In a transformational move, India has finally succeeded in surmounting the Pakistan barrier to ease its access to the landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia with the inauguration of the first phase of Chabahar port.
More than a month after India sent its first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan via the Chabahar port in Iran, the first phase of a newly built extension of the $340-million project opened on December 3, opening new strategic and economic possibilities for India.
Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani inaugurated the Shahid Beheshti Port that will connect the North South Corridor with the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Oman.
Constructed by a Revolutionary Guard-affiliated company, Khatam al-Anbia, Chabahar has two docks and a capacity of 8.5 million tonnes of cargo annually, from the previous 2.5 million tonnes. Behrouz Aqaee, Director General of Ports and Maritime Organisation in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province, estimated that about 100,000-tonne ships will be able to call at the port after it becomes operational.
India had committed up to $500 million for the development of the port last year with its related road and rail networks and has been asked to oversee the first phase of the port, until the second phase is completed. A state-run Indian company was among the several subcontractors involved in the project.
Triumph for Indian diplomacy
“Clearly, it’s a game-changing move for Indian diplomacy in the region that has been hobbled by Pakistan’s intransigence in not allowing Indian goods overland access to Afghanistan,” said Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on India’s expanding global engagements.
“It will have a force-multiplier effect on regional connectivity and deepen India’s strategic and economic bonding with the extended neighbourhood,” said Mr Chand.
The importance India attaches to the Chabahar port was evident in External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s brief stopover in Tehran on her way back from the SCO summit in Sochi on the eve of the inauguration. Ms Swaraj and her Iranian counterpart Javed Zarif discussed various aspects of the management of the port and issues of mutual interest.
Dismissing speculation around the rivalry with Gwadar port in Pakistan, President Rouhani said, “We should go after positive competition…We welcome other ports in the region, we welcome Gwadar’s development.”
Minister of State (Shipping) Pon Radhakrishnan represented India at the inauguration of Phase I of the Shahid Beheshti port at Chabahar.
“In the Trilateral meeting with Iranian Transport Minister Dr Abbas Akhoundi and the Afghanistan Trade and Commerce Minister Mr Humayoon Rasaw, the three sides reviewed and positively assessed the progress in the development of Chabahar Port and reiterated their commitment to complete and operationalise the Port at the earliest,” said India’s external affairs ministry in a statement. The port “would contribute to bilateral and regional trade and economic development and also provide alternate access to landlocked Afghanistan to regional and global markets,” said the ministry.
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