A historic shipment

India has just sent its first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan from the Chabahar port in Iran, bypassing Pakistan. India is committed to sending 1.1 million tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan. It is a clear message to Pakistan as well as its ally China that any attempt to choke India’s supplies to Afghanistan will be foiled even if Pakistan denies India’s land access to Afghanistan through Pakistan. From the strategic point of view also, Chabahar counters, even if it does not neutralize, the advantage China got by acquiring the Gwadar port of Pakistan on the Arabian Sea. Pakistan has reasons to fume and fret against India. India opened its first military base abroad when the Indian Air Force took over the operations of the Farkhor Air Base in Tajikistan. That was in 2002. When Gen. Musharraf came to know of this, he is reported to have exclaimed: “My God! Indian bombers can now reach Pakistan in ten-fifteen minutes!”
One of the aims of China-Pakistan camaraderie is undoubtedly to counter India’s growing influence in South-East Asia. The highway built by Beijing through the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir right up to the Gwadar port was to enable China to have an easy access to the Arabian Sea. India is interested in having a strong government in Kabul for the sake of regional stability. Washington also desires a greater Indian presence and involvement in Afghanistan. This will make Washington’s efforts at weakening the Taliban and forcing it to come to the negotiations table easier. Pakistan and China also want to increase their footprint in Afghanistan. For Pakistan, Afghanistan is its strategic backyard. For Beijing, a friendly Afghanistan will help it to have easy access to the Central Asian Republics, rich in oil and minerals and help spread its influence in the region.
The opening of the Chabahar port and the first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan, therefore, has a great significance. In the days to come, rivalry between India on the one hand and China and Pakistan on the other will intensify in South-East Asia, especially in the high seas. The sea lanes of Malacca and Hormuz are very important for China. China has opened an overseas naval base, run by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) at Djibouti, a country in the Horn of Africa as part of its long-range plan of dominating the Indian Ocean Region. The importance of Chabahar has to be seen in this geopolitical and geostrategic context. The importance of India’s having a direct sea route to Afghanistan lies here.

Monday, 30 October, 2017