Iran’s ‘Look East’ policy takes wings

Most analysts blithely overlook that Iran also has a “Look East” dimension to its foreign policies and once it shakes off the shackles of the UN sanctions, it is that vector which is bound to become lively almost overnight, impacting the regional alignments in the South Asian region in a major way.

The deck is now clear for the implementation of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project

The deck is now clear for the implementation of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project

Few would have noted that amidst the preoccupations over the Vienna talks between Iran and the world powers last week, President Hassan Rouhani found time to make a quick dash to Ufa, Russia – although Iran is not a member of the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO] is yet to take a decision on Iran’s membership. He was signaling the high importance Iran will attach to the “Look East” in its multi-vector foreign policies.

In the emergent context of the nuclear deal concluded at Vienna and the prospect of lifting of sanctions, Iran’s “Look East” will galvanize the country’s ties with Pakistan. Islamabad could anticipate this and within hours of the news coming in from Vienna, the Foreign Ministry had come out with a full-fledged statement, warmly welcoming the Iran deal and hailing it as auguring “well for peace and security in our region.”

Indeed, Pakistan has every reason to visualize itself as the biggest beneficiary of the lifting of sanctions on Iran in the immediate terms. The deck is now clear for the implementation of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, which has been stalling for years due to combined US-Saudi pressure on Pakistan.

Iran has already completed its part of the pipeline but American pressure prevented Pakistan from undertaking the construction of the pipeline on its side, costing $2 billion.

Pakistan’s petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi stated on Wednesday that the Chinese-funded LNG terminal at Gwadar and the 700-kilometre long pipeline linked to it as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC], which is expected to be ready by end-2017, can actually double up as well and become the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline as well.

Quite obviously, China and Pakistan neatly sidestepped the US opposition to the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project by instead planning a pipeline of their own as part of the CPEC, with Chinese funding to the tune of $2 billion, with the clear intent that it could eventually be dovetailed into the Iran-Pakistan pipeline project once the sanctions against Iran got lifted. That’s exactly what is happening.

All that Pakistan has to do now is to link Gwadar with the Iranian border, which is a distance of some 80 kms. The proposed Iran-Pakistan pipeline will then run from Asaluyeh in Iran to the Pakistani port of Gwadar (built by China), which is the “nerve centre” of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and from there onward to Nawabshah in Sindh to the north of Karachi.

In reality, though, we are just about to realize that the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is easily extendable to China, since the CPEC connects Gwadar and Xinjiang not only through road and rail links but also multiple pipelines. Pakistan is about to become the transit country for an Iranian mega gas pipeline leading to China. It will be the shortest route connecting China with Iran’s fabulous gas fields.

Of course, the Chinese-funded LNG project at Gwadar, which will take 30 months to build and where construction work is slated to begin in October, will directly receive Iranian gas.

The geopolitical significance of these developments does not need much elaboration. Simply put, Pakistan is becoming the gateway for a profound Iran-China energy relationship. It cannot but signify the beginning of a new regional axis, which is reflected in the Pakistani statement on Tuesday that the Iran deal augurs well for peace and security in the region.

Of course, the US is keenly watching the startling development in regional politics. A VOA commentary on Thursday titled “Pakistan Hopes to benefit from Iran Deal, With Chinese Help” acknowledged rather sardonically that the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project is in effect a Chinese project. It said, “Now, with the prospect of sanctions on Iran lifting in the near future, Pakistan is hoping to become one of the early beneficiaries of a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers by finally completing the Iran-Pakistan pipeline. But funding for the expensive project, expected to cost about $2 billion, is another problem for cash-strapped Pakistan. That is why it is trying to piggyback this project on another one funded mostly by its rich neighbor, China.”

The US has been promoting an alternate gas pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan and Pakistan to India known as the TAPI pipeline. It pinned hopes on the TAPI, sponsored by the Asian Development Bank, to help Big Oil get a toehold in Turkmenistan’s energy sector, which is dominated by China, and give some much-needed traction to the US’ Central Asia policies.

However, with the prospects of the Iran-Pakistan-China pipeline vastly improving, it remains to be seen how far Pakistan remains wedded to the TAPI project. The plain truth is that the hardline Indian policies have offended Pakistan to such an extent that it may not be inclined to join a regional project that involves India.

India is a big loser here in more ways than one, since traditionally Delhi has viewed Iran as a “second front” against Pakistan. On the other hand, the proposed Iran-Pakistan pipeline promises to give strong underpinning to the two countries’ bilateral cooperation and it will nudge Iran toward taking a neutral position in the India-Pakistan differences and disputes.

Pakistan has so far stubbornly refused to provide a direct access route for India to connect with Afghanistan and Central Asia. India has been fancying an alternate route via the Iranian port of Chabahar. Iran has welcomed India’s proposal to fund the development of Chabahar port as a container terminal. But then, both China and Pakistan cannot be happy about it, since Gwadar, which is also being developed as a naval base, is just about 80 kilometers from Chabahar.

There have been reports that Chinese companies have evinced interest in developing Chabahar port. It cannot be ruled out that Pakistan and China may work in tandem to discourage Iran from allowing an Indian presence in Chabahar region so close to the Gwadar naval base.

Clearly, the Iran-Pakistan-China energy cooperation and Iran’s link-up with the CPEC will also mean that there will be strong desire on the part of Islamabad and Tehran to harmonize their interests in Afghanistan, which can only work as a positive factor for the search for a settlement in Afghanistan (in which China is actively involved as well.)

Traditionally, India and Iran had cooperated closely with regard to the Afghan problem, which in effect neutralized to an extent Pakistan’s concerted strategy to curb the Indian desire to be an influential player in Kabul.

Suffice it to say, India may end up paying a heavy price of isolation in its region for having neglected its relations with Iran through the past decade.

In the emergent scenario, India is left with no options but to swallow the bitter pill and engage Pakistan despite the latter not having cared to fulfil any of the terrorism-related preconditions that Delhi had set before entering into any form of dialogue with Pakistan.

Washington has been urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to rein in the hardline Hindu nationalists in his camp and get cracking on an India-Pakistan normalization without any further loss of time. Modi has heeded the American wish and has, in fact, gone the extra league to make the unprecedented announcement so much in advance that he is even willing to visit Pakistan next year.

It has been a remarkable retreat by the hardline Hindu nationalist leader who has been a strident exponent of pursuing a “tough” line toward Pakistan.

Indeed, the US’s own regional strategies depend vitally on the India-Pakistan normalization and Washington counts on Modi to deliver. But the catch here is that Pakistan may not have any real incentive to show mercy at this point toward the Modi government after all the bad blood that has been spilt in the past year. (The Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar even threatened once that Delhi will let loose terrorist groups to teach Pakistan a lesson.)

Pakistan is well aware that it will be negotiating from a position of strength with India, especially with China solidly backing  it, while India has been virtually isolated in its own region.

Be that as it may, the ground reality is that the pipelines from Iran heading to Europe will take time to develop, but in the meanwhile it is Tehran’s “Look East” energy export policy that are poised to take wings in the nearest future.

The regional politics in South Asia is set to get a dramatic makeover that few could have anticipated – except Pakistan and China, of course, which are all set to ride the wings of Iran’s “Look East” energy policy.

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Categories: AT Top Writers, M.K. Bhadrakumar

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  • Kris

    I’m surprised this is an article from M.K. Bhadrakumar . He will be proven wrong in almost all. India will be the huge beneficiary.

  • Che Guvera

    Dream on bhakt… Bhadrakumar is an intellectual and to grasp his article you need minimum intelligence which unfortunately is not available in bhakts.

  • Che Guvera

    Its a pleasure to read your articles, Mr Bhadrakumar. Trust me its a treat to my brain. Factual,logical & sensible piece of article you cant find in the mainstream Indian media but I found solace that India has still intellectuals like you.Keep the good job going.

  • Bobserver

    Agreed. I read him daily. His writing is clear, interesting and certainly more objective than many writers to be found in Indian newspapers or, even articles published in the Western press including think tank journals. His years of being a diplomat have allowed him both the insights and connections to source information for objective analysis. Other writings by the author are to be found on Rediff blogs.

  • Syn Hope

    I respect Bhadrakumar. Substance is more important to him than ideology.

  • Maria

    “Suffice it to say, India may end up paying a heavy price of isolation in its region for having neglected its relations with Iran through the past decade.”…Hmm, and why did India do that? Because India did what the US wanted it to.

  • Maria

    India will be a huge beneficiary?? Only if Pakistan allows it!!

  • Lion Heart

    I think i would agree to Bhadra Kumar’s assessment.
    it will be difficult for Iran to forget two instances:

    1. that India voted against it at IAEA in 2005; while Pakistan chose to be abstain from voting.
    2. India ditched Iran- Pak- India pipeline under US pressure; although Pakistan also followed same path (under Saudi pressure and 1 billion dollar gift) but it compensated in a way later by refusing send its army to fight Houthi.

    so Iran will prefer Pakistan over India in any future strategic settlements (such as Afghanistan).
    Nevertheless India will not be on loosing end………as india will get cheap gas

  • timebr

    I agree that this article is a bit black and whiteish, as there will be new developments, India still has many cards to play especially as a BRICS nation. However India must realize that it’s future economic success outside a nuclear war with Pakistan will hing on better relations with all regional neighbors including the vacillating state of Pakistan and not the US fascist neocon imperialists..

  • timebr

    Again i disagree India will also be a beneficiary if by no other means just by proxy

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    The Pakistan Iranian gas pipeline is a deft move. By and large it bypasses the maritime route that goes around Sri Lanka in the Indian ocean and into the Pacific ocean, cutting the time by many hours, a far safer route that avoids ocean pirates and is better managed.
    It also contributes to the long term plan of including Iran into China’s “silk routes” and into China’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SC). the latter also benefits China’s strongest ally Russia who is a founding member of the SCO.

  • James Jerome

    It is an honor to read Mr. Bhadrakumar’s view’s of this, it is refreshing too see these countries get together and prevent the US from sabotaging their efforts to gain peace and security.

  • Sir Percy

    Mr. Bhadrakumar is objective and fair minded. Without these two attributes, nobody can be considered an intellectual.

  • Biased

    As the world around India coalesces into a pillar and a counter post, Narendra is running pillar to post in search of elusive strategic autonomy. I wish him my best.

    P.S. Iran has determined India must make a down payment of 8 Billion$ to keep the second front option in play lest Panda puts the kibosh on this auction with ‘an offer he cannot refuse’……..[Godfather].

  • Kris

    Why call someone a ‘bhakt’ if one disagrees? Being an intellectual requires intelligence. If you follow someone blindly, take every word of his/her, then you are a ‘bhakt’, but I am not. I just questioned Bhadrakumar’s assessment, that’s all.

  • harry Kahns

    Simple and smart as ever

  • Maria

    Yes, BUT, intellectuals provide the logical basis for their claims, YOU (unlike the author) never provided any factual basis for your claim; that India will be a huge beneficiary.

  • Fernando Martinez

    The sage has spoken!!!! No profanity? Your losing your touch lucky charms.

  • Maria

    Ah, unfortunately, you still need help in English, because you’re making basic mistakes that only a child would make: you should have written “you’re”, not “your”, Oops! LOL…Oh, and you’re using expressions that don’t even exist in English ( touch lucky charms…or, were you too stupid to use a comma after “touch”???). Please take an English class, and learn proper English). I enjoy watching you embarrass yourself, thank you for making me laugh, loser, you are always falling on your face.

  • Kenington

    Brilliant plan by the Pakistan/China/Iran coalition for peace and development!

    Another excellent analysis by Mr Bhadrakumar! Please keep such insightful articles coming.

  • Kenington


  • Maria

    And why the ‘?’ ?…Fernando is stalking & harassing me, he is malicious, that is why I am treating him as such. He’s an abusive coward towards women, he deserves the insult.

  • Kris

    India and Iran always have good relations whereas Pakistan does not. With India developing Iran’s Chabahar port and improving Iran-US relationship, Pakistan’s importance geopolitically (access to Afghanistan, land locked countries fo former soviet bloc) will diminish.

  • [email protected] is time for india to be mature,ever since independence,all the leaders,have been acting as BROWN SAHIBS,china is moving on,and the rest of east asia,india has over 500 million who don’t get 1 meal a day,and yet a country with a large muslim minority,and an educated class,cannot get along with its neighbours,its politicians play with its masses.

  • Maria

    That article was written by Reuters, and does not address the many issues Bhadrakumar talks about. Regarding the Chabahar port, the whole purpose of India developing the Chabahar port is for India to be able to influence Afghanistan to act as a “2nd front” against Pakistan in India’s favor, BUT:

    #1) Pakistan has tremendous leverage over Iran, and can influence Iran to reverse any of India’s anti-Pakistan developments in Afghanistan, Bhadrakumar wrote: “Clearly, the Iran-Pakistan-China energy cooperation and Iran’s link-up with the CPEC will also mean that there will be strong desire on the part of Islamabad and Tehran to harmonize their interests in Afghanistan.”!!
    #2) Bhadrakumar himself says that the Chinese may be willing to invest in the Chabahar port, which would therefore severely limit India’s influence on the purpose of the project that would have been a threat to Pakistan/China, such as making it a military port for India’s Navy in addition to a benign commercial port.
    #3) The preferred (cheapest) way for India to trade with/via Afghanistan is through Pakistan, and since the *ONLY* purpose of the Chabahar port is to circumvent Pakistan, any Indian trade via the Chabahar port would be MORE expensive for India than just direct travel over Pakistan (so, Chabahar isn’t even the preferred trade route for india, but may be necessary due to bad relations with Pakistan)….Look at Chabahar on a map, it is a much longer travel route AND it includes loading & unloading Indian ships at Iranian/indian ports, plus travel to/from Indian ports with the Indian interior, ALL this increases transportation costs for India!!!

  • Fernando Martinez

    Hahaha…How are you on this fine day?
    Can someone say “disproportionate response”……..?????
    Hahhaha…I am not abusive or cowardly towards women, I treat the mentally insane with the utmost kindness. I simply recall a certain mean spirited potty mouthed person, whose comments I enjoy reading now that they are not laced with abusive attacks or profanity anymore. So proud….Hi-5, fist pump???? Malicious, loser, stalking and harrassing?????? Oooohhhh hoooo hoo ho ho, nice…. The crazy wheels are spinning again. I’ll be along my way since someone’s delicate mental state is obviously teetering & deteriorating like a crumbling cookie. See ya around I’m glad I made ya laugh….Keep it clean.

  • Kris

    An article by Reuters appearing in Asia Times does not address the issue? What issue? Iran is INVITING India to invest several BILLIONS. What more you need? If you are not open minded to look at issues from several angles, you shall see only what you want to see. From previous discussion, I get the impression you are a quarrelsome person, I don’t have time or inclination to deal with such people. Good bye.

  • Maria

    #1) YOU cited that Reuters article as we were talking about THIS ATarticle, THEN you want to pretend that THIS conversation was really all about that Reuters article (oops, no it wasn’t, YOU just want to *change* the subject to the Reuters article, because you don’t have a counter to the issues Bhadrakumar raised — which, are YOUR weak points).
    #2) Kris, you simply don’t have a counter to the issues Bhadrakumar raised (copy & paste quotes) so you cowardly, falsely (and hypocritically) accuse me of “seeing what I want to see” (WOW!! looks like YOU *don’t* want to see what YOU *don’t* have an answer to!!!)
    #3)…Hmm, and your “seeing what I want to see” would have to be true of Bhadrakumar, since all I did was point out to you HIS points on the issue (which, contradicted your weak points). You’re absolutely *pathetic* & dishonest, as you make false accusations to substitute for your inability to continue the discussion (you just don’t want to admit you’ve been countered, that’s all).

  • Velamur Anand

    Mr. Bhadrakumar may be able to throw some light on a diplomatic nuance:
    Manmohan Singh , even as he was toeing the American line on Iran, could have taken the Iranians into confidence, explaining his compulsions. That would have kept the line open with Iran. In 1965, US was waging war against North Vietnam. Indian PM, Lal Bahadur Shastri had in April 1965 accused US of aggression in Vietnam. Unfortunately, very soon that year, we faced famine, and came to depend on US wheat supplies. Mrs. Gandhi who succeeded Shastri as PM , came under American pressure. India, then , banned trade with North Vietnam, a country with whom we had the friendliest relations. We became self-sufficient in food in a couple of years. The ban was never enforced strictly and soon revoked. Mrs. Gandhi was later decorated with the highest national honour of North Vietnam. It appears that the Vietnamese had been taken into confidence when trade was banned.

    US has also acted cunningly. They compelled us to withdraw from Iran-Pak-India pipeline, and now, after the nuke deal, they are prodding Iran to give priority to Europe in gas supply ! I hope Iran snubs the Europeans. We should have at least got the Americans in 2005 itself to commit that in case, in future, sanctions are lifted, we would be able to resume Iran-pak_India pipeline, before any others get there.Alas, that was not done and now we are left high and dry. US interest is in relieving Europe’s dependence on Russia for gas. Be that as it may, we have not acted with foresight.

  • deliaruhe

    Good for Iran — their leaders know where all the action is happening. The US is finished, and its vassal states (including India right now) seem contented to go down with it.