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The significance of Pak-China cooperation in infrastructure development

Published on 26th Jan, Edition 4, 2015

 

The importance of Pak-China cooperation in infrastructure development can be best understood if one goes through the Indian opposition of Chinese support for Gwadar port. Although, India itself is helping Iran in construction of Chabahar port, located at a distance of around 70 kilometers from Gwadar. It seems that India is fully aware of the fact that Pakistan offers the shortest and cost effective route to Central Asia via Afghanistan. India is constructing Chabahar not only to undermine Pakistan’s importance but also for establishing its hegemony in the Indian Ocean. In this endeavor it is fully supported by the United States, as no action has been taken against India for violating economic sanctions imposed on Iran. India terms Gwadar a threat for its existence and its maritime trade. It goes to the extent of term Gwadar a potential Chinese naval port. If India is constructing Chabahar to protect its economic interest, China is also doing the same by managing Gwadar to protect its commercial interest, especially oil being bought from Iran.

One of the points is that India had been overreacting about the Chinese assistance extended in the construction of the Gwadar port in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. India has been creating the hype that the Chinese presence in Gwadar is not only a serious threat for India, but it would also give China an extra leverage in the region. India also claimed that China had acquired management control of Gwadar to use it as its naval base. This mantra was aimed at seeking support of United States and Russia, who consider China a major power in the region.

Indian propaganda has also aimed at creating an impression that Afghanistan was highly unhappy because it wanted to join hands with India to move its shipments through Chabahar port. India also tried to pass on the message to Central Asian countries that the port, located in warm waters, and the road and rail network being constructed would become a gateway for them to the rest of world. Additionally, there has been a regular news fest about Iranian, Afghani and Indian cooperation.
However, one of the news sources quoting Iranian authorities opened the Pandora box and unleashed the disinformation being spread by India. In a meeting, Hassan Nourian, Iran’s Consul General in India exposed the extent of cooperation being extended by India. Being a seasoned diplomat, Nourian expressed hope that India would act fast on the Chabahar port, which it had promised to build as far back as 2003. The message in between the lines was loud and clear — that Iranians were upset with Indian attitude.

India’s exasperatingly slow progress in building the port — 11 years so far and work has not even begun — has been a major source of irritation for the Iranians. After all, they gave the project to India rejecting a Chinese offer. Since then, the Chinese have finished building the Gwadar port in Pakistan that is located 70 kilometers east of Chabahar. It seems that the Iranians have realized, though very late, the reason why India wanted the project — to thwart the Chinese. It has also become evident why the India is dragging its feet — for fear of annoying the US.

 

For Iran, the Chabahar port is of great economic importance and its great economic and strategic significance is also known to India. The port has the potential to open a route that leads to Afghanistan, a lucrative market today, and beyond, to the mineral-rich countries such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan

As Iran is annoyed there emerges an opportunity for China, which is one of the biggest buyers of Iranian oil, seeking a port outside Strait of Hurmaz. India has also realized that the game is slipping out of its hands. If India loses Chabahar to the Chinese, it would greatly undermine much talked about Indian supremacy in the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka offered the Humbantota port development project to India, twice. The tsunami-ravaged port was in President Rajapaksa’s constituency and he was keen on re-building it. While India dithered, China jumped in. Humbantota has developed into a fine port. India ceded a key strategic space in its own backyard to China. No one could be blamed except India, because UPA partner DMK didn’t let India do any development work in Sri Lanka. Now, Chabahar is going the Humbantota way.

While India drags its feet in Myanmar, China is moving in fast. While India (in fact, NHPC) dumped the two hydro-electric projects terming those “too expensive”, China is going ahead with as many as 33 projects.

The port of Sittwe is critically important for India, for it would open up the North East. India did secure the project — it was given to the Essar Group. There have been delays, but the work has begun. However, the project is only a part of what India had committed to doing, which was to build the entire multi-modal transport corridor — the Kaladan project. For parts of the project other than the port, even the tenders have not been floated.

At this stage, place after place in India’s neighborhood, including Afghanistan, are likely to slip out of its dominance and going under China’s influence. This is happening only because of the dichotomy of Indian policies — it on one hand tries to extract all the possible benefits by making false promises and on the other hand desert those projects once the United States and Russia enhance increase aid and assistance that helps in achieving the status of regional super power and creating its hegemony in South Asia.

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