Decision on Chabahar spurred by Chinese stake in Pakistan’s Gwadar port

India on Saturday announced its participation in the Chabahar port project — a move that would reinforce New Delhi’s strategic ties with Tehran and Kabul ahead of next year’s withdrawal from Afghanistan by the United States.

The decision to forge a trilateral partnership was announced in Tehran by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.

In a vast tastefully furnished hall in the Iranian Foreign Ministry where he was flanked by his counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, and delegates of the two countries, Mr. Khurshid’s words rang loud and clear: “The convergence of views between India and Iran goes beyond the ambit of bilateral relations and extends to the regional and international arena as well. The Chabahar port project is one such area which reflects our commitment to the stability and peace in Afghanistan.”

Analysts point out that India’s participation in upgrading the Chabahar port has deep geopolitical resonance.

The full development of the port would lower landlocked Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistani ports for assured access to the sea. Besides, the trilateral arrangement could balance joint forays by China and Pakistan into the Indian Ocean. In February, Pakistan decided that China would operate its Gwadar port, just 76 km from Chabahar.

For the first time, Gwadar would provide Chinese ships sustained anchorage in an area on the edge of the Arabian Sea, not far from the Strait of Hormuz, through which the bulk of the world’s energy supplies pass.

Observers say the development of Gwadar may have imparted some urgency to India’s decision to go ahead with the Chabahar project.

Mr. Khurshid made it plain that India’s energetic engagement with Iran was the result of deep deliberation, and could be traced to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tehran for the non-aligned summit last August. “The visit of the Prime Minister to Iran was a clear expression of India’s commitment and the value we attach to our relations with Iran,” he said. He added that his own visit to Tehran should be seen as the “continuation of this tradition of constructive engagement”.

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