The quiet manner in which the Indian government has acquiesced to US sanctions and brought its oil imports from Iran to zero is being replicated stealthily with West Asian nation’s oceanic port, Chabahar. India, which manages the Shahid Behesti port at Chabahar, has been granted a waiver from sanctions, but it is in a difficult conundrum on whether it should go ahead with the project when it is becoming impossible to do business with Iran. All indications, including the latest slash in the budgetary outlay for Chabahar port, suggests the Indian government’s rethink on the project.
When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Delhi and congratulated India’s assertive diplomacy in the manner in which it stopped oil imports from Iran, government sources claim that he also asked questions about how India could do business with a country that is on the threshold of being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for money laundering and terror-funding. The FATF has threatened counter measures against Iran if it does not take steps to prevent money laundering by October 2019. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has also told his government to fulfil FATF guidelines so that the country is not blacklisted again.
- Knowledgeable sources claim that the Indian consignment included some material for the US army posted in Afghanistan. It was this reason convinced the Indian government that its Chabahar foray had US backing.
India has always been a reluctant investor in the Chabahar project. In 2016, when India signed the trilateral deal with Iran and Afghanistan, it was hoping that the relief that Tehran got after the P5+1 nuclear deal would be enduring. It did not really expect a volte face on the nuclear deal by the Trump administration – hence, causing considerable anxiety about the course India had taken to sidestep Pakistan, which had geographically denied access to Afghanistan and Central Asia after Partition.
As US sanctions on Iran return, will India ring-fence the Chabahar port deal?
Donald Trump’s policy on Iran, which captures the interests of the US’s close allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel, is threatening in its implications for all the countries that do business with the West Asian nation. After the US announced sanctions against Iran and forbade countries to buy their oil, it became a challenge for most of the countries to defy these bilateral sanctions.
China and Russia were the exceptions. India and European powers — all of them wilted under American pressure. Chabahar was exempted from these US sanctions as the port was meant to help Afghanistan’s reconstruction. It is believed that it had the backing of Washington.
The forthcoming trip of Imran Khan to the White House could provide an important clue on the fate of Chabahar in the tense and delicate days to come
Some of the early despatches of wheat to Afghanistan through Chabahar took place at the behest of the US. Knowledgeable sources claim that the Indian consignment included some material for the US army posted in Afghanistan. It was this reason and other reasons that convinced the Indian government that its Chabahar foray had US backing.
Saudi Arabia and Israel, which are close to the BJP-led NDA government, have not been fond of the Chabahar deal. Saudi Arabia believes that it could hurt the vital interests of Arab countries as India’s purchase of Iranian oil could happen at their expense. Saudi Arabia’s position has been articulated in a paper published by a Saudi-backed journal of Iranian studies. The paper, authored by Muhammad Hassan Husseinbor, claims that Chabahar would help Iran meet its geopolitical ambitions, allowing its influence to reach South Asia, South-East Asia and Central Asia. In the reckoning of the author, the Chabahar project has to be resisted by Pakistan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Iran was hoping that India’s attempt to enlarge its influence in Central Asia to checkmate China was possible through the Chabahar route and it would bring in more predictability to its policies
India’s progressive devaluation of its commitment to Chabahar has disappointed Iran which was hoping that it would exercise strategic autonomy and stand its ground. Iran was also hoping that India’s attempt to enlarge its influence in Central Asia to checkmate China was only possible through the Chabahar route and it would bring in more predictability to its policies. It hoped that India would not vacillate under US pressure. Iran seems to have been proved wrong in the short run.
To ensure that Chabahar becomes unviable, countries opposed to it are quietly working with Pakistan to allow India overland access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The FATF squeeze on Pakistan and the demands that IMF is making on Islamabad is coming in handy to make its rulers see reason. If land access is provided to India, then Pakistan would not just get huge transit fees, but also neuter the challenge that Chabahar poses to its China-sponsored Gwadar port. The forthcoming trip of Imran Khan to the White House could provide an important clue on the fate of Chabahar in the tense and delicate days to come.