In an exclusive interview with IRNA here, Prof. Dr. Gulshan Sachdeva, Director of the Europe Area Studies Programme, the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi said, “Due to the difficult India-Pakistan ties, Iran-with whom India shares strong historical and civilizational ties, will always be an important component of Indian strategy toward Central Asia. Next to Iran, India has the second largest population of Shia Muslims in the world. Moreover, the country has long been one of India’s top energy suppliers.”
“Yet in the past fifteen years, this relationship has become increasingly vexed by the simultaneous growth of Indian-American ties and the escalation of the U.S. animosity toward Iran. After the lifting of sanctions, however, Iran is open for business. Indian energy companies are now likely to purchase more Iranian oil, make swap deals, and invest in Iranian oil fields, where they have already made discoveries. Iran’s re-emergence as a full-fledged economic player is certain to help India to expand its options in Central Asia,” He added.
Elaborating on the importance of the Chabahar Port project in India’s easy access to the energy-rich Central Asia, the seasoned analyst of the world affairs said, 'During the Indian Prime Minister Narandra Modi’s recent visit to Iran, New Delhi agreed to invest $500 million to develop the strategically important Chabahar Port. Once build, the port will open important new transit routes, both for Indian products bound for Central Asia via Afghanistan and for Central Asian gas bound for India. The Chabahar agreement is viewed by many Indian and foreign analysts as a strategic move by New Delhi to bypass Pakistan.”
“It may also represent an effort to counter Beijing, which is currently building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as part of its OBOR strategy,” Added the former head of the ADB and the Asia Foundation projects at the Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul from 2006 to 2010.
Advocating the inter-linking of various connectivity projects in the region to ensure their viability, Prof. Dr. Sachdeva said, “It is possible in particular that the geo-economics of Chabahar, CPEC, and OBOR will push policymakers to recalculate their strategies. To be economically viable and successful, all such initiatives must be linked together in the long run, and the CPEC will need access to the huge Indian market to be effective.”
“Successful implementation of the Chabahar project could bring India closer not only to Central Asian states (by reenergizing the INSTC) but also to Pakistan. India and Pakistan are preparing to join the SCO, and Iran may soon follow suit. These political and geo-economics developments could force Pakistan to reassess its trade and transit policy toward India. To make Chabahar less attractive for New Delhi, Islamabad may also allow India to join the Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit and Trade Agreement (APTTA),” He added.
Terming the economics as the main factor in success of any port project in the region, he said, 'In the long run, it is economics rather than politics that will determine whether companies use Gwadar, Chabahar, Karachi or some other ports in China. Despite massive Chinese investment in the CPEC, Gwadar may not become attractive immediately after its completion due to the unrest in the surrounding Balochistan province. By comparison, Chabahar could be more business-friendly once it is fully built. But its success could eventually benefit Gwadar as well; taken together, two new ports connected with each other are sure to boost both their individual relevance and regional economies.”
“The OBOR project and the Chabahar initiative offer three major lessons. First, despite geopolitical competition, nations will become attracted to infrastructure projects linking their economies. Despite initial suspicions, many OBOR corridors may find support in India in the coming years. Second, determined political leadership and resource commitment are crucial. Third, success of these projects will depend on economic integration of different parts of Asia rather than strategic ingenuity.” Prof. Dr. Sachdeva added.
Elaborating on the future of India’s trade with the Central Asia and beyond, he said, 'At present, India’s trade with Central Asia is rather limited. Once an appropriate framework is put in place, however, this region has the potential to alter the nature and character of India’s continental trade. If one looks just beyond Central Asia—toward a wider region encompassing Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, the whole of CIS, and Europe—then India’s trade is very significant, amounting to over $180 billion in 2011–12. This amount fell to about $156 billion in 2014–15 as a result of overall economic decline. But before the global economic crisis of 2008–09, India’s trade with this wider region (particularly with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran) was growing very fast, promising to reach about $400 billion by today if that pace kept up.”