In a historic landmark when it comes to Indo-Afghan trade relations, India on Sunday flagged off its first wheat shipment to Afghanistan via Iran’s Chabahar port. The shipment after reaching Chabahar, would then reach Kabul by road.
This would mean that both the countries have established a trade route which doesn’t involve Pakistan as an intermediary. Earlier trade between India and Afghanistan was a major hassle as Afghanistan being a land locked country, was totally dependent on Pakistan for sea access. Pakistan also predictably used to create hassles by not allowing India land access to Afghanistan and merely allowing Afghan truck to enter India via the Wagah border.
This historic shipment was flagged off by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and also prompted a tweet by current chief executive of Afghanistan Dr Abdullah Abdullah. This tweet also included a map of the new trade route:
The usage of Chabahar as a port would not only help India connect to Afghanistan, it would also mean that it can now access other resource-rich countries in central Asia. Chabahar is also meant to be a counter to the China-Pakistan economic corridor whose Gwadar sea port is already being used for China’s trade activities.
Even though this port was such a key feature in India foreign strategy, it almost went into a cold storage during the UPA period, after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had entered an agreement to develop it in 2003. Negotiations intensified after Nuclear Deal between P5 + 1 (The UN Security Council’s 5 permanent member and Germany) and Iran. It was finally brought on track by PM Modi during his 2016 Iran visit, where the two countries signed the Chabahar port agreement. Moments later, a trilateral transit agreement was signed between India, Iran and Afghanistan, which now seems to have started to bear fruits.
Things unfortunately might have again hit a potential roadblock after it was reported that pressure was being exerted against this project by US officials, who questioned if India was as a result of the agreement, violating the international sanctions against Iran.
India’s plan to develop the Chabahar includes $500 million investment and a construction of a railway line between Chabahar and Zahedan which will connect the port to the mainstream Iranian railway system. Japan too has offered a hand in developing this whole project.
In the next few months India is expected to send 6 more wheat shipments which (including the current shipment) comprise of a 1.1 million tonnes wheat grant for the Afghan people. Such a grant, one hopes would not not only increase the relations between the two countries but might also make India a major player in Central Asia.