In a clear setback for India, Iran has invited China and Pakistan to participate in the development of the strategic Chabahar port, which is being built by India for the purpose of bypassing Pakistan.
On another thorny issue for India, Iran’s Foreign minister Javad Zarif, on a three-day visit to Islamabad, also supported the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Zarif asked Pakistan to take a role in developing the port in the Gulf of Oman while speaking on Monday at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, a think tank backed by Pakistan’s foreign ministry.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported Zarif “sought to allay concerns here (in Pakistan) over Indian involvement in the Iranian port”.
”We offered to participate in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). We have also offered Pakistan and China to participate in Chabahar,” said Zarif,
A statement issued by Pakistan’s foreign office following a meeting between Zarif and his counterpart Khawaja Asif on Monday said both sides had ”reiterated support for the peaceful struggle of the peoples of Palestine and Kashmir for their right to self-determination”.
During his meeting with Zarif, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi thanked the Iranian leadership for its ”steadfast support” to the struggle of the Kashmiris.
Zarif’s invitation to Pakistan to join the development of Chabahar came less than a month after India and Iran inked an agreement to lease operation control of a part of the port to New Delhi for 18 months.
India is set to start operations in this part of Chabahar with borrowed Iranian equipment by May-end. The port is a crucial part of India’s plans to create a transport and trade corridor to landlocked Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.
Zarif sought to allay Pakistan’s concerns about India’s involvement in Chabahar by saying that the port project was not meant to ”encircle Pakistan” or ”strangulate anybody”. He said Iran will not allow anybody to use its soil to hurt Pakistan, just as Islamabad would not allow its soil to be used against Tehran.
He compared 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 Pakistan as we understand Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia are not against Iran,” he said.
Zarif also raised the issue of cooperation between the Chabahar and Gwadar ports during his meetings with foreign minister Asif and National Security Adviser Nasser Janjua. During his meeting with Janjua on Tuesday, Zarif talked about ”tapping into the potential of Gwadar and Chabahar ports” to boost economic cooperation, according to a statement from Iran’s foreign ministry.
Gwadar is a key part of the multi-billion dollar CPEC, a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative that has been opposed by India as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Zarif said Gwadar and Chahbahar were important projects for developing deprived areas of eastern and southeastern Iran and southwestern Pakistan. These regions need to be linked by sea and land routes, he said.
”We are taking measures to do that and there is an open invitation to Pakistan to participate in that,” he added.
Zarif’s vision for better Pakistan-Iran ties envisaged realisation of the long-delayed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, establishment of banking ties and signing a free trade agreement.
Chabahar is said to be becoming a success story in the India-Iran relationship. The first phase of the Chabahar port in south-east Iran, which India is developing, was inaugurated in December last year. The port opened a new strategic transit route between India, Iran and Afghanistan that bypassed Pakistan.
It is expected to cut transport costs and time for Indian goods by a third and likely to ramp up trade among India, Afghanistan and Iran in the wake of Pakistan denying transit access to New Delhi for trade with the two countries.
In this context, India’s not likely to be pleased with the Iranian foreign minister’s comments.