NEW DELHI: The US decision not to impose sanctions on India for continuing the development of Chabahar port in Iran has not come as a surprise to foreign policy experts in New Delhi.
“According to Trump’s South Asia policy, India is considered as a strategic ally, which means that the US does not want its ally to look weak in any manner,” said Zakir Hussain, a New Delhi-based foreign policy expert.
“India has made it very clear to the US that the whole idea of a sound Afghan strategy would imply the development of Chabahar port in some way. So the exemption is not a big surprise,” said Harsh V. Pant of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a New Delhi-based think tank.
On Tuesday, the US State Department in a statement said that the Indian construction activities in Chabahar port will not invite any punitive action despite the kicking in of sanctions against Iran from Monday.
“This exception relates to reconstruction assistance and economic development for Afghanistan. These activities are vital for the ongoing support of Afghanistan’s growth and humanitarian relief,” said a spokesperson of the State Department in a briefing on Tuesday.
The exemption granted by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will permit the construction of a railway line from Chabahar port to Afghanistan, and for shipments to the war-torn country of non-sanctionable goods, such as food and medicine.
“The president’s South Asia strategy underscores our ongoing support of Afghanistan’s economic growth and development as well as our close partnership with India,” the state department spokesperson said.
Pant underlines that “Chabahar is so crucial to Afghanistan that Americans must have realized this is not only beneficial for India but also for the long-term American interest in the region.”
He told Arab News that “this exemption underlines the point that Washington recognizes the challenges it faces in Afghanistan and the role both India and the US can play in putting pressure on Pakistan. Chahbahar not only provides alternative routes to reach Afghanistan but also reduces the salience of Pakistan in the region.”
Pant said that “the exception is a recalibration of the US policy in South Asia that gives primacy to India’s role in Afghanistan.”
Sujata Ashwarya Cheema, of New Delhi-based Jamia Milia Islamia University (JMIU), said that the “exemption shows the Trump administration is looking for a compromise on the Iran issue. It wants to craft a new arrangement albeit agreeable to its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.”
Hussain argued that “in the future the US might like to use Chabahar port as an alternative route and limit its dependence on Pakistan. Besides, the port serves Washington’s strategic interest in containing China’s growing influence in South and Central Asia.”
However, Meena Singh Roy, of the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyzes (IDSA), a New Delhi-based think tank, called the whole exemption “vague.”
India has committed $500 million to the project and $2 billion to build a railway line from Chabahar to Hajjigaj in Afghanistan.
In December last year, the first phase of the Chabahar port in southeast Iran was inaugurated. The port opened a new strategic transit route between India, Iran and Afghanistan — bypassing Pakistan.
In an agreement signed in 2016, India, Iran and Afghanistan agreed to establish a Transit and Transport Corridor among the three countries using Chabahar Port as one of the regional hubs for sea transportation in Iran, besides multi-modal transport of goods and passengers across the three nations.