit of its sanctions on Iran, apparently in view of its role in establishing sea-land connectivity between Central Asia and South Asia through Afghanistan.
India, Afghanistan and Iran signed the trilateral Chabahar Agreement in May 2016 to facilitate transit and transport through the port.
India in October 2017 started exporting wheat to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port bypassing Pakistan.
Islamabad at present allows trucks from Afghanistan to carry goods through Pakistan only up to Wagah (a check-point on the Pakistani side of Pakistan-India border), and not up to Attari (a check-point on the Indian side of the India-Pakistan border). The goods have to be unloaded from trucks coming from Afghanistan in Wagah and loaded again on other vehicles to be brought to Attari and finally into India. The Afghan trucks then return empty to Afghanistan, as they are not allowed to carry goods from India.
Islamabad has repeatedly rejected calls by New Delhi and Kabul to allow hassle-free two-way trade between Afghanistan and India through Pakistan.