In an apolitical and perhaps frictionless world, the ports of Gwadar and Chabahar, located in close proximity to each other, could have been destined to be sister ports. They have after all more in common than informed and informal opinion in Pakistan would lead us to believe. The way our perceptions have been gradually shaped, about gains in Chabahar equating to losses just across the Pak-Iran border in Gwadar, amounts to a zero sum game.
After tracing the individual profiles of both Gwadar and Chabahar, a comprehensive comparative study between the two has been undertaken.
China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and the stringent sanctions imposed on Iran are two factors, one positive, the other negative, which cast a lingering shadow on the growth trajectories of the two ports.
The inland and regional connectivities of Pakistan and Iran in general, and Gwadar and Chabahar in particular, have been discussed in great detail as it may well turn out to be the ultimate determinant of the region’s future prosperity. Certain traditional and historical hurdles like the varying sizes of railway gauges in different countries/regions and different international transportation and trade conventions being followed by different countries, may however need to be overcome if the dream of seamless regional connectivity is to be converted into reality.
Afghanistan, a land-locked country hemmed in from all sides except the north by Pakistan and Iran, and though dependent on them for its transit trade needs, also injects an element of rivalry between the two. The Afghan factor thus features prominently in this study.
The general tendency in Pakistan of considering Chabahar as the only competitor to Gwadar has blindsided the country to an extent that it imperils its planning and forecasting process. There are well developed ports in both Pakistan and Iran, which because of their better facilities and better road linkages, possess a natural edge over the ports in question. A detailed survey of regional ports has also been conducted to highlight the nature and extent of the competition on offer.
Towards the end, the future prospects of both Gwadar and Chabahar, in terms of factors like Afghan stability, US sanctions on Iran, their impact on Pakistan, Afghan transit trade and their ability to stare down a wide competitive array, have been discussed threadbare. The geo-political impact that the two sister ports can have may well depend on a host of factors, some within the control of their respective countries and some without. How effectively they deal with them may well determine their future. Their individual and collective interests are dependent on how closely they bond with each other.