Chabahar: India’s Golden Gate To Central Asia
India, Afghanistan, and Iran have been working together and constantly to create an alternate and reliable trade access bypassing Pakistan. With Chabahar in the near future, Afghanistan would also have a reliable trade and transit route to Europe
Photo Credit : PTI
With the inauguration of the first phase of the Shahid Beheshti Port at Chabahar, India has opened its doors to the landlocked countries of central Asia.
Chabahar Port is a collaboration between India, Afghanistan, and Iran, to continue trading through Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan (which is constantly denying entry to India) for transit access and finding an alternative to entering the landlocked central Asian countries. Through the joint collaboration, the first tranche of 110000 tonnes of wheat has already reached Afghanistan through Chabahar Port about a month ago.
As per reports from the MEA (Ministry Of External Affairs), at present ministers from all the three countries i.e. India, Afghanistan, and Iran have agreed to further intensify cooperation on better connectivity, and development of Chabahar Port and a meeting of senior officials for the discussions is expected soon.
As per the agreement signed between India and Iran in May 2016, India will equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port in its first phase with an investment of 85.21 million dollars and an annual revenue expenditure of 22.95 million for a 10 year lease.
India’s strategic interests in Chabahar
Chabahar Port is geographically located in a very convenient position for India, which is in Southeast Iran at the Gulf of Oman and serves as Iran’s only Oceanic Port in the Indian Ocean. It has consists of two separate ports named Shahid Kalantri and Shahid Beheshti(inaugurated yesterday) each of which has five berths.
India, Iran and Afghanistan have signed MoU’s that have committed almost $21bn to Chabahar-Hajigak Corridor, including $85m for Chabahar port development by India, $150m line of credit by India to Iran. An 8bn dollar India-Iran MoU for Indian industrial investment in Chabahar Special Economic Zone. An 11-billion dollar Hajigak iron and steel mining project has been awarded to seven Indian companies in central Afghanistan. And India's $2bn commitment to Afghanistan for developing supporting infrastructure including the Chabahar-Hajigaj railway line.
With the humongous investment, a full-fledged operation of the port is likely to ramp up trade between India Iran and Afghanistan and give it a strong entry into the central Asian markets.
“Afghanistan used to rely only on one transit road, which was through Karachi. That is not the case anymore. Now it is through Chabahar,” says Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
The Twisted History
India has already built a 240-km road connecting Afghanistan with Iran.
As per Iran media reports, Iran's ambassador to Pakistan, Mehdi Honerdoost stated that Pakistan and China had both been invited to contribute to the project before India, but neither China nor Pakistan had expressed interest in joining. In 2015, it was announced that the Gwadar port city and port would be further developed under CPEC at a cost of $1.62 billion, with the aim of linking northern Pakistan and western China to the deep-water seaport. Gwadar is a deep-sea port in the Arabian Sea in Balochistan province of Pakistan, close to Iran, which is only about 80 Kms from Chabahar.
India Vs Pakistan
While India has been fully devoted to getting its ambitious Chabahar project, Pakistan has left no stone unturned up the game with its investment and alliance with China on Gwadar Port (China Pak Economic Corridor).
While Afghanistan looks at it as a healthy competition India views it as a security threat and a competition
“We have to open our borders to let trade flourish. And not be threatened by other countries. Trade and economics must always be separate from any kind of disputes,” said Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Dr Shaida Abdali in an interview with Businessworld.
"If Chinese naval ships are to be based in Gwadar in future, it will pose security challenges to us, which we will have to look at and mitigate,” said Navy chief Sunil Lamba in a statement to reporters.
The Terrific Trio
India, Afghanistan and Iran have been working together and constantly to create an alternate and reliable trade access bypassing Pakistan. With Chabahar in the near future, Afghanistan would also have a reliable trade and transit route to Europe.
“Chabahar is a milestone which will change the economic situation of the entire region. We are looking for lakhs of jobs creation, skilled or unskilled.,” said Dr Abdali.
Just a day before the historic inauguration, EAM Sushma Swaraj made a surprise stopover at Iran on her way back from Russia and met with her counterpart Javed Zarif.
The external affairs ministry said Swaraj and Zarif discussed various aspects of India-Iran relations and ways to strengthen these during the meeting, besides exchanging views on regional and global developments of mutual interest.
It is speculated the port will still take a year to be fully functional and benefit the trio as per the plan.