Experts divided on economic benefit of Chabahar Port

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, center, speaks during the inauguration of a newly built extension of the port of Chabahar, near the Pakistani border, on the Gulf of Oman, southeastern Iran, Sunday. (AP)
Updated 04 December 2017
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Experts divided on economic benefit of Chabahar Port

NEW DELHI: Afghanistan has called Sunday’s inauguration of the first phase of Iran’s Chabahar Port “the beginning of a new era of connectivity and a huge leap of faith.”
“Chabahar will allow the whole region to be connected without any obstacle,” said Shaida Mohammad Abdali, the Afghan ambassador to India. “We have broken the chain of disconnectivity.”
The Afghan ambassador is referring to the breakdown in the trade connectivity at the Wagah border, which was the normal route of trade between India and Afghanistan passing through Pakistan. The opening of the Chabahar port restores that economic connectivity.
Abdali told Arab News, “We have a saying that no matter how high the altitude, there is a way to the top. Today, we have found a way between the two countries, India and Afghanistan, through Chabahar.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated the first phase of the port, on the Gulf of Oman, on Sunday, in the presence of leaders from India and Afghanistan. The port offers a new strategic route that bypasses Pakistan and connects Iran, India and Afghanistan, and reflects a growing convergence of political and economic interests between the three countries.
“The routes of the region should be connected through land, sea and air,” Rouhani said after the inauguration.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that the port would “provide alternative access to landlocked Afghanistan into regional and global markets… an integrated development of connectivity infrastructure including ports, road and rail networks would open up greater opportunities for regional market access and contribute towards the economic integration and benefit of the three countries and the region.”
However, Phunchok Stobdan, a former Indian ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and a distinguished academic, questions the economic viability of the port.
“In terms of slogans, yes, you can call it a new era of connectivity. But how much substance is there, we don’t know. It is just a beginning. It is more about political opportunism than economic benefits, as I see it,” said Stobdan, who is also a senior fellow at New Delhi-based think tank, Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA).
“What do you want to export and what you want to import?” he continued. “There are no high-value items to trade between India and Afghanistan.
“I feel the Indian government should also work out some mechanism to open the Wagah border,” he continued. “But Pakistan has been using the strategy of denial for very long time. It is working in their favor. It is a larger political issue; it is not an economic or connectivity issue.”
Stobdan also claimed that “the significance lies in the fact that, before Trump puts (forward) lots of objections, India has been brought into the picture.”
The Chabahar port, located in the Sistan-Balochistan province of Iran’s southern coast, is seen by some as a counter to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port — which is being developed with Chinese investment and is located around 85 km from Chabahar — and, by extension to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
“We can say lot, but the economy will speak,” Stobdan said. “You think the Chinese did not know about the Chabahar port? They knew. The market is in Pakistan. The market is in India. The market is not in the Sististan-Baluchistan area.”
Afghan ambassador Abdali said: “The Chabahar port will be open to everyone. All the stakeholders and I hope that no one thinks of it as a counter to any other initiatives. At the same time, I consider it a major development for the whole region.”


France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

Updated 19 May 2019
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France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

  • His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent
  • In his country, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as Europe’s savior and next week’s European Parliament elections as a make-or-break moment for the beleaguered European Union.
But Macron is no longer the fresh-faced force who marched into a surprising presidential victory to the rousing EU anthem two years ago. His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent. And at home, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies.
Macron wanted the May 23-26 European Parliament elections to be the key moment that he could push his ambitions for a stronger Europe — but instead, nationalists and populists who criticized the 28-nation bloc could achieve unprecedented success.
They argue that EU leaders have failed to manage migration into the continent and remain out of touch with ordinary workers’ concerns.
“We have a crisis of the European Union. This is a matter of fact. Everywhere in Europe, when you look at the past five to six years, in our country but in a lot of countries, all the extremes, extreme-rights, are increasing,” Macron said Thursday, making an unexpected appeal for European unity on the sidelines of a technology trade show.
“On currency, on digital, on climate action, we need more Europe,” he said. “I want the EU to be more protective of our borders regarding migration, terrorism and so on, but I think if you fragment Europe, there is no chance you have a stronger Europe.”
In person, the 41-year-old Macron comes across as strikingly, sincerely European. A political centrist, he’s at ease quoting Greek playwrights, German thinkers or British economists. France’s youngest president grew up with the EU and has been using the shared European euro currency his whole adult life, and sees it as Europe’s only chance to stay in the global economic game.
Macron has already visited 20 of the EU’s 28 countries in his two years in office, and while he acknowledges the EU’s problems, he wants to fix the bloc — not disassemble it.
Macron won the 2017 presidential election over France’s far-right, anti-immigration party leader Marine Le Pen on a pledge to make Europe stronger to face global competition against the Unites States and China. Since then, he’s had to make compromises with other EU leaders — and clashed with some nations where populist parties govern, from Poland to neighboring Italy.
Four months after his election, Macron outlined his vision for Europe in a sweeping speech at Paris’ Sorbonne university, calling for a joint EU budget, shared military forces and harmonized taxes.
But with Brexit looming and nationalism rising, Macron has had to reconsider his ambitions. He called his political tactics with other EU leaders a “productive confrontation.”
“In Europe, what is expected from France is to clearly say what it wants, its goals, its ambitions, and then be able to build a compromise with Germany to move forward” with other European countries, Macron said last week.
Macron stressed that despite her initial reluctance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed last year to create a eurozone budget they hope will boost investment and provide a safety mechanism for the 19 nations using the euro currency.
In March, Macron sought to draw support for a Europe of “freedom, protection and progress” with a written call to voters in 28 countries to reject nationalist parties that “offer nothing.”
And he proposed to define a roadmap for the EU by the end of this year in a discussion with all member nations and a panel of European citizens.
“There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?” he asked.
France and Germany are the two heavyweights in Europe, and Macron can also count on cooperation from pro-European governments of Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and others.
He has made a point, however, of not yet visiting Hungary or Poland, two nations led by populist leaders whom Macron accused last year of “lying” to their people about the EU.
France has also been entangled in a serious diplomatic crisis with Italy over migration into Europe. Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly criticized Macron and is backing his rival Le Pen’s National Rally party in the election this week that aims to fill the European parliament’s 751 seats.
Macron has little chance to repeat Europe-wide what he did in France: rip up the political map by building a powerful centrist movement that weakened the traditional left and right.
The campaign for Macron’s Republic on the Move party is being led by former European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau under a banner called “Renaissance.” The party wants to associate with the pro-market ALDE alliance to create new centrist group at the European Parliament.
But across the continent, the centrists are not expected to come out remotely on top but rank third or even lower behind the parliament’s traditional two biggest groups, the right-wing European People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists and Democrats group.
Even at home, Macron is far from certain of being able to claim victory in the European vote. Polls suggest his party will be among France’s top two vote-getters in the election, which takes place in France on May 26.
But its main rival, the far-right National Rally party, is determined to take revenge on Macron beating Le Pen so decisively in 2017.
Macron’s political opponents across the spectrum are calling on French voters to seize the European vote to reject his government’s policies.
While he won 64% of the presidential vote in 2017, French polls show that Macron’s popularity has been around half that for the past year.
It reached record lows when France’s yellow vest movement broke out last fall, demanding relief from high taxes and stagnant wages for French workers, then slightly rose as extensive violence during yellow vest protests, especially in Paris, dampened support for the movement’s cause.
Still, the yellow vests are not going away. New protests against Macron and his government are planned for the EU election day.