HOW A 'TROUBLED BALOCHISTAN' SERVES INDIA'S STRATEGIC INTERESTS?
Apr 13 - 19, 2009
'Foreign hand involvement' in present Balochistan imbroglio is the view, which has largely come, off and on, from the official circles including the intelligence agencies. The province may be the target of some foreign actors in regional geopolitics that are practicing politics of depreciating Pakistan's strategic value in the region. How does a troubled and volatile Balochistan serve the India's strategic interests? Since Islamabad launched the strategic deep-sea port project at Gwadar on Balochistan coast, India seems to be in a state of cold war with Pakistan and this cold war finds its manifestation in the Balochistan crisis.
First phase of Gwadar port was completed by Chinese engineers in November 2004, but ground-breaking ceremony could not be performed, as it was scheduled in January 2005 due to the deteriorating law and order situation in Balochistan. It is noteworthy that situation got worse to worst after completion of first phase of Mega seaport project at Gwadar.
Balochistan coast by virtue of its geophysical position is considered the gateway to Central Asian republics (CARs). Central Asia is of great geo-strategic and geo-economic importance for Pakistan, as it is located close to the warm waters. The future prospects for cooperation between Central Asia and Pakistan in the field of energy security seem very important. Gwadar port is being developed into an international port with huge investment of China. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has announced about $300 million financing for road projects, which will connect CARs, with this port and would generate massive economic activity in the region. The goods produced in Pakistan can be exported to CARs at much cheaper transportation rates.
Geographically, India faces a challenge to her access to the Central Asia. This is why, India has been working with Iran to develop a north-south trade corridor, from Central Asia to Afghanistan through Iran to Chahbahar port, from where goods could be shipped by sea to India. Through the corridor, India hopes to strengthen its relations with Central Asia and tap its energy reserves without using the Afghanistan-Pakistan route. North-South Corridor Agreement signed among Russia, Iran and India in September 2000, was actually the Indian move designed to reduce Pakistan's role in Central Asia. This route will also link India to Central Asia and Russia via Iran and the Caspian Sea.
India denies Pakistan's easy access to contiguous Central Asian oil and gas. It is looking for alternate routes bypassing Pakistan to reach Afghanistan and Central Asia. In a bid to boost economic and trade ties with energy rich Central Asia, India has agreed to actively participate in building trans-Afghanistan road and rail links between Uzbekistan's Termez to Iran's Chahbahar port in the Gulf. It actually wants to depreciate Pakistan's value as a sole transit route to the land-locked Afghanistan by constructing a strategic road linking Kabul to the Iranian port city of Chahbahar.
India's efforts for developing the North-South Transportation Corridor (NSTC), the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Iran highway, the road linking Tajikistan with Chahbahar via Afghanistan and its growing defense cooperation with the CARs are some of its designs to counter Pakistan's strategic interests. These designs are likely to end in fiasco as soon as Gwadar port becomes operational and emerges as nearest mother port of the region for its location on the confluence of south Asia, central Asia and west Asia.
India has ever been ambitious to dominate the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It sees such dominance imperative for its hegemonistic designs in the region. It has been involved in building up a navy, which exceeds its requirements. There is no denying the fact that India's "hegemonistic designs" have serious political, economic and military implications for Pakistan. Gwadar port as an alternative to Karachi naval base is imperative for the Pakistan.
India also sees the construction of Gwadar port a threat to her strategic consensus, as it would not only reduce the dependence of Pakistan's foreign trade on the Karachi port, but also provide the Pakistan with an alternative naval base. Gwadar would be relatively a safe naval base. It would not be within an easy reach of the Indian Navy and Air Force. Realistically speaking, it enhances Pakistan's defense and strike capability against the Indian Navy in case of another war between the two states. This has actually worried India.
During the former Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee's visit to Iran in 2001, the two countries signed the Tehran Declaration. The two sides agreed to launch a new phase of constructive and mutually beneficial cooperation in areas of energy, transit and transport, industry, agriculture and service sector. Since then, Iran has become a major source of oil for India. India and Iran signed the Road Map to strategic cooperation, in January 2003.
On January 6, 2003, India, Iran and Afghanistan signed an agreement in Tehran to give Indian goods heading for Central Asia and Afghanistan preferential treatment and tariff reductions at Chahbahar. Trilateral Indo-Afghan-Iranian accord on building the road would reduce the distance from India to Central Asia by 1500 km. The 200 km Zaranj-Delaran sector of the proposed transport corridor is already complete on which India spent US $70 million. India additionally agreed to finance the upgrading of the road between the port and the Afghan border.
Under the Chahbahar agreement, the Iranians will improve facilities at the port and offer drastically reduced tariffs for Indian goods in transit, and will also upgrade the road from Chahbahar to Zeranj. The Indian Border Roads Organization (BRO) will upgrade the 200-km track between Zeranj to Delaran, which will connect with the Garland road network in Afghanistan that connects its major towns. It will then go onwards into the CARs. As a matter of fact, India sees Chahbahar port facilities as her main entrepot for energy and commercial trade with Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caspian region. In other words, New Delhi finds in Chahbahar an alternative to Gwadar port.
The proposed Turkmenistan gas pipeline project (TAP) would develop a regional trading system, by facilitating trade through the Karachi port via coastal highway and through Gwadar port to Afghanistan and through Afghanistan to the CARs. Similarly, the Central Asian states would find ways to transport goods and vast untapped energy resources to Pakistani ports and to the rest of the world. India has opposed building gas pipeline either from Turkmenistan or Iran through Pakistani territory. Indian involvement in Balochistan may be aimed at creating doubts about the proposed transnational gas pipeline projects. It is important to note that soon after the attack on gas facilities in Sui in 2005, the Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh had asked in a statement how Pakistan would ensure safety of the trilateral gas pipeline coming to his country when it had failed to protect its own gas installations.
The India is also suspicious and upset over the activities of Chinese in Balochistan, especially in Gwadar. The present Balochistan imbroglio needs to be seen in geopolitical perspective, too. India's growing prominence in the region has coincided with Russian interest in checking Chinese and US inroads. New Delhi feels that the Gwadar port would have serious strategic implications for India. In January 2008, Indian naval chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta said that the Gwadar port would empower Pakistan to control strategically important energy sea-lane on the Persian Gulf. Geographically, India controls no choke point on the coastline of the sub-continent through which international shipping must pass.