India Implodes Its Own New Silk Road

India Implodes Its Own New Silk Road by Pepe Escobar for UNZ Review

There was a time when New Delhi was proudly selling the notion of establishing its own New Silk Road – from the Gulf of Oman to the intersection of Central and South Asia – to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Now it looks like the Indians have stabbed themselves in the back.

In 2016, Tehran and New Delhi signed a deal to build a 628-km rail line from strategic Chabahar port to Zahedan, very close to the Afghan border, with a crucial extension to Zaranj, in Afghanistan, and beyond.

The negotiations involved Iranian Railways and Indian Railway Constructions Ltd. But in the end nothing happened – because of Indian foot-dragging. So Tehran has decided to build the railway anyway, with its own funds – $400 million – and completion scheduled for March 2022.

The railway was supposed to be the key transportation corridor linked to substantial Indian investments in Chabahar, its port of entry from the Gulf of Oman for an alternative New Silk Road to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Upgrading rail/road infrastructure from Afghanistan to its neighbors Tajikistan and Uzbekistan would be the next step. The whole operation was inscribed in a trilateral India-Iran-Afghanistan deal – signed in 2016 in Tehran by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The unofficial New Delhi excuse revolves around fears that the project would be slammed with US sanctions. New Delhi actually did get a Trump administration sanctions waiver for Chabahar and the rail line to Zahedan. The problem was to convince an array of investment partners, all of them terrified of being sanctioned.

In fact, the whole saga has more to do with Modi’s wishful thinking of expecting to get preferential treatment under the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which relies on a de facto Quad (US, India, Australia, Japan) containment of China. That was the rationale behind New Delhi deciding to cut off all its oil imports from Iran.

So far all practical purposes, India threw Iran under the bus. No wonder Tehran decided to move on its own, especially now with the $400 billion, 25-year “Comprehensive Plan for Cooperation between Iran and China”, a deal that seals a strategic partnership between China and Iran.

In this case, China may end up exercising control over two strategic “pearls” in the Arabian Sea/Gulf of Oman only 80 km away from each other: Gwadar, in Pakistan, a key node of the $61 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and Chabahar.

Tehran, so far, has denied that Chabahar port will be offered on a lease to Beijing. But what is a real possibility, apart from Chinese investments in an oil refinery near Chabahar, and even, in the long run, in the port itself, is an operational link between Gwadar and Chabahar. That will be complemented by the Chinese operating the port of Bandar-e-Jask in the Gulf of Oman, 350 km to the west of Chabahar and very close to the hyper-strategic Strait of Hormuz.

How corridors attract

Not even a Hindu deity on hangover could possibly imagine a more counter-productive “strategy” for Indian interests in case New Delhi backs off from its cooperation with Tehran.

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For decades I have spent a couple of hours every morning carefully reading The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and several other major newspapers. But although such a detailed study of the American mainstream media is a necessary condition for remaining informed about our world, it is not sufficient. With the rise of the Internet and the alternative media, every thinking individual has increasingly recognized that there exist enormous lacunae in what our media tells us and disturbing patterns in what is regularly ignored or concealed. In April 2013 I published “Our American Pravda,” a major article highlighting some of the most disturbing omissions of our national media in issues of the greatest national importance. The considerable attention it attracted from The Atlantic, Forbes, and a New York Times economics columnist demonstrated that the mainstream journalists themselves were often all too aware of these problems, but perhaps found them too difficult to address within the confining structure of large media organizations. This reinforced my belief in the reality of the serious condition I had diagnosed.