India’s Chabahar moment as first shipment of wheat leaves for Afghanistan


 

chabhar-wheatOpening a new chapter in enhancing connectivity to Afghanistan, India has sent the first shipment of wheat to Kabul through Iran’s Chabahar port, bypassing Pakistan.

The first wheat shipment was flagged off by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani on October 29 through a joint video conference. It has been hailed by New Delhi as a landmark moment paving the way for operationalisation of the Chabahar port as an alternate, reliable and robust connectivity for Afghanistan.

Another six shipments of wheat will be sent over the next few months and are part of India’s commitment to send 1.1 million tonnes of wheat to the violence-ravaged country on grant basis.Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to twitter to congratulate the three countries on the landmark occasion. “This development marks a new chapter in regional cooperation & connectivity,” he tweeted.“It will 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,” India’s external affairs ministry said in a statement.

This is the first shipment from India going to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port after the Trilateral Agreement on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor was signed during the visit of Mr Modi to Tehran in May 2016.The first shipment marks a major leap of faith for India as it steps up its outreach to Afghanistan amid the US intensifying its pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.

With US President Donald Trump envisaging a pivotal role for India in stabilising Afghanistan, Washington has taken a softer approach towards India’s Chabahar port drive. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, during his recent visit to India, had clarified that the US would not impede any “legitimate business” between Iran and other countries in the region.

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Mrs Swaraj, on her part, reiterated India’s continued commitment to support reconstruction, capacity building and socio-economic development of Afghanistan, including under the framework of the New Development Partnership jointly announced during the meeting of India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Council in October.As part of the agreement, India will be providing assistance in the training of Afghan police officers besides working on 116 high impact community development projects in 31 Afghan provinces. Since the fall of Taliban in 2001, India has extended $3.1 billion in assistance to the strife-torn country and has been actively engaged in various developmental and capacity building programmes.

The opening of new transit routes such as the India-Afghanistan air corridor and the Chabahar port is expected to boost trade between India and Afghanistan, which continues to remain way below potential, at $684 million (2014 -2015), largely due to security concerns.