India has formally taken the charge of operations at the strategic Chabahar port of Iran, giving a massive boost to its connectivity initiative towards the west and central Asia. The Chabahar port is one of the most successful strategic initiative taken by the Indian establishment aiding country’s efforts to support war-torn Afghanistan.
Reportedly, Iran has formally handed over the Chabahar port to India during a first meeting to implement the Chabahar Agreement signed between Iran, Afghanistan, and India. The Indian side at the meeting was led by joint secretary (Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran) Deepak Mittal of the Ministry of External Affairs, while the Iranian team was led by Mohammad Ali Hassanzadeh, the deputy head of the Ports and Maritime Organisation.
“This is a major step forward in India’s efforts to support Afghanistan and also for regional cooperation,” an official in New Delhi said.
Behrouz Aqaei, director general of Sistan-Baluchestan Ports and Maritime Organisation, reportedly said that India Ports Global Limited (IPGL) has “officially started to run Shahid Beheshti port in Chabahar” and the company’s major tasks include loading and unloading operations, procurement and marketing.
The two sides met to discuss the matters involving customs tariffs, promoting customs transactions and rail transit, and the transportation process, Aqaei said. The meeting also included finalising the protocol to harmonise transit, roads, customs and consular matters for making the port attractive and to decrease logistics costs.
In addition to that, India and Iran are also set to finalise a “preferential trade” agreement (PTA) that will come into force in the future. Saurabh Kumar, India’s ambassador to Tehran had said talks between the two sides are being held to sign two agreements-a PTA and a joint investment agreement.
India and Iran first agreed to plans to further develop Shahid Beheshti port of Chabahar in 2003 but could not further the plan due to sanctions against Iran. In May 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed a bilateral agreement with his Iranian counterpart to refurbish one of the berths at Shahid Beheshti port and reconstruct a 600-meter long container handling facility at the port.
Chabahar is one of the most important strategic areas of influence for India, as it is located just 76 nautical miles (less than 150km) west of the Pakistani port of Gwadar, being developed by China. This makes it ideal for keeping track of Chinese or Pakistani military activity based out of Gwadar.
Chabahar, the only Iranian port with direct access to the ocean, lies in the Makran coast of south-eastern Iran is a highly energy-rich coast but underdeveloped free trade and industrial zone.
The Chabahar project provides excellent connectivity opportunity to countries like Iran, Afghanistan and most importantly, bypasses the Pakistan land corridors and Karachi port to transport goods to the Central Asia region. India has already built necessary infrastructure in Afghanistan to bring more connectivity and also use the region for both economic and strategic initiatives.
India has already constructed the Zaranj-Delaram road in 2009 which is to provide access to Afghanistan’s Garland Highway, facilitating transport to four major cities in Afghanistan— Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, and Mazar-e-Sharif. From Chabahar, overland access to Zaranj in Afghanistan is also being built, which is about 900 km from the newly built port.
Chabahar port is important for India as it is easily accessible from Indian western ports of Mumbai and Kandla. Both Iran and India will have massive benefits from this project, as Iran receives much-needed investments in the region and India gets benefited from both strategic and economic point of view. Chabahar is set to open new trade and investment opportunities for India.