By Jawad Akram
Ongoing development of Chabahar port in Iran with collaboration of India in response to Pakistan’s Gwadar port is emerging as a proxy port of India for future. Gawadar Port, a strategic warm water deep sea port located on the Southwestern coast of Pakistan in the Baluchistan Province is the geographic center of gravity of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $62 billion joint venture of China and Pakistan.
Albeit, a massive media campaign on international forums has been launched by India to vindicate that Chabahar port is the real port and Gwadar is a total failure in future but in reality there are facts, figures and ground realities depicting the mega success on part of Gwadar port and a little success in Chabahar project. Skyrocketing anti-Gwadar campaign by India has produced a “War of Ports” like geopolitical environment of this region.
If analysis is made about both these ports then a real picture emanates about the future of these ports. Distance between these ports is only around 72 kms. Both these ports are deep water ports but Gwadar has more advantage that its depth is greater than Chabahar, it means all the colossal ships of world could be anchored and docked at Gwadar seaport comfortably and safely.
Gwadar port is being connected with a network of roads and other infrastructures to China, and via China to Central Asian Republics and Russia, based on One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative of China, while similar ideas are also launched by India, Afghanistan and Iran to connect Chabahar to Afghanistan and then via Afghanistan to Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Russia. They are, in fact, trying to make a fake replica of CPEC. To reach the CARs via war-ravaged Afghanistan is not an excellent idea because of security situation of Afghanistan. Security situation in Pakistan is far better than Afghanistan. A lot of area in Afghanistan is under control of Taliban and now an emerging threat of Islamic State of Syria and Levant (ISIS) is also an undeniable truth. In Pakistan, Pakistani security forces have uprooted successfully the footings of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. A well trained and well-equipped Army is always present in Pakistan to maintain the security parameters high.
China is a huge exporter in this region and similarly largest importer of oil from Gulf, so, most of imports and exports would traverse through Gwadar Port. Imports for CARs from India are very less as compared with China, so piling up pressure on CPEC by India, Afghanistan and Iran is just like daydreaming.
Iran has been repeatedly slapped with sanctions by United Nations, United States (U.S.) and other countries, so it would be awkward for great powers to move through Iran, bypassing Pakistan, for trade purposes.
Chabahar port is not devoid of benefits for India, Iran and Afghanistan. Chabahar will definitely provide India an alternate route to landlocked Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan, thus undermining Pakistan’s leverage over Afghanistan. Trade between India and Afghanistan would be direct and easy. There would be no fear of check by Pakistan. Economic ties among Afghanistan, Iran and India will ramp up. But all these factors would bolster trade between India and Afghanistan only. Nothing higher than this could be achieved. India could not compete China in exports as Indian products are just like toys in comparison with those of China, in quantity, variety, quality, durability and price. So assuming that Chabahar would win this battle of ports is madness. Chabahar would undermine profits garnered by Gawadar but it would not be able to shake it significantly.
Gwadar dwarfs Chabahar in all aspects. The maximum planned capacity of Chabahar is 10-12 million tons per annum, and that of Gwadar will be 300 million to 400 million tons once it reaches full capacity. If things go according to plan and the port operates at complete capacity then Gwadar could outclass all of India’s 212 ports that conjointly handle 500 million tons a year.
So, it is not exaggerated to conclude that Gwadar is going to win this “War of Ports”.