India puts Chabahar port on fast track


India and Iran have agreed to fast track the crucial Chabahar port project during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s trip to Iran on April 17. Mrs Swaraj also met Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. “President Rouhani spoke of Chabahar as a defining partnership which has the potential of connecting the entire region. He hoped for closer consultations with India on regional issues especially Afghanistan and the challenge of terrorism,” Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement. This is her first visit to the country as Foreign Minister. Her visit comes two weeks after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which is also Iran’s regional rival.

The Chabahar port is vital for India’s strategic interests and seeks to develop it as a counter to Pakistan’s Gwadar port, which was built with Chinese assistance. The Chabahar project had been stuck for several years. The port, which is located in the south east Iran, will allow India to bypass Pakistan to transport goods to Afghanistan and Central Asia through a sea-land route.

India, Afghanistan and Iran have finalised the Chabahar agreement to operationalise the strategic port. “The draft Agreement envisions trilateral cooperation for providing alternative access to seas to Afghanistan, inter alia for Afghanistan’s trade with India,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement. “When the Agreement comes into force it will significantly enhance utilization of Chabahar Port, contribute to economic growth of Afghanistan, and facilitate better regional connectivity, including between India and connections to Afghanistan and Central Asia,” the statement added.

The Cabinet had cleared the credit and formation of a company in Iran to handle the project in February. The Indian government has proposed to extend a $150 million credit for the development of the port. The visit by Mrs Swaraj is also expected to enhance trade ties between the two countries.

The visit by Mrs Swaraj seeks to balance India’s relations between Iran and the Arab world. The visit is also significant with Iran as Tehran is now actively participating in global trade after the sanctions were lifted. Mr Modi is expected to visit Iran later in 2016.

It has been decided that the Chabahar agreement will be signed completing necessary internal procedures in the three countries.

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