New Delhi will focus on Chabahar port of Iran at the â€œHeart of Asiaâ€ ministerial conference which begins in Amritsar. The Afghan government will also present its case at the meeting.
The two-day conference is being held on December 3 and 4 in the border city of Amritsar, Punjab. A total of 40 countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia, European Union countries and the United States are participating in this conference. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is hosting this conference, co-chaired by India and Afghanistan. Pakistan is represented by Sartaj Aziz, the prime ministerâ€™s Foreign Affairs Advisor.
India and Afghanistan as usual will accuse Pakistan of terrorism on their borders. Moreover, their primary focus will be on creating a trade route to aid Afghanistan. Pakistan has not yet approved this transit route passing through Islamabad. As an alternative, India plans a trade route from Mumbai to Afghanistan via Chabahar of Iran. Chabahar is a seaport in the Gulf of Oman operating under a trilateral agreement among Afghanistan, Iran and India. This route will later connect to Europe.
Joint venture agreement for the development of the port was signed last May, in presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Balochistanâ€™s Gwadar port which is 74 km away, started its operation last month. However, no work has so far been initiated on the Chabahar sea port. Moreover, dispute among the officials emerged over development costs.
India is interested to make this port an alternative trade hub of Gwadar by connecting Russia and a few other countries of the region.
According to the agreement between Iranâ€™s Aria port and the joint venture of Kandla Port Trust and JN Port Trust, India will build a multipurpose cargo terminal, a container terminal and two large terminal incorporating five berths. The trilateral agreement states that the terminal will be used for transporting cargo from the North South transport corridor via Delaram-Zaranj southern highway to Afghanistan. India will also build this Delaram-Zaranj southern highway. Later this road will be linked with Russia via the international North South transport corridor.
According to sources, Iranâ€™s foreign minister Javed Jarif will highlight how Afghanistan will be benefited by using the Chabahar port. India is attempting to connect more countries to support this port, the External Affairs in-charge of the region Gopal Baglay said.
â€œWe are already working with the governments of Afghanistan and Iran to do an event in Chabahar itself, which will involve not merely the governments and experts but also bring together industry and also showcase Chabahar for other countries which can benefit from the enhanced connectivity,â€ he added.
MEA official statement expresses Indiaâ€™s interest of creating an â€˜economic zoneâ€™ centering Chabahar to counter Gwadar port of CPEC. However, India lacks the national capabilities vis-Ã -vis China. To overcome this, India is trying to attract national and international private entities as well as international funding for the project. Compared to Gwadar this initiative for Chabahar is still lackluster. Gwadar and CPEC has a 46-billion dollar investment whereas only 500 million dollars are invested for Chabahar. This investment might increase if the project scales up exponentially. And for this purpose India is trying take advantage of Amritsar Conference. All the countries involved with Afghanistan is participating in this conference.
While India is explicit about it reservation on Gwadar port, Pakistan and China do not have any qualms about the Chabahar port development. Iran stated they want to create Chabahar port as a supplement for Gwadar port. Tehran also showed interest in joining CPEC. Sources said China might invest in Chabahar port alongside Gwadar. In this case China will include the network with their â€˜One Belt, One Roadâ€™ mega plan.
Interestingly, South Asia is now in the middle of major strategic conflict and diplomatic polarization. India, with all its neighboring allies, forced a postponement of the SAARC summit scheduled in Islamabad. Tensions and violence in Kashmir was always blamed on Pakistan. India directly blamed Pakistan for the Uri attack and tried to isolate Pakistan in international arena. CPEC also turned into a crucial issue in the Indo-Pak conflict.
Amritsar conference brings the two feuding nation face to face. China is standing by Pakistan in this conflict. On the other hand, India is backed by another regional power Japan and the United States.
Prior to the conference, Beijing has extended the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by linking Afghanistan, the gateway to Central Asia, to the corridor. Quetta and Peshawar, two major cities of Pakistan, would be linked to Kandahar and Jalalabad in Afghanistan through railway in the first phase. It would connect Kabul in the second phase.
According to official sources, the proposal to link Afghanistan was made by the Chinese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kong Xuanyou in a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani. The Chinese minister stressed the importance of Afghanistan to Chinaâ€™s â€œOne Road, One Beltâ€ initiative. He suggested that Kabul, Beijing and Islamabad should engage in constructive talks about the proposed new trade corridors through railway network. The Afghan president reiterated that his country wants to have friendly relations with all neighboring countries.
Earlier media reports suggested that Pakistan with the support of China would build a railway track from Peshawar to Jalalabad. The Afghan government has decided to launch a survey of the Jalalabad-Peshawar railway track. The Ministry of Public Works will work with a private company to complete the survey of the 75 kilometer track. The railroad is 150 km long but only 75 km pass through Nangarhar province. Pakistan has allocated Rs. 60 million for the survey which will take eight months. However, most Afghan economists are of the view that the proposed railway links would benefit Beijing and Islamabad more than Kabul.