Great Game: Chabahar Port brings Iran and Afghan closer to India

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The inauguration of the first phase of the port of Chabahar by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday has opened a new strategic transit route between Iran, India and Afghanistan, without going through Pakistan.

Indian ports on the west coast such as Mumbai, JNPT, Mundra and Kandla can have direct and easy access to the Iranian port.

The name of Shahid Beheshti, the chief architect of Iran’s post-revolutionary constitution, the port in Sistan-Baluchestan province in southeastern Iran, will help the flow of goods from India, Afghanistan, Iran and the Central Asian states to that Pakistan denies access to transit. The port provides convenient access to the start of the Zaranj-Delaram road built in India, which crosses the Afghanistan ring road.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Iranian counterpart, Javed Zarif, held a meeting in Tehran on Saturday and discussed the port project and other issues.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the State Minister of Transport, Pon Radhakrishnan, represented India at the inauguration. “The routes of the region should be connected by land, sea and air,” Rouhani said. According to the agreement signed between India and Iran last year, India is committed to equip and operate two berths in Phase I of the port of Chabahar with a capital investment of USD 85.21 million and an annual expenditure of USD 22.95 million in a 10 year lease.

The minister also reviewed the progress of the port with the Iranian Minister of Transport, Dr. Abbas Akhoundi, and the Minister of Trade and Commerce of Afghanistan, Humayoon Rasaw. India has recently transported 110000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan through the port of Chabahar. The Trilateral Agreement of Transit and Trade between the three countries is awaiting ratification by the Majlis of Iran for full operation.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the trilateral ministerial meeting between Afghanistan, India and Iran on the implementation of the Chabahar agreement, it was decided to organize a connectivity event to increase awareness of the new opportunities offered by the port.

It was agreed that an integrated development of connectivity infrastructure, including ports, roads and the rail network, would open greater opportunities for access to the regional market and contribute to the economic integration of the region.

The port is 466 km north of Zahedan, which is a node in the Iranian rail network, which connects with Turkmenistan and, finally, with the Caspian Sea coast of Kazakhstan. Experts believe that the project, once it has been fully realized, will also be a response to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Gwadar port of Pakistan. It will also position India as a player in impulse connectivity projects to the North-South International Transport Corridor. It involves ship, rail and road routes to transport goods between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia. The route mainly involves moving cargo from India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia. The objective of the corridor is to increase commercial connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku and Astrakhan.

The lack of connectivity has brought Indian trade to the Central Asian states to a trickle compared to China, whose manufacturing centers are at much greater distances. The capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty, is only 1,609 km from Delhi, compared to 4,023 km from China’s eastern manufacturing centers. But Beijing’s exports to the region are around $ 20 billion, compared to India, which represents $ 950 million in 2016. Prime Minister Modi during his historic trip to Iran in May foresaw a land route to Europe through Chabahar . He said the project “could reduce the cost and time of cargo trade to Europe by approximately 50%.” The port was partially built by India in the 1990s. A first pact to build the port of Chabahar was first signed during the Vajpayee government in 2003, but the agreement slipped over the following years due to sanctions from United States against Tehran.

There are still challenges ahead. With the administration of EE. UU Under Donald Trump once again in the process of a collision with Iran, the possibility that the project will happen again is there. In addition, although the increase in trade is expected to help improve the security situation in Afghanistan, goods unloaded in Chabahar will have to reach Kabul or Herat through the Taliban control areas. In the coming days, providing security to the trucks will test the insights of India and Afghanistan.