New Delhi, India (VIAnews) – For centuries, the majority of the world’s trade has been under the influence of India and China in the Eastern world, and Europe to the west.
Back in the 16th century, the maritime technology power of the Europeans and trade supremacy lead to an eventual colonization of the east. Going forward a few centuries, today’s world trade sine wave seems to be back again pending to the side of the increasing influence of India and China. Both countries are interested in regaining the old glory in trade relations, with connectivity initiatives named after nationalistic sentiments.
China’s Silk Road Economic Belt, popularly known as One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, involves an extensive trade network with Eurasia and Africa. Despite being viewed under the suspicion of regional hegemony, OBOR has gained momentum in recent years.
Interestingly enough, India backed off this initiative. India cites less equity in the entirety of affairs, security concerns, and the disputed affairs with Pakistan since the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
In line with China’s 21st century Silk Road initiative, India has been developing a geopolitical strategy to improve connectivity across the globe by reviving another important pre-colonial trade route, “The Indian Ocean Trade network”.
The first major development in that direction or the first visible trade relation over years of diplomacy, happened this week. India shipped 1.1 million tons of wheat to Afghanistan from the western seaport of Kandla on October 29. The shipment will be taken by trucks to Afghanistan from the Iranian port. With it, India has officially launched a new trade route to landlocked Afghanistan by sea through Iran’s strategic Chabahar port, bypassing Pakistan.
Pakistan has banned India from transporting goods through its territory to Afghanistan, and this alternative route, without any dependence on the former, could have significant geopolitical ramifications in the region.
Is this History repeating itself? Vasco de Gama reached India over the new sea route in 1492, bypassing the Ottoman trade monopoly of the region.
Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, said on Twitter on October 29 that the launch of the trade route “marks a new chapter in regional cooperation & connectivity.”
A statement by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was as follows -“I believe that this is the starting point of our journey to realize the full spectrum of connectivity — from culture to commerce, from traditions to technology, from investments to IT, from services to strategy and from people to politics.”
India and Afghanistan go way back in trade and cultural relations and even shared the same empire in golden ages. With SAARC initiatives and bilateral talks, India has been keen in the Afghan cause with the electrification of Kabul, provisions for educational scholarships and construction of infrastructure.
India is the largest skill and capacity development programme offered to Afghanistan by any country in the world. This, in turn, makes Iran a significant partner in Central Asia, where both India and Iran share a mistrust of Sunni fanaticism and of the Taliban. Other institutions on both countries accuse Pakistan’s ISI, the country’s largest intelligence services, of silent support.
External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Salahuddin Rabbani, and Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, through a joint video conference, flagged off the shipment from India to Afghanistan that would be transhipped through the Chabahar port in Iran. The shipment is a part of a commitment made by India to supply 1.1 million tonnes of wheat for the people of Afghanistan on a grant basis, and six more shipments are on the way or scheduled for the months to follow.
Chabahar port was being expanded by India as an alternate route for Afghanistan and a Special Purpose Vehicle was created by Indian Shipping Ministry for development of phase two of the Iranian port.
On the Iranian side, Ports and Management Organisation is the nodal authority for implementing the project. India has been given the rights to operate two berths and few terminals in phase two of the port.
A Railway line between Chabahar and Zahedan is also in construction. In 2016, an air-freight corridor was established by New Delhi and Kabul for greater access for Afghan goods to the Indian market and vice versa.
On the other side, and adjacent to this new trade route initiative, is China with Gwadar port in Pakistan which is less than 80 kilometres from Iran’s Chabahar.