Experts divided on economic benefit of Chabahar Port

Mon, 2017-12-04 23:40

NEW DELHI: Afghanistan has called Sunday’s inauguration of the first phase of Iran’s Chabahar Port “the beginning of a new era of connectivity and a huge leap of faith.”
“Chabahar will allow the whole region to be connected without any obstacle,” said Shaida Mohammad Abdali, the Afghan ambassador to India. “We have broken the chain of disconnectivity.”
The Afghan ambassador is referring to the breakdown in the trade connectivity at the Wagah border, which was the normal route of trade between India and Afghanistan passing through Pakistan. The opening of the Chabahar port restores that economic connectivity.
Abdali told Arab News, “We have a saying that no matter how high the altitude, there is a way to the top. Today, we have found a way between the two countries, India and Afghanistan, through Chabahar.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated the first phase of the port, on the Gulf of Oman, on Sunday, in the presence of leaders from India and Afghanistan. The port offers a new strategic route that bypasses Pakistan and connects Iran, India and Afghanistan, and reflects a growing convergence of political and economic interests between the three countries.
“The routes of the region should be connected through land, sea and air,” Rouhani said after the inauguration.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that the port would “provide alternative access to landlocked Afghanistan into regional and global markets… an integrated development of connectivity infrastructure including ports, road and rail networks would open up greater opportunities for regional market access and contribute towards the economic integration and benefit of the three countries and the region.”
However, Phunchok Stobdan, a former Indian ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and a distinguished academic, questions the economic viability of the port.
“In terms of slogans, yes, you can call it a new era of connectivity. But how much substance is there, we don’t know. It is just a beginning. It is more about political opportunism than economic benefits, as I see it,” said Stobdan, who is also a senior fellow at New Delhi-based think tank, Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA).
“What do you want to export and what you want to import?” he continued. “There are no high-value items to trade between India and Afghanistan.
“I feel the Indian government should also work out some mechanism to open the Wagah border,” he continued. “But Pakistan has been using the strategy of denial for very long time. It is working in their favor. It is a larger political issue; it is not an economic or connectivity issue.”
Stobdan also claimed that “the significance lies in the fact that, before Trump puts (forward) lots of objections, India has been brought into the picture.”
The Chabahar port, located in the Sistan-Balochistan province of Iran’s southern coast, is seen by some as a counter to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port — which is being developed with Chinese investment and is located around 85 km from Chabahar — and, by extension to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
“We can say lot, but the economy will speak,” Stobdan said. “You think the Chinese did not know about the Chabahar port? They knew. The market is in Pakistan. The market is in India. The market is not in the Sististan-Baluchistan area.”
Afghan ambassador Abdali said: “The Chabahar port will be open to everyone. All the stakeholders and I hope that no one thinks of it as a counter to any other initiatives. At the same time, I consider it a major development for the whole region.”

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