Both Pakistanâ€™s Gwadar port and Iranâ€™s Chabahar port have unique geostrategic and geopolitical importance. These ports are located at the mouth of Strait of Hormuz in the Arabian Sea which lies at the cross junction of international oil trade and shipping routes while connecting three regions ie Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East.
These two ports lie in Indian Ocean region which has abundant natural resources. The Indian Ocean holds great importance because most of the world oil trade passes through here.
It is home to strategically important waterways and checkpoints such as Suez Canal, Bab al-Mandeb, Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca. It is also home to 65 percent of the worldâ€™s raw material, 31 percent gas and over half of the worldâ€™s oil exports.
Comparison of Capacities of the two Ports
Pakistanâ€™s Gwadar and Iranian Chabahar port are located in the same region and are very near to each other (72km). But the tentative assessment of the capabilities of these ports indicates that Gwadar port is far superior to Chabahar in many aspects. Both the ports are deep sea ports.
Gwadar port extends into deep sea with East and West bays while Chabahar port doesnâ€™t have this quality. Gwadar port planned capacity is 300 to 400 million tons of cargo annually. It is far larger than the planned capacity for Chabahar which is 10 to 12 million tons of cargo annually.
India pledged to invest $85 million for the development of floating Special Purpose Vehicle which would enable the accommodation of more ships in Chabahar. Gwadar port doesnâ€™t need such floating special purpose vehicles since it extends into the deep sea. It has enabled Gwadar to accommodate many more ships than Chabahar.
Gwadar port surpasses Chabahar port in terms of the investment which is being done for the development of these ports. China has pledged to invest $56 billion for the development of Gwadar and its supporting railroad infrastructure.
Roads, railways, energy units and communication networks will be established across the entire length of Pakistan to connect Gwadar with China which will benefit the entire country. On the other hand, India has pledged to invest a little over $600 million in Chabahar port project and its supporting infrastructure.
CPEC will connect Pakistan with China and ultimately Central Asian states. This will enable Pakistan to bypass restive Afghanistan which is marred by terrorism and insurgency. On the other hand, the Chabahar port project plans to link India with Central Asia by traversing the entire length of Afghanistan.
This has put this project depends on the peace and stability in Afghanistan which does not seem probable in near future since more than half of Afghan territory is controlled by the Taliban or other insurgent and terrorist groups.
Military & Economic Significance of these ports for China & India
China plans to make Gwadar a hub for transporting Gulf oil through pipelines to the Chinese region of Xinjiang while bypassing the risky and costly Strait of Malacca. It will reduce the transportation cost and supply time and will allow China to avoid the US monitored shipping lanes.
Gwadar port also has great military significance for China. It could possibly become a future operating naval base for it. China plans to install listening posts here and also intends to deploy modern air defense unit, military garrison and huge Chinese built refinery petrochemicals storage facilitates.
Gwadar would also serve as a refueling point for huge Chinese submarines. These capabilities will not only enable China to encircle India but will also help it to counter US naval activities in the Indian Ocean in general and the Persian Gulf in particular.
Gwadar port will be an important base in the Chinese string of pearls which is an important component of Chinese maritime military strategy.
Similarly, India can also deploy Naval forces in Chabahar and get closer to the all-important Persian Gulf. It will hasten the Indian desire to become a blue sea navy. However, Iran allowing India to deploy naval forces in Chabahar is highly unlikely.
There are question marks on how India will monitor Gwadar port after it will be handicapped with a geographical disadvantage. While Pakistan has given considerable control of the Gwadar port to China, Iran may not do the same.
While CPEC is a flagship of Chinaâ€™s OBOR initiative, it remains to be seen whether the Chabahar port can prove to be a linchpin of robust trade in the region and beyond.