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India needs to assert as China makes inroads into Indian Ocean Region

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By- Surbhi Moudgil

Reaching new heights, China invested $46 billion for an ambitious 3,000-km-long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which would shorten the route for Chinese energy imports from the Middle East by 12,000 km. This is the biggest overseas investment announced by China yet.

The project would link China’s far-western region to Pakistan’s Gwadar port (built with Chinese investment and technical expertise) and would provide 14,000 MW electricity towards easing out the Pakistan energy famine.

The corridor will pass through India’s Gilgit Balistan (a disputed territory claimed by Pakistan). This part of the Indian territory, claimed by India after a long dispute, is a part of Jammu & Kashmir. This corridor can hamper the current geo-demographic segmentation of India, directly threatening the geographical significance of India in the subcontinent.

This would further affect India’s stature in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as China would have the access to Pakistani port of Gwadar. At present India is the largest and most influential nation in the IOR because of its huge coastline as well as navy might with regards to its smaller neighbours like Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In December 2014, the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua published a government statement announcing the closure of the strategic Khunjerab Pass and, in the process, referred to Gilgit Baltistan as part of Pakistan. Until then, China had maintained that J&K was a bilateral problem/dispute between India and Pakistan. It is clear that terming Gilgit Baltistan as part of Pakistan reflected a shift in the Chinese position on the J&K— a change from its previously held neutral position.

Recently, a multibillion dollar deal was sealed between the two neighbours, to provide eight submarines to Pakistan. Four of the submarines will be built in China, while the other four are to be constructed in Pakistan as part of a technology transfer agreement.

The announcement of these two deals in a small time-frame raises a question on China’s vested interests. Can it be seen just as an economic deal or has it something to do with increasing Chinese presence in a region where, traditionally, India has enjoyed a strong hold.

Whatever be the Chinese intentions, but this CPEC project would expand China’s strategic foothold in the Indian Ocean Region and change, even if small, the equation in the regional power structure.

China would then gain geo-political influence in the IOR even though it is, geographically, nowhere near the Indian Ocean. It would accelerate China’s string-of-pearls strategy of surrounding India from all the sides.

Clearly, India needs to take a stand on this matter as it can cause grave danger to its security strategy. In a situation where India is already tardy on its response on this situation, significant steps are needed to be taken in this regard.

In June this year, India showed its changed approach to tackling terror when it asserted its stature in the region by allowing Indian army to conduct a raid in Myanmar as it pursued the militants. This raid, and change in Indian policy, was a cause of worry for Islamabad as it thought that India might pursue the same moves against them.

India, while announcing its “Cold Start” strategy, as executed Myanmar, has made it clear that it would pursue similar threats/activities with an iron feast and wouldn’t hesitate to target those terrorists even if they are based in Pakistan. India also asserted that it would deploy tactical nuclear weapons in the event of Pakistan’s use of short-range nukes.

It is good to see India displaying its authority in the region with tackling the issues head on, rather than playing the wait and watch game. India has had a long history of being passive towards security threats, inside and outside the borders. Rise of naxals and northeast militancy are examples of such passiveness which is eating India’s vision of developing the region.

India can’t afford to fight this ‘war’ on two fronts. As a rising global power, and the big brother in South Asia, India can’t allow China or Pakistan to intimidate it. So, India would have to keep a balanced approach towards power politics in the region while saving its own pride and national interests. This shows our nation as a political and military power and asserts its ethical egoism (self-interest).

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Iran invites Pakistan to join Chabahar project with India

India, Iran and Afghanistan signed a trilateral agreement in 2016

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Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons
  • Iran has invited Pakistan to join Chabahar port project
  • It is a very crucial port of great importance
  • India, Iran and Afghanistan have already signed a trilateral agreement in 2016

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has invited Pakistan to participate in the Chabahar Port project that connects India to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, a leading Pakistani daily reported on Tuesday.

Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons

The move may be seen as Zarif’s bid to allay concerns here over the Indian involvement in the Iranian port, Dawn online reported. The Iranian minister also, meanwhile, extended the invitation to China.

“We offered to participate in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). We have also offered Pakistan and China to participate in Chahbahar,” Zarif, who is on a three-day visit to Pakistan, said while delivering a lecture at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) on Monday, according to the daily.

India, Iran and Afghanistan signed a trilateral agreement in 2016 to jointly develop the Chabahar port, opening a new strategic transit route between the three nations and other Central Asian nations, bypassing Pakistan. In November 2017, India delievered the first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port.

Also Read: All You Need To Know About India’s Strategic Chabahar Port

Zarif had earlier held bilateral talks with his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Asif and addressed a trade conference. The visiting Foreign Minister is being accompanied by a large trade delegation from Iran.

He also said that Gwadar Port and Chabahar Port needed to be linked through sea and land routes for development of deprived Eastern and South-eastern Iran and South Western Pakistan. “We are taking measures to do that and there is an open invitation to Pakistan to participate in that,” Zarif said.

Chabahar Port will make India's trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port will make India’s trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons

He also said that the Chabahar port project was not meant to “encircle Pakistan … strangulate anybody”, adding that Iran would not allow anybody to hurt Pakistan from its territory, much like Pakistan would not allow its soil to be used against Iran.

Zarif likened Iran’s relations with India to Pakistan’s ties with Saudi Arabia. “Our relations with India, just like Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia, are not against Islamabad as we understand Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia are not against Iran.” IANS