NEW DELHI: Iran created ripples in India’s diplomatic circles with its foreign minister Javad Zarif declaring on Tuesday that Tehran had offered Pakistan and China participation in its strategic Chabahar port, which India is developing. As Indian officials have repeatedly said the port is crucial for India as it will allow India to bypass Pakistan in accessing Afghanistan and central Asia.
“We offered to participate in the China-Pakistan economic corridor. 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 Pakistan daily Dawn.
There was no formal reaction from the Indian side but officials here said that they will wait to hear directly from Iran over the issue. The move may be seen as Zarif’s bid to allay concerns here over the Indian involvement in the Iranian port, Dawn online reported.
Also worrying for India was the Pakistan official statement after the meeting between Zarif and his counterpart Khawaja Asif which claimed that the two countries had reiterated support for the “peaceful struggle of the peoples of Palestine and Kashmir for their right to self-determination’’. India is likely to seek a clarification from the Iranians over the issue.
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 delivered the first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port.
Any major role for Pakistan or China in the port project will be detrimental to India’s interests at a time when Japan, which was looking to partner India, has developed cold feet about participating in the project because of US decision to impose fresh sanctions on Iran. At the last India-Japan summit in Ahmedabad, Japan dropped the mention of Chabahar from the joint statement.
Zarif also said that Gwadar Port in Pakistan 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.
He also said that the Chabahar port project was not meant to “encircle Pakistan or strangulate anybody”, adding that Iran would not allow anybody to hurt Pakistan from its territory.