Iran on Tuesday conveyed to India that it has completed the first phase of work on Chabahar port. Tehran plans to inaugurate it on Sunday, with the country’s President Hassan Rouhani and officials from India, Afghanistan and other countries. Sources told The Indian Express that this is a major step, and discussions are under way in New Delhi on a political-level representation at the inauguration ceremony on December 3. So far, Indian diplomats based in Tehran are expected to take part.
This comes exactly a month after India had operationalised Chabahar port and sent the first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan.
The development assumes significance since India’s outreach through Iran is taking place at a time the Donald Trump administration is planning to corner Tehran through diplomatic and economic means.
New Delhi had recently started the air freight corridor to Afghanistan, and has sent 981 tonnes of fruit since mid-June this year. But the air corridor has limitations in terms of capacity, and the sea route has economic advantages.
Pakistan has blocked the land transit to Afghanistan, and it was at the forefront in blocking SAARC motor vehicles transit agreement in November 2014, which forced India to expedite alternative ways to reach Afghanistan.
On October 28, the shipment was flagged off from Kandla port in Gujarat — External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Afghanistan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani joined the ceremony through video conferencing.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that this development marks a “new chapter” in regional cooperation and connectivity.
The Chabahar port is expected to open up new opportunities for trade and transit from and to Afghanistan and enhance trade and commerce between the three countries and the wider region, which includes Central Asia.
Work on Chabahar port picked up pace after the trilateral agreement on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor was signed during Modi’s visit to Iran in May 2016. India and Iran have already expressed commitment for early completion of the work on Chabahar port project.
Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari had recently said that work on the port is going on as scheduled, and officials are working towards developing it by the end of 2018. Gadkari had said that the port would be a “win-win” situation for India, Iran and Afghanistan, as it would serve as a “growth engine” for the entire region.
Chabahar port, located in Sistan-Balochistan province in the energy-rich Persian Gulf nation’s southern coast, lies outside the Persian Gulf and is easily accessed from India’s western coast, bypassing Pakistan.