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Game of Thrones in Central Asia
India and Iran vs. Pakistan and China?

Fresh off a big victory for his BJP party in Assam province, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Iran this week. While there, Reuters reports that he will commit India to helping Tehran construct and then operate a port on the Gulf of Oman:

Gopal Baglay, a foreign ministry official in charge of Iranian ties, said India would make an initial investment of more than $200 million in the port, of which India’s Exim Bank would provide a credit line of $150 million.

“The focus of the trip is connectivity and infrastructure,” he told reporters.

India is blocked from land access to Afghanistan and through it to the central Asia countries because of opposition from Pakistan, which sees India’s expansive diplomacy in the region as a threat.

Baglay said India, Afghanistan and Iran would separately sign an agreement to set up a trade and transport corridor during Modi’s trip that will have Chabahar as the hub.

The port will be constructed just sixty miles from where China is building massive shipping facilities for Pakistan. President Xi Jinping has made building trade ties with Central Asia a top priority—an effort New Delhi has been watching closely.

Chabahar, it seems, is at least in part India’s response to Beijing. India isn’t happy that China has been improving ties with Pakistan, and so Modi has been looking for an opportunity to cooperate with Iran on a parallel shipping contract. The international sanctions regime on Iran had posed a challenge to India’s plans. Now that it’s been mostly lifted as a result of Obama’s nuclear deal, New Delhi won’t have such a tough time doing business with Iran.

Both ports add (or perhaps just reflect) a dimension to the complicated Iran–Pakistan relationship. Pakistan is Sunni, and so many have expected it might ally with Saudi Arabia against Shiite Iran. Last month, it was looking clearer that this is what Pakistan’s generals want, particularly after the arrest in restive Balochistan of an Indian spy who the army alleged had spent time living in Iran. Civilian politicians, however, have resisted being pulled into an anti-Iran alliance, hoping to get favorable deals for Iranian oil.

Slowly but surely, we’re starting to see the contours of a new geopolitical reality take shape in Asia.

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  • Biased

    All the above are true however, Iran is pushing for Iran-Pakistan pipeline and eager for rail connectivity. Iran is also wary of Indian dalliance with Gulf Shiekhs & Israel. So India may very well build a port IN Iran FOR Iran and may get to use it some of the time, China OWNS Gwadar. A rented port without a physical connection to India is a feeble response to China’ s bold OBOR-AIIB move to shift Geopolitics in Eurasian space.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Perhaps so, but in the end, owning or renting is nothing compared to who is physically present and has troops on the scene. In both cases, China and India will have little beyond basic security on their bases, while Pakistan and Iran will have real militaries within easy reach. I don’t believe that either China or India see these ports as anything other than proxy bases, but useful ones at that.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “President Xi Jinping has made building trade ties with Central Asia a top priority—an effort New Delhi has been watching closely.”

    The Chinese have to do this because they are so vulnerable to a strategic blockade of their ports. China is the largest importer of dozens of raw materials like oil. If their belligerence in the China Sea results in a blockade they will only have the much more expensive land routes to fall back on. India shouldn’t make the same mistake, rather India should seek to protect its shipping lanes with an alliance with America and other Asian naval powers. An association with Islamofacist Iran is a mistake, and will backfire when the Muslims turn on India.

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