The Indian government has increased its interest in using Iran’s Chabahar port to connect with countries in Afghanistan and Central Asia for trade. If we look at the geographical location of Chahbahar port, then this port is a port located on the Gulf of Oman in the Sistan-Balochistan province of Iran. It serves as Iran’s only sea port. It consists of “2 separate ports” named “Shahid Kalantari” and “Shahid Beheshti”.
Its geographical proximity to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and the International North-South Transport Corridor gives it the potential to develop into one of the most important commercial-trade centres. Chabahar is one of the few places in Iran that is exempt from US sanctions.
India’s cooperation in the construction of Chahbahar port
Chabahar is a gateway for Indian trade with Europe, Russia and CIS i.e. Commonwealth of Independent States countries. India and Iran have been mutually cooperating since 2003 on Chabahar Port.
In the year 2016, India announced that it would invest $500 million in the development of Chabahar port. A major catalyst for their renewed cooperation stems from China’s announcement of the year 2013. This announcement is related to the huge Chinese project Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India, Iran and Afghanistan signed a tripartite agreement for the transport of goods between the three countries through the port.
How is India’s strategic-strategic approach to Chabahar?
India has changed its approach in this regard in different periods.
(1) Objective during the year 2003- To build India’s first offshore port and to showcase the potential of Indian infrastructure in the Gulf.
This is important for preventing trade through Pakistan and creating a long-term, sustainable maritime trade route. It is also important in finding alternative land routes to Afghanistan.
Subsequently, India built the Zaranj-Delaram Highway in the south of Afghanistan. This highway will help to connect the trade route from the Iranian border with the main trade routes of Herat and Kabul.
(2)Year 2016 and onwards – India signed an agreement with Iran to develop Chabahar port. and also signed a tripartite agreement with Afghanistan for trade through Chabahar. The fourth strategic objective of the Chabahar route has emerged in the last few years. It provides a route for future trade to Central Asia in an alternative to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Iran.
Why is it taking so long to realize the goal of Chabahar construction?
(1) Geo-political road-blocking – The biggest issue on the development of Shaheed Beheshti Terminal in Chabahar is Iran’s bilateral and multilateral relations with Western countries, especially the United States.
(2) In 2018, the US administration walked out of the JCPOA and imposed new sanctions on dealing with Iran.
(3) Tension in Indo-Iran relations – Fearing US sanctions, the Indian government “zero” all its oil imports from Iran, leading to tensions in Indo-Iran relations.
(4) Sourcing Equipment – The fear of secondary restrictions has made it difficult to obtain equipment for port construction from infrastructure companies.
(5) India-Afghanistan relations – India had put its relations with Afghanistan on the back burner after the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, also ending humanitarian assistance for wheat and pulses sent to Kabul via Chabahar. When India resumed wheat aid to Afghanistan this year, it held talks with Pakistan to use the land route.
Can India-Iran-Afghanistan trilateral relations get back on track?
India has reopened the Indian Embassy in Kabul and has established ties with the Taliban government to plan the Chabahar route.
The recent developments at the Iranian port terminal have raised many hopes for India.