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Chabahar Port: The port that changed everything

By Prithwi Tilak Banerjee-Actually, it is just the tip of the iceberg. This is the start of an inevitable new cold war. Real war is not fought with weapons. It is fought financially with diplomacy as its weapon. It is not the wars that actually kill people, it is the fear of war that does – killing them every day, slowly. We always need a cold war to be there to make sure real wars do not happen. We already witnessed it between Russia and the US in the past- from the 1950s till 1990s; that the cold war kept mankind guessing its fate. But it’s just eyewash. Cold wars are just to make smaller countries fear war so that they keep quiet and keep a peace. Not a direct threat for the players of the war as they are matured enough. They will not waste weapons when they can use financial dominance and control. This is all about ‘winning the war without a fight’ and ‘controlling people without letting they know about it’. That is exactly what 2500 years back Sun Tsu and Chanakya taught us both. And this Chabahar Port is that start of the new cold war -a cold war between China and India which will perhaps last till 2050’s.

This cold war is not a new concept as I told before. But there are some minor changes in the strategy in this new upcoming cold war between China and India from the previous cold war and the tactics are completely new – although the core concept of using various socio-cultural and the geopolitical differences and also the macroeconomic factors to one’s advantage remains the same. The world may look at it as Dragon versus Lion and what not – but the difference is that in this war space and nuclear bombs will not be the only weapons. It will be outdoing each other in manufacturing and in the race to trade supremacy. These 2 nations being the oldest living civilizations – had lived for over 8000 years side by side without going for any major fight or war with each other. Rather the religion of Buddhism that was born in India based on absolute non-violence and equality for all mankind was embraced and embossed by China rather than India. But we are not here to discuss any China-India related aspect. In this article, we stick to Chabahar and everything that is at stake because of a port.

There is one thing Pakistan has to accept. There was not, is not, and will not be any competition for anything between India and Pakistan except for some sports. India’s competition is – China. Rather, Pakistan should have known long back that their competition is Iran – and not India. India and China from every angle and every point of view is capable enough to carry on the battle of business in their own level. Truth is; Iran has the capability to compete with Pakistan in every aspect – be it education, science, technology, defense, and the core and fundamental intra-religious differences. Iran is not an Arab nation which is only oil dependent and society is uneducated and foreign dependent for all sort of development. Rather, they are the decedents of the 7000-year-old Mesopotamian civilization and the Indo-Persian human race. So the truth is – the big cold war will also carry a small cold war as it’s baby, and that is between Iran and Pakistan. Chabahar is the very small and first step towards that. But in this article let us just only stick to what advantages Afghanistan will have from Chabahar port.

First and foremost, Afghanistan is not just a tool in this so-called Great Game and Game Changer or whatever fancy name is given to this strategy. Rather – Afghanistan is not even a part of any sort of rivalry or competition between these 2 major and 2 minor players of their upcoming cold war. This concept must be very clear in the first step.  A lot of people are talking about China-Pakistan versus India-Iran-Afghanistan and all. But the truth is that this is the wrong concept and such a notion will harm Afghanistan’s growth and development as well as its peace building. Afghanistan is a growing nation; it needs to rebuild everything that was lost in those 30 years and in no position to be a part of any cold war. Rather Chabahar Port is the gift to Afghanistan from India for its economic growth.

Afghanistan becomes the only landlocked country in the world to have its own sea port. That itself is a big deal. Perhaps the biggest hurdle of Afghanistan is now overcome. Afghanistan no more have to depend on Pakistan for its export and import issues for most products it needs. Pakistan has been a big partner all right but was a bulling and controlling partner of Afghanistan. Whenever there was a thing that they did not like from Afghanistan’s side they used to seal their borders as punishment so that people in Afghanistan suffer. They used this tool to make sure the Government of Afghanistan gets pressurized to alter their decisions as citizens were suffering and do exactly as Pakistan wants. In this way, Pakistan tried to control Afghanistan’s foreign and home policies both; even after the fall of Taliban. It is well understood that they always wanted to keep Afghanistan as their pet slave nation.

Financially strong, socially stable, economically prosperous, and culturally independent Afghanistan is the last thing Pakistan wants. They have been using Afghanistan as a breeding, nurturing, training, and developing ground for terrorism since ages; and wanted to keep it that way. But as things have changed it makes Pakistan angry. They have been playing the Muslim brotherhood card far too long and far too often. They thought they can continue with it. But the real opium for mankind is not the opium production but socio-economic development along with stability and peace. Afghans got the flavor of that opium. Now they will not want to go back to their previous state. This is what Pakistan has come to understand and their anger start from there. That Jihad is no more the staple food here. Pakistan also thought they will be able to use the Pashtoons of both sides of the border for their sole purposes. They thought as 70 years back Baccha Khan had failed in the hands of Jinnah in the name of religion, even now they can carry on their game. But everything has changed in the last 14 years. Even after Ghani came to power they started to think they will regain ground as initially Ghani was giving them opportunity to fix the relationship. But they mistook it as weakness again, and faltered.

Pakistan’s first nightmare was – Modi coming to power. They tried to defame him but now it is out of their control. Secondly they never ever thought Modi would be so interested in Afghanistan’s growth and development. They had thought Modi will be more interested in doing tie-up with more socially open and culturally liberal Islamic nations and not with conservative ones. Thirdly they still are in big doubt how USA could lift their sanctions and ban on Iran. This was a massive blow to them for every past plan they had made. Fourthly, they thought at least UAE and Saudi Arabia will be with them for whatever they do as it was before. But now even that has changed fully. UAE’s King is making Hindu Temples as per Modi’s wish and Saudi’s King is giving Modi their highest Civilian Award – apart from all other sorts of trade, business and joint developmental tie-ups. Fifth point is they thought buying a few weapons from Russia and India getting closer to USA will make them closer to Russia, but in that game also they realized they have fallen back as India’s economy is too big for Russia to ignore. Sixth point is they do not understand why and how suddenly China which is the ‘hands-of-the-world’ loses its manufacturing attraction slowly but steadily to likes of India, Russia, Brazil and Mexico as a whole.

China suddenly finding itself cornered in long term games understood that Iran cannot be their ally. When there were economic impositions and sanctions on Iran by the USA at that time China tried a lot to make Iran an ally but found out that they are too skilled and advanced to depend on China for anything; plus they have oil-power to go along with it. Hence, Pakistan became their favorite choice by default. China thought that they can make use of Pakistan’s failed state; and economic instability to control and use them better as USA is losing interest in Pakistan for others. Therefore they though Gwadar will be a good long term investment which will be a win-win for both China and Pakistan. Plus China is concerned about India’s Military presence in Arabian Sea, and needed to hold a ground.

China’s ambitious plan for overall economic development of Pakistan, including Gwadar, took final shape after Xi Jinping visited Modi in India. Jinping had thought that Modi is the businessman type of political figure hence for further and bigger economic joint ventures between India and China he will give up India’s claim for Tibet. But when that did not happen, China understood Pakistan is their only way out. Economically stabilize Pakistan – so that their ISI, and state-funded extremist groups can be well funded again to destabilize the region making it even tougher to control for the US and its allies. China every year bans Ramadan and all other Islamic festivals as its way to control Islamic extremism. Yet it flirts with Pakistan in order to undermine India – dual personality; Islam phobic at home, but is making tactical Islamic alliances abroad. And now these things are getting clear to every Afghan too.

But for India, it was a different ball game and completely different need. India always had one of the best foreign policies of not taking sides much and keeping relationship with everyone almost even if others were against each other. India always bought oil from Iran and arms from Israel keeping both closer. India suffered a lot when a plane was hijacked and was taken to Kandahar airport. India had to release lots of terrorists of Kashmir in return. India had kept quite during Russian attack as at that time India was an ally of Russia and of course, Congress part was in power and things were different. But after the fall of Taliban India has been a part of nation building and is willing to help in whatever way possible for a socio-economic development of Afghanistan. Even after spending billions, it is to be noted, that India has not spent even a million dollar for the development of non-Muslim Afghans as a separate budget. India’s developmental budget was for everyone. Lots of Indians died here due to attacks that were ISI and Pakistani Taliban funded but still nothing stopped. And the show will go on.

Pakistan thought they will be able to spread terrorism inside India easily by utilizing Indian Muslims. But time and again they failed. Now they will try even harder than ever before – after Chabahar gets fully operational; because there is a chance of an estimated $ 2.1 billion ‘loss every year’ to Pakistan. Attacks on Indians working in Afghanistan will also increase. Still Indian Government is trying its very level best to develop Afghanistan and trying to make Afghanistan prosperous, self-dependent and its growth sustainable. Pakistan will also try to disrupt the smooth flow of items from various cities here to the port and back. When they will fail to do that they might beg China to disturb some ships when they travel from the port. China might even play some cards up their sleeves. To make sure the other land-locked countries do not come to Iran and Afghanistan to use Chabahar – they might let them use some part of Gwadar for free. But then those are future speculations, and can be tackled Inshallah. Pakistan’s biggest shock above the 6 points I mentioned before is – the person whom they wanted to project as the international face of Hindu terrorism, Modi, has been able to unite the Shia and Sunni at the international level by uniting Afghanistan and Iran for Chabahar. Much more shockingly, Modi played a major role in cooling down both Putin and Obama on the blame game they started on ISIS.

Afghanistan has many fears. The biggest being over 2 million Afghan citizens still living in Pakistan as refugees and their welfare might get hampered if Afghan government fully tends towards India. Plus a lot more issues like small and short-lived, but quite a few ethnic clashes may creep up in few parts of Afghanistan; increased frequency and impact of suicide blasts and other attacks on civilians to name a few; all funded, instigated, trained and planned by Pakistan due to the naked border of Thorkham. The good thing is as Chabahar port is in Iran – any act of terrorism from Iran’s border to the port will not happen. This is because Iran does not waste time like India and other nations on giving terrorists free and fair trail. Nor they allow human rights commission to act as the second class terrorist group in their country. Plus international rules of the sea will also protect the ships in most parts definitely.

China, Russia, Iran, and India at least have 1 thing in common in regards to Afghanistan. None wants extremism in the name of Islam to rise in their countries exported from outside. They also know that if Pakistan gets a free hand they will again try to use Afghans for the same purpose again. Therefore, all of them would like Afghanistan to grow economically. Afghan Government needs to learn how to channelize Salma Dam’s water properly now to easily increase saffron production 20 times in 1 year. In that way, they can control the global production of 1 item at least very easily. Plus dry fruit and all sorts of fruit production along with other productions of agricultural products can be increased very significantly including wheat, rice, and beans. Chabahar port will be able to transport it everywhere. Similarly, if the carpet industry can be revived and various other small scale industries developed in a big scale like honey production and etc. then there will be big development in the very near future.

India is making a railroad that will connect Chabahar to Haji Gak which spans almost 1700 kilometers at a cost of $ 400 million. $ 100 million more than the total cost of Chabahar port. 400 km of its work already finished. In Haji Gak India is making $ 11 billion steel factory which will employ 75,000. It will help Afghanistan be able to export iron and steel all over the world. The $ 17 billion copper factory of Mes Ainak being made by China can also utilize Chabahar as that will be a lot cheaper due to railroad making transport a lot cheaper. And everything from Dubai can come and go by within 5 hours as it’s very near. Plus, if at least 1 train is made for people to transfer via the railway line, apart from goods train, then people can travel to Iran very cheap up to Chabahar and then travel to Dubai by ship. This will make sure people can bring with them lots of goods after they buy from Dubai with themselves at a far cheaper cost, than bringing them via cargo planes. Moreover, any joint businesses between Afghan and Iranian businessmen will also become easy and they can jointly export their products at very cheap cost by ship. Moreover, Afghans can trade with India and other countries very easily too apart from traveling for leisure, treatment and education at far cheaper cost carrying lots of goods.

The International Airport of Chabahar is called Konarak – named after an Indian temple city. This is a living proof that the actual ancient port of Chabahar is older than Alexander’s time. That airport may start having a flight each day directly from Kabul and Mumbai and many other cities once in a week. India, Iran, and Afghanistan can together enhance the joint tourism sector via Chabahar in the future. Iran is also giving a 1 sq km (1 km X 1 km) land for Afghan businessmen to store their trading items. But to make sure only original and quality products at cheapest possible price comes to Afghanistan some rules must be made. Each and every single fake product coming from Pakistan via Torkham has to be completely stopped by making a rule that only manufacturer licensed national level distributor in Pakistan needs to be contacted by local wholesalers in Afghanistan. That will serve the purpose. In this way, Afghanistan can keep using both Torkham and Chabahar depending upon the items/pricing.

Afghan citizens need not fear that one day Iran will tell them that the port belongs to them and not to Afghanistan. India is Iran’s biggest importer of oil and India is investing another $ 20 billion in Iran for more oil extraction, a direct gas pipeline under the sea, and mega-factories to be set up by 2020. India will also have its own Army present in Chabahar just in case any problem occurs from Pakistan side.  But more importantly, there are lots of things that the Steel factory and the Iron ore mine shall need including Dynamites to break mountains and transporting those safely would be a top most priority. It is a start of a new journey which will change geography and it will be remembered after 100 years.


The author is an Indian citizen living and working in Kabul since March 2009.

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