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CHABAHAR: Threat or Opportunity for Pakistan?

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President of Iran Hassan Rouhani and the President of Afghanistan, Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, witness the signing of trilateral agreements between India, Afghanistan and Iran, in Tehran, Iran

Pakistan could view the Chabahar deal as either a challenge or an opportunity. It is being forged by three of Pakistan’s four neighbours. It look like an encirclement of the country, necessitating counter measures such as greater subordination of the state’s foreign policy to the dictates of China. But viewed through the lens of cooperation, the same ties appear as an opportunity to be tapped…writes Manzoor Ahmed

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President of Iran Hassan Rouhani and the President of Afghanistan, Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, witness the signing of trilateral agreements between India, Afghanistan and Iran, in Tehran, Iran
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President of Iran Hassan Rouhani and the President of Afghanistan, Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, witness the signing of trilateral agreements between India, Afghanistan and Iran, in Tehran, Iran

Feeling ‘isolated’ and ‘encircled’, Pakistan is upset at India, Iran and Afghanistan signing a tripartite agreement for development of  the Chabahar port and rail link that will make it easy for Kabul to reach out to the world.  It is more so, because India is a key partner in this multi-billion venture that has the blessings of all those who want to somehow ‘contain’ China and see a sinister game in the latter using Pakistan to gain access to the Indian Ocean. They include Japan which is chipping in with funds and technology. Its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be visiting Iran in August. It is not that there was any secret or anything sudden about the Teheran visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan Presint Ashraf Ghani, to be received by Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. But as providence had willed, on the day (May 23) the tripartite agreement was signed, Pakistan was totally preoccupied with protesting at the killing of Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a drone strike on its soil conducted by the United States.

Pakistan was too busy expressing ‘concern’ and protesting at the loss of its ‘sovereignty’ at the American drone attack, not in the tribal no-man’s land, but in Balochistan.  Also, its gambit to say that Mansour was killed while travelling from Iran also fell flat when Tehran denied that Mansour was in Iran before being killed. Now, Pakistan media asks that when Mansour was travelling frequently at many places, what was the need for targeting him on the Pakistani soil?

Sections of Pakistani media have noted that the principal culprit in the drone attack, symbolically that is, President Barack Obama, while openly justifying the drone attack, had hailed the tripartite summit and agreement in Teheran as “an important milestone.” This is nothing less than rubbing salt on the Pakistani wounds.

Modi with the President of Iran, Mr. Hassan Rouhani, in Jomhouri Building, at Saadabad Palace, in Tehran
Modi with the President of Iran, Mr. Hassan Rouhani, in Jomhouri Building, at Saadabad Palace, in Tehran

Also on that day, Karachi’s Dawn newspaper notes in an editorial: “Iranian President Rouhani, seated between his Afghan counterpart and the Indian prime minister, spoke in a televised address following the signing of a transit accord in which he said, “from Tehran, New Delhi and Kabul, this is a crucial message … that the path to progress for regional countries goes through joint cooperation and utilising regional opportunities”.  “Over the years, Pakistan is becoming increasingly isolated from its own neighbours, and the events of Monday, when juxtaposed against each other, provide a vivid illustration of how this is happening,” the newspaper lamented.

Pakistan could view the Chabahar development as either “a challenge or an opportunity to be exploited.”

“Viewed through the lens of rivalry, the cooperative relations being forged by three of Pakistan’s four neighbours, with Chabahar as the emblem of this cooperation, look like an encirclement of the country, necessitating counter measures such as greater subordination of the state’s foreign policy to the dictates of China.  “But viewed through the lens of cooperation, the same ties appear as an opportunity to be tapped, calling for reciprocal measures such as opening talks on overland transit trade between the three countries, building links between Chabahar and Gwadar, as well as enhanced road links between Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif with Chaman and Peshawar to complete the loop.  While pleading for the latter option, the newspaper that “Pakistan’s foreign policy is built on rivalry, whereas it would be to the country’s long-term advantage to view its regional environment through the lens of cooperation instead.”

“It is realistic, and not naïve, to suggest that in the evolving regional situation, cooperation yields greater benefits, while rivalry and conflict only serve to bottle the country up further,” he editorial said but again expressed serious doubts whether Islamabad would do this.  “Of course, changing the rails upon which our foreign relations ride is not going to be easy, especially given the baggage of the past. But that doesn’t obscure the fact that the dividends actually lie on the other side.”

 

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