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Navigating U.S. Sanctions: India's Backing of Chabahar Port & Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Dilemma

© AFP 2023 ATTA KENAREA truck transporting cargo from Afghanistan to be exported to India is seen at Shahid Beheshti Port in the southeastern Iranian coastal city of Chabahar, on the Gulf of Oman, on February 25, 2019. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
A truck transporting cargo from Afghanistan to be exported to India is seen at Shahid Beheshti Port in the southeastern Iranian coastal city of Chabahar, on the Gulf of Oman, on February 25, 2019. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) - Sputnik India, 1920, 17.05.2024
On Monday, Iran and India signed a 10-year agreement to develop and manage the Iranian port of Chabahar. This strategic move aims to establish a trade route for India to reach landlocked Central Asian countries, bypassing its rival, Pakistan.
India began developing Chabahar port in Iran in 2016 after the U.S. eased sanctions. Notwithstanding, the D.Trump administration reimposed sanctions in 2018. Recently, despite the risk of U.S. sanctions, India signed a 10-year contract to operate the strategic Iranian port. The U.S. State Department has warned that any business entity with Iran could face potential sanctions.
Like the long-proposed Pak-Iran gas pipeline, it has stalled for decades due to fear of U.S. sanctions. However, the Iranian president's recent visit to Pakistan in April has revived hopes for the project. The U.S. has again warned Pakistan that it would face sanctions if it proceeds with the pipeline deal.
Despite the looming threat of the Washington sanctions, these regional developments indicate a shift towards independent foreign policies and multi-polarity, where countries like India are unwilling to follow the dictates of global powers when it comes to protecting their national interests.
However, the question arises: Does Pakistan follow the same footprint as India in the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline?

India's Independent Approach To U.S. Sanctions: What Pakistan Can Learn

While talking with Mohammad Ali Zafar, a Researcher and Geopolitical analyst, he said: "The deal highlights India's significant economic and strategic interests in the Chabahar port. It is crucial for India's "Extended Neighbourhood Policy" to enable connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asia, where Chabahar serves as a transit hub. Recent visits between Indian and Afghan representatives and the recent 10-year deal for the Chabahar Port underscore India's expanding ambitions, effectively sidestepping Pakistan."

"Pakistan is apprehensive about the Iran-Pakistan pipeline deal, fearing an $18 billion fine from Iran for failing to fulfill its pipeline construction commitments and potential sanctions from the US if Pakistan moves forward with the project. The closeness of Iran and India through this deal will also bring Afghanistan more within the Indian sphere of influence, and all of this comes at the detriment of Pakistan's regional influence, especially as Afghanistan may become less dependent on Pakistan for transit trade in the coming years," He further added.

India has demonstrated an independent foreign policy despite the risk of U.S. sanctions, from exporting Russian oil to signing a 10-year agreement to operate the Chabahar port in Iran.

"India's 10-year deal for the Chabahar port with Iran showcases strategic assertiveness despite potential US sanctions, emphasizing national interests and regional connectivity. India's ability to navigate sanctions while engaging in deals like buying oil from Russia underscores its pursuit of strategic partnerships and economic priorities as one of the largest economies globally," Aimen Jamil, a pundit of Iranian affairs & a correspondent on Middle East at Global Defense Insight, told Sputnik News.

This shows India's willingness to prioritize its national interests over unthinkingly following global alliances.

"Historically speaking, discussions around connecting Central and North Asian states to West Asian nations were held at the St. Petersburg international conference in the 2000s in Russia. Now, India, Iran, and other allied states are planning to execute this plan to connect South and Central Asia with Eurasia through economic corridors and international transit-trade routes to landlocked states," Professor Faisal Javaid, a think tank researcher, Director of ORIC at the Federal Urdu University in Karachi, & geo-political analyst, told Sputnik.

Prof Faisal Javaid further stated: "India could divert U.S. sanctions by accomplishing this deal, as India is also a rival of China in the region, like The Washington. However, Pakistan, in its current economic crisis, cannot afford to bear any sanctions."
Pakistan should follow India's example and adopt a more independent foreign policy approach. Instead of participating in America's "game of destruction," Pakistan should focus on economic priorities and pursue projects like the Pak-Iran gas pipeline, which has long been stalled due to geopolitical concerns.
However, the Pak-Irani expert, Aimen Jamil expressed, "Pakistan might see the Chabahar contract as a security risk, which would allow Pakistan to expedite the Gawadar port project. The deal could lead to a realignment of economic and strategic interests in the region, with Iran gaining influence over trade routes and activities involving Afghanistan."
New Delhi’s independent stance can serve as a model for developing states seeking to chart their course.

"Islamabad is seeking alternative trade routes with neighboring countries, but its poor relationship with Afghanistan due to the Taliban* government has led India to bypass Pakistan by connecting with Central Asia through Iran-Afghanistan routi. The Chabahar port, developed as a rival to Pakistan's Gwadar port, which is part of the Pak-China economic corridor CPEC. However, Pakistan should not view Iran as a rival in this context," F. Javaid, a political pundit, said.

However, on the Pak-Iran Gas pipeline, Defense Minister of Pakistan Khawaja Asif said Islamabad would find a way to complete a long-delayed gas pipeline deal with Iran despite geopolitical issues and sanctions that have stalled the project for years.

"Pakistan should understand that it is not in a position as India is for the US. Moreover, Pakistan lacks the economic, political, and diplomatic advantage to test the US by following similar steps, such as the Iran-Pakistan Pipeline. Any such endeavor could provoke a significant backlash, jeopardizing Pakistan's crucial relationship with the US. Given Pakistan's dependency on US support, IMF agreements, and collaborative counterterrorism efforts in the region, such a move could carry dire consequences for the country," Mr. M.A. Zafar, a geo-political expert told.

Washington Wants to Sanction The Entire World

The Indo-Iran Chabahar Port deal agreement was signed by India's Shipping Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Iran's Urban Development Minister Mehrdad Bazrpash in the Iranian city of Chabahar.

"This deal provides an ideal setup for Pakistan to observe how the US will question India regarding this deal. Pakistan could also move forward with the Iran-Pakistan pipeline deal if there's no response beyond diplomatic chit-chat," Mohammad Ali Zafar unveiled.

This agreement will involve and invest in Central Asian states, including Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. While the deal details were not provided, it likely outlines economic or trade cooperation between the participating nations.
Sonawal said after the signing, "Chabahar Port’s significance transcends its role as a mere conduit between India and Iran. It is a vital trade artery connecting India with Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.” This pact gives India ten years of access to the Irani port.
In response, Iranian minister Bazrpash said, "We are pleased with this agreement and have full trust in India.”
It is, however, important to note that Iran's involvement in this agreement may lead to the United States imposing sanctions on some of the involved states. The irony is how many states the U.S. would sanction.
In this regard, Aimen Jamil, a regional expert further expressed, "US sanctions make it difficult, but not impossible, to do business with Iran. Sanction Waivers and alternative options can be used."

"Considering the timing of the deal, with US elections around the corner, I believe India made a timely move. Even the Biden government would prefer a fresh government come forward and deal with the matter and not get involved with India in any diplomatic tussle, especially during elections, with the huge American Indian vote bank that no one would be interested in upsetting," M.A. Zafar, a geopolitical expert, told Sputnik.

*under UN sanctions
An Iranian worker welds two gas pipes at the beginning of construction of a pipeline to transfer natural gas from Iran to Pakistan, at the mile 250 in southeastern Iran, near the Pakistani border, Monday, March 11, 2013.  - Sputnik India, 1920, 29.03.2024
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