Despite Iran’s endeavor to get closer to India, which also has close ties with the United States, Tehran does not seem to be willing to sacrifice its long-term relationship with Pakistan and China to an economic project with India. What both the conservatives and incumbent moderates in Tehran are looking for is to create an economic hub with the support of India, China and Pakistan. A source who has close ties with the conservative Islamic Coalition Party told Al-Monitor that top conservative leaders already backed the idea to turn the country into a hub for trading with Central Asian markets. “This is a definite plan. The government must take an approach to make it happen,” he said. And without Pakistani and Chinese support, Iran will fail to achieve this strategic goal.
What the Iranian government is trying to do is find common interests among regional rivals. India’s relationship with Iran could be boosted in the upcoming decade, as Rouhani said that their relationship “starts with Chabahar today, but its end will be an all-out comprehensive development, economic and cultural cooperation.” However, closer ties with India do not mean that Iran will stop negotiating with regional countries to absorb further investment in Chabahar. India is only developing a couple of container terminals at the port itself, and Tehran is still trying to engage other countries for its development.
Iran’s ambassador to Islamabad, Mehdi Honardoust, gave a signal to Pakistani officials within a week after Modi’s visit that his country welcomes Pakistan’s engagement in Chabahar. Citing the Iranian diplomat, the Indian news website Scroll said that Tehran first offered Chabahar to Pakistan and China, but that they were not interested. Honardoust met with officials at Pakistani think tanks and tried to persuade them that Chabahar “is not a rival” to Pakistan’s Gwadar port. He said Iran’s offer is still open to “Pakistan, our brotherly neighbor, and China, a great partner of the Iranians and a good friend of Pakistan” to help develop Chabahar facilities.
Given the close ties Tehran already has with Beijing and Islamabad, Tehran will sooner or later be able to engage China and Pakistan for the development of the Chabahar port — the type of cooperation that would get Iran closer to its ambition of becoming an influential trade hub in the region.