|#1561||2312||April 26, 2016||By Brig NK Bhatia|
India has been making the right moves with a view to enhance its interests in Persian Gulf, latest being the India –Iran –Afghanistan Trilateral Agreement on Transport and Transit Corridors which was finalised in a marathon meeting between the three sides on 11 April 2016 in New Delhi. This agreement once formalised will become the legal framework for optimum utilization of Chabahar port and establish the vital corridor for trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia. As per indicators all three sides are keen for an early finalisation of the agreement, likely to be signed in Tehran within the next two months at the highest levels between the three countries to coincide with visit of Prime Minister Modi to Iran in the near future.
Commenting on the conclusion of event, Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, Shaida Abdali said “This is a very, very crucial agreement for Afghanistan. The opening of this corridor will help us to fully reach our potential, give us a new trade route. This is a completely new chapter”.
The proposed agreement clearly indicates the inclination of three countries to forge a trilateral transit pact between Afghanistan and India via Iran in preference to Pakistan due to its refusal to allow Indo-Afghan trade through its territory. Pakistan’s “The Express Tribune” lamented the fact that “Pakistan had lost a lucrative deal and an opportunity to build strong strategic trade ties and regional economies”. In fact, Afghanistan wanted India to be on board Pakistan- Afghanistan Trade Agreement in similar way as Pakistan uses Afghanistan to access Central Asian countries.
The potential for expansion of Indian trade is immense but unexploited due to lack of direct connectivity. The bilateral trade between two countries is currently US $ 647 million (2014-15) and there is a huge potential for furthering the economic relationship and its further expansion to Central Asia through Afghanistan. More than the economic dimension, India’s inability to access Afghanistan is hindering expansion of bilateral ties and escalation of humanitarian assistance which is urgently required by people of Afghanistan and India is ready to provide. The expansion has been held hostage to Pakistan’s belligerent attitude to disallow any Indian goods to transit through its territory.
India has rightly shown a sense of urgency in engaging with Iran to further its interests in the region, including Afghanistan, post removal of economic sanctions, by moving ahead to expand economic relations and exchanging bi- lateral high level ministerial visits and committing US $ 150 to for development of Chabahar port.
Contours of Pakistan’s design are slowly unfolding and as usual it has tried to play prodigal spoilsport to sabotage India’s expanding footprints in the region by indicating use of Iranian territory for activities against it. The arrest of a retired Indian naval officer, legitimately engaged in business activities in Iran, on the eve of Iranian President’s visit to Pakistan and linking his activities to sabotage China-Pakistan Economic Corridor from Iranian soil and its subsequent reference by Pakistan’s Army chief in meeting with President Hassan Rouhani was aimed at sabotaging Indo-Iran relations and expansion of Indian economic activities through Chabahar. The episode hardly helped improve strained Pak-Iran ties and instead it had to be reminded by Iranians that India, like Pakistan was a friendly country.
In a related development, Pakistan on 5th April claimed to have arrested an un-named Afghan spy from Chaman for carrying out subversive activities in Baluchistan, claiming he was working for National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s spy agency. Apparently this is the first claim by Pakistan against NDS to destabilise it, although it has been accusing NDS of using the refugee crisis to perpetuate instability in Khyber Pakhtunwa. This allusion appears ridiculous in the backdrop of continued Pakistan support to Taliban and Haqqani network, both engaged in destabilising Afghanistan as proxies of Pakistan.
Not unrelated, Munir Akram, ex Pakistani ambassador to UN, commenting on the visit of US Defence Secretary to India in an article in Dawn on 16 April stated that “India’s close relations with Iran and informal US-Iranian cooperation against the militant Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, collaboration between the US, India and Iran to ‘stabilise’ Afghanistan cannot be ruled out” and further suggests to Pakistan to formulate “a well-considered and calibrated military and diplomatic response to these adverse developments”.
Comments by a leading commentator and ssimultaneous arrest of an Indian and Afghan for reported subversive activities in Baluchistan by pointing to the use of Iranian and Afghan territory, when three countries are moving forward towards economic cooperation is hardly a co-incidence and a clear indicator to its nefarious mind-set. The fact that all events came within a short span of one fortnight clearly indicate that Pakistan will continue to sabotage development of Chabahar and expansion of Indian footprints in the region.
India has shown maturity and resolve by maintaining a steady policy in pursuing its strategic goals in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. Its expanding footprints and investments to develop Chabahar and explore feasibility to further develop the railway network up to Zahedan, invest US $ 20 billion in the Chabahar port complex, develop gas oil fields in the region and invest in the SEZ have been seen as a counter poise to Gwader and development of China Pakistan Economic Corridor by China, prompting Pakistan to initiate its impudent plan to suggest of an India-Afghan-Iran axis to destabilize Baluchistan.
India also needs to take note of increasing interest by Chinese companies to establish their foothold in Chabahar economic and strategic zone. A Chinese investment delegation’s visit to the region on 21 April to explore business opportunities in the region is a case in point.
Most importantly Pakistan needs to understand that its problems, both within and with its immediate neighborhood to the west, are of its own making by following religion and sectarian-based policies and actively assisting its close proxies to destabilise the region. The same is having an adverse impact on its own polity and unleashing relentless violent acts against its own people. It would do well for it to stop seeing ghosts when none exist, especially in relation to India’s expanding footprints in Chabahar.
Brig NK Bhatia,SM (Retd) was the Chief Instructor at Military Intelligence School.
Brig NK Bhatia