The most important aspect of Iran's Chabahar port for Kabul is the confidence that the new axis provides Afghanistan in dealing with Pakistan, especially over transit trade.">
The most important aspect of Iran's Chabahar port for Kabul is the confidence that the new axis provides Afghanistan in dealing with Pakistan, especially over transit trade.Photo Source: The Indian Express
D. Suba Chandran
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore
The much-awaited Chabahar route for Indo-Afghan trade, has finally taken off. The first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan has left Kandla port for Chabahar port in Iran, and then through the land route via Iran into Afghanistan. This will catapult the Indo-Afghan bilateral relationship into another level, besides strengthening the trilateral relationship between India, Afghanistan and Iran, and also increasing linkages between Kabul and Tehran.
Equally important are two further questions: How will the activation of Chabahar port and the Zahedan-Zaranj-Kabul highway help increase Afghanistan as a transit for Central Asian countries into the Arabian Sea? And would this reduce Kabul’s dependence on Islamabad, thereby increasing the former’s leverage over the latter, especially over the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade agreement?
Chabahar and the India-Iran-Afghanistan Trilaterals
The activation of Chabahar for Indian goods into Afghanistan means the following. First, it fulfills an Indian promise of an alternative route for Afghanistan. Though Indo-Afghan trade has been a historical phenomenon from the days of Sher Shah and the famed Grand Trunk Road, in recent years, Pakistan’s refusal for transit facilities has made New Delhi and Kabul look for alternatives. That’s when the idea of Chabahar was born.
Second, the activation of Chabahar also fulfils another promise – to Tehran. India has been ridiculed for making promises and not following them up — Chabahar in the West and Sittwe in the east. The Chabahar opening should change that perception.
Third, Chabahar also speaks for India’s commitment to improving Indo-Iran relations. There were apprehensions about India moving closer to the US, and Indo-Iran relations becoming hostage to it. It appears New Delhi has been able to withstand American pressure and move ahead with Iran.
Fourth, Chabahar port will also improve Afghan-Iran partnership and provide a crucial leverage for Kabul, as a transit between Central Asia and the Arabian Sea. It could further link Russia and provide another warm water outlet for Moscow. Perhaps, this is one of the major reasons for the Afghans being excited about the Chabahar. For the Afghans, Chabahar is not just about Indo-Afghan trade; it is an opening of a huge new world!
But, the most important aspect of Chabahar for Kabul is the confidence that the new axis provides in dealing with Pakistan, especially over transit trade.
Afghan – Pakistan Transit Trade Issues
When Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa visited Kabul early this month, there was an expectation that Af-Pak relations would improve. Ashraf Ghani, even called it a “new season” with Pakistan. However, in late October, Afghanistan cancelled a scheduled meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority. Pakistan responded vehemently, blaming India for scuttling Af-Pak bilateral trade.
In 2010, both countries had signed the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA), replacing an earlier one signed in 1965. However, there were serious hurdles towards its implementation, as the expectations and objections were different.
Afghanistan, from the beginning, was interested in signing a trilateral agreement which included India. Unfortunately, Pakistan has been negative to that idea; Islamabad does not want Afghanistan to look beyond Pakistan. Certainly, it does not want to link Kabul and New Delhi.
Despite not extending the transit trade to India, Kabul did sign the treaty with Pakistan. Perhaps, there was American pressure on Kabul. However, there have been serious hurdles within Pakistan, undermining Af-Pak transit trade, besides the Afghan demand to include India. First, the informal Afghan trade for Pakistan plays an important role in undermining formal trade. Smuggling is rampant across the Durand Line; despite militancy and border closures, the Af-Pak illegal trade has been thriving. Second, there are serious legal issues in implementing AFTTA – from banking to visa procedures for Afghan businessmen.
Will Chabahar provide leverage for Kabul and undercut Pakistan’s pre-eminent position as transit for Afghanistan?
Kabul would like to cross Wagah, reach not only New Delhi but also Kolkata and even Dhaka. Afghanistan’s maritime exit to the rest of the world has been through the port in Karachi. Goods from Afghanistan cross the Durand Line at two major points across a tough terrain – Torkham in the north and Chaman in the South. Karachi port was primary; by controlling Afghan goods through Karachi, Pakistan also controlled Afghanistan’s larger international trade.
When Pakistan started building Gwadar port, there was also an expectation, that it would facilitate Af-Pak transit trade through Balochistan. From Gwadar, goods could reach Quetta and enter Afghanistan through Chaman. Though the first push on Gwadar during the last decade failed, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has renewed Islamabad’s Gwadar expectations.
However, Gwadar cannot succeed for Pakistan, unless it feeds into non-CPEC transit as well. Afghanistan figures prominently in Pakistan’s Gwadar calculation, and through Afghan territory, into Central Asia. If Kabul is not on Pakistan’s side, Islamabad has to forget about a land route into Central Asia. Unless, China wants to bring Central Asian goods into Xinjiang, and then push it south on the CPEC to Gwadar, which does not make economic sense.
Chabahar and Pakistan’s Grand Plans
Chabahar threatens Pakistan’s Gwadar and Afghan plans. Afghanistan will find Chabahar faster and easier, when compared to the tough terrain across the Durand Line.
More than losing Af-Pak transit trade, Pakistan will lose its influence over Kabul. Economically, this influence is important, if Pakistan wants to reach Central Asia, especially for the proposed gas and electricity corridor from Central Asia. Islamabad has invested sufficiently on the CASA-1000, an electricity grid from Central Asia via Afghanistan. Despite India going slow on the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan-India) pipeline, Pakistan believes even TAP, without India, is a workable idea.
Chabahar would undermine this. Perhaps, Afghanistan understands the Chabahar opportunity and wants to up the game on Af-Pak transit. Perhaps, this was also the reason for Ghani making a bold statement that Pakistani trucks would not be allowed inside Afghanistan. For the first time, perhaps Kabul has an upper hand in Af-Pak transit trade. For Pakistan, losing transit trade means losing the Gwadar plot and also its Central Asian plans.
For Afghanistan, Chabahar provides an additional leverage in dealing with Pakistan.
The above analysis was originally published in the Indian Express on . See India & Kabul play new round in Great Game: Chabahar
Parliamentary leaders fail to arrive at consensus on delimitation legislation
Dawn, 9 November 2017 | Politics
Govt, opposition differences over census jeopardise timely polls
The News, 7 November 2017 | Politics
Rustam Shah Mohmand, “Cost of ignoring Afghanistan’s ground realities”
The Express Tribune, 5 November 2017 | Af-Pak
Raza Rumi, “Don’t turn CPEC into another holy cow. Transparency is a must”
Daily Times, 5 November 2017 | CPEC
Rejection of minus-Nawaz fomula shows PML-N’s internal strength
The News, 3 November 2017 | Politics
Security apparatus to continue its role in national interest: corps commanders
The News, 3 November 2017 | Military
Diplomatic row erupts over posting of video about Sheikh Mujeeb
Dawn, 2 November 2017 | Pakistan & Bangladesh
Chinese President Xi’s rise a boost for CPEC, causes concerns in India
The News, 26 October 2017 | Pak-China
Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, “The options for Nawaz Sharif?”
The Express Tribune, 22 October 2017 | Politics
Mystery shrouds US drone strikes near Pak-Afghan border
Daily Times, 19 October 2017 | Drone Attacks
8 killed, 24 others wounded in blast targeting police vehicle in Quetta
Dawn, 19 October 2017 | Balochistan
Sheraz Raza, "The conundrum that is Pakistan-Russia ties"
Daily Times, 16 October 2017 | Pakistan & Russia
Shaheen Sehbai, "Options before the country are ‘very limited’"
Daily Times, 16 October 2017 | Civil-Military
Deadlock in Pak-US ties ends as both sides agree to continue talks
The News, 13 October 2017 | Pakistan & US
US-Canadian couple, three children freed from terrorist custody in Kohat
Dawn, 13 October 2017 | Extremism
If Sharif convicted, Shehbaz will be PML-N candidate for PM slot
The Express Tribune, 8 October 2017 | Politics
Raza Rumi, “Mainstreaming militants? Not without a political strategy”
Daily Times, 8 October 2017 | Politics/Extremism
US State, Defence secretaries to convey Trump’s tough message to Pakistan
The News, 8 October 2017 | Pakistan & US
Seven-hour-long corps commanders meeting discusses security situation
The News, 4 October 2017 | Military
Will resign if I can't find out who deployed Rangers at court: Ahsan
The Express Tribune, 3 October 2017 | Politics
Mubashir Akram, “From the days of Pakistani jihad incorporated”
Daily Times, 3 October 2017 | Extremism
Senator Rehman Malik, “Pak-Afghan conflict — Ray of hope from holy land of Saudi Arabia”
The News, 3 October 2017 | External Relations
Jamaat’s hesitation to quit KP govt delaying MMA’s revival: JUI-F
The News, 1 October 2017 | Politics
Raza Rumi, “Beijing has signaled. Is Islamabad listening?”
Daily Times, 1 October 2017 | Pakistan & China
Talat Masood, “Is mending relations with the US possible?”
The Express Tribune, 28 September 2017 | Pakistan & US
Sohail Warraich, “The Sharifs and the religious right”
The News, 26 September 2017 | Politics/Extremism
Dr Raza Khan, “Decline of some groups means rise of others”
The Express Tribune, 24 September 2017 | Politics/Extremism
Zainul Abedin, "The Panama drama: an unabashedly political view"
The News, 15 July 2017 | Domestic Politics
Imtiaz Gul, "Panamagate: time to face up the reality?"
Daily Times, 12 July 2017 | Domestic Politics
Aziz Ali Dad, "The sectarian spectre in Gilgit-Baltistan: Part - I"
The News, 11 July 2017 | Gilgit-Baltistan
Raza Rumi, "This summer Pakistan enters into another phase of instability"
Daily Times, 25 June 2017 | Domestic Politics
Babar Ayaz, "The good, the bad, and the ugly of the Panama Leaks"
Daily Times, 22 June 2017 | Domestic Politics
Imdad Hussain. "Pakistan left with limited options in Saudi-led Islamic military alliance"
The Express Tribune, 26 May 2017 | Pakistan and Middle East
Houbara bustard no more protected bird, govt tells LHC
Dawn, 11 February 2017, 11 February 2017 | Houbara
JI to observe ‘black day’ for FATA reforms on 16th
Daily Times, 10 February 2017, 9 February 2017 | FATA Reforms
Strict implementation of immigration laws on Afghan border
Dawn, 8 February 2017, 8 February 2017 | Af-Pak
Interior Ministry approves issue of red warrant against Altaf Hussain
Daily Times, 8 February 2017, 8 February 2017 | Politics
22 tons coal get lost on transport by the Pakistan Railway
The Nation, 7 February 2017, 7 February 2017 | Energy
Grand jirga of Khyber elders opposes FATA-KP merger
Daily Times, 7 February 2017, 6 February 2017 | FATA Reforms
Parliament should not outsource justie to the panchayats: Dawn
Dawn, 6 February 2017, 6 February 2017 | Justice
Second Edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL) all set to begin
The News, 7 February 2017, 6 February 2017 | Cricket
As Ladla’s brother steps in, Rangers chief vows gang-free Lyari
The News, 4 February 2017, 4 February 2017 | Crime
Asfandyar flays Achakzai for opposing Fata-KP merger
Dawn, 4 February 2017, 3 February 2017 | FATA Reforms
Quetta commission report violates justice: ministry
Dawn, 4 February 2017, 3 February 2017 | Terrorism
India wants to presurize Pakistan through SAARC: Dawn
Dawn, 2 February 2017, 2 February 2017 | Indo-Pak
Chinese frustrated by legal hurdles surrounding OLMT
The Express Tribune, 2 February 2017, 2 February 2017 | CPEC
Work on TAPI pipeline to kick off in Pakistan this month
The Express Tribune, 2 February 2017, 2 February 2017 | TAPI
Opposition boycotts Punjab Assembly uover Hafiz Saeed`s arrest
Dawn, 1 February 2017, 31 January 2017 | Terrorism
"This (action) is part of the international conspiracy": Hafiz Saeed
The Nation, 31 January 2017, 30 January 2017 | Terrorism
Hafiz Saeed among five leaders put under house arrest
The News, 31 January 2017, 30 January 2017 | Terrorism
Court acquits 112 in case of torching Christian homes
Daily Times, 30 January 2017, 30 January 2017 | Minorities
Act against JuD or face sanctions, US tells Pakistan: The News
The News, 30 January 2017, 30 January 2017 | Terrorism
PIA needs another Rs60 bn revival plan for next two years: The News
The News, 26 Jan 2017, 26 January 2017 | PIA
Pakistan tests its first Surface to Surface ballistic missile - Ababeel
ISPR Press Release, 24 Jan 2017, 24 January 2017 | Military
"Pakistan aims for water treaty with Afghanistan": The Nation
The Nation, 23 Jan 2017, 23 January 2017 | Af-Pak
"Islamabad aims to woo new US administration, improve ties": The Nation
The Nation, 23 Jan 2017, 23 January 2017 | Pak & US
Carnage at Parachinar market; 25 killed, 87 injured
Dawn, 22 January 2017, 21 January 2017 | Terror in Kurram
China acquires strategic 40% stake in Pakistani stock exchange
MoneyControl.Com, 21 January 2017, 21 January 2017 | CPEC
Afghan transporters protest against requirment of visa documents at Torkham
Daily Times, 21 January 2017, 20 January 2017 | Af-Pak
HR groups in Punjab shut down for 'anti-state activities'
The News, 21 January 2017, 20 January 2017 | Social
India asked to stop work on Kishanganga and Ratle projects
Dawn, 21 January 2017, 20 January 2017 | Indus Waters Treaty
Pakistan will continue to fulfil its obligations: Dar
Source: The Nation, 20 January 2017, 19 January 2017 | Indus Waters Treaty
Disqualification of PM is a matter of public interest: SC
Source: Dawn, 20 January 2017, 19 January 2017 | Panama Politics
No imminent threat to Indus treaty, minister tells Senate panel
Dawn, 18 January 2017, 17 January 2017 | Indo-Pak
Al-Qaeda-like groups can raise heads again: Pakistan Ambassador to US
The News, 15 January 2017, 15 January 2017 | Pakistan and US
Two Chinese built Maritime Patrol Vessels for Pakistan
The News, 15 January 2017, 14 January 2017 | Pakistan Maritime
Separate laws to deal with terrorists,sectarian elements: Nisar
The News, 15 January 2017, 14 January 2017 | Terrorism
Chinese exports to Pakistan increase following CPEC
The News, 15 January 2017, 14 January 2017 | CPEC
“Activities of Indian RAW and NDS nexus remains a matter of deep concern to Pakistan”
MOFA Press Release, 13 January 2017, 13 January 2017 | Pakistan and Afghanistan
“Citizens will continue to disappear with impunity”: Senator
Dawn, 14 January 2017, 13 January 2017 | Disappearences
New Pak-Afghan border controls slow trade to a crawl
Dawn, 11 January 2017, 11 January 2017 | Pakistan & Afghanistan
Govt to exempt Chinese hydropower projects from sales tax
Dawn, 11 January 2017, 10 January 2017 | CPEC
Banned sectarian organisations could not be equated with other banned terrorist organisations
The Nation, 11 January 2017, 10 January 2017 | Sectarianism
Pakistan conducts the first test of Submarine Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) Babur-3: ISPR
Press Release, ISPR, 9 January 2017 | Military
Pakistan to revive the Military Courts
Press Release, Prime Minister's Office, 09 Jan 2017, 9 January 2017 | Terrorism & Military
JUI threatens agitation if decisions `imposed` on Fata people
Dawn, 9 January 2017, 8 January 2017 | FATA & KP
Chinese firm encroached on domain of policy matters: SC
The Express Tribune, 8 January 2017, 7 January 2017 | CPEC
Parliamentary parties give consent to Fata merger plan
Dawn, 7 January 2017, 6 January 2017 | KP & FATA
Ex-COAS Raheel likely to head Saudi-led military alliance
Dawn, 7 January 2017, 6 January 2017 | External
SC to ascertain 'conflict of interest' in PM's actions
Dawn, 5 January 2017, 4 January 2017 | Panama Politics
"Violence-related fatalities in Balochistan, Punjab increased in 2016"
Dawn, 4 January 2017, 3 January 2017 | Terrorism
Tribesmen protest delay in implementation of FATA reforms
Daily Times, 3 December 2017, 2 January 2017 | FATA & KP
Senators press govt to implement Quetta commission report
Daily Times, 3 January 2017, 2 January 2017 | Terrorism
Chaman-Kandahar highway blocked against closure of border
Dawn, 3 January 2017, 2 January 2017 | Pakistan and Afghanistan
First phase of census to cover 11 divisions of four provinces
Dawn, 3 January 2017, 2 January 2017 | Census