By: Kayhan Int’l Staff Writer
The strategic Iranian seaport of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman, which is designed to serve as a vital trade conduit between India and landlocked Central Asia, including Afghanistan, as part of the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC), has entered the inaugural phase with the arrival of the first shipment of wheat from Kandla, India, and its transfer to Hajigak in Afghanistan.
According to reports, another Indian ship is docking at Chabahar to offload its cargo, and in the next few months, traffic is expected to speed up.
The related officials of the three countries – Iran, Afghanistan, and India – were quick to underline the importance of Chabahar, which New Delhi has pledged to develop following the trilateral agreement signed in Tehran over a year ago during the visits of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Chabahar cuts the distance to Afghanistan’s Nimruz Province by at least 800 km, in addition to the time factor, reduced freight charges and lower tariffs, since previously Indian ships had either to dock at crowded Bandar Abbas waiting for the turn to berth, or reluctantly offload shipments at Karachi, for the arduous route through hostile terrain on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Moreover, the two chief rivals of the Subcontinent are again undergoing a tense phase in their bilateral relations.
The onus is now on India to honour its commitments and complete the port facilities as well as the required rail and road connections to Zahedan, Sarakhs on the Iran-Turkmenistan border and Afghanistan’s Mazar-e Sharif which is linked to the Central Asian transport network.
It was way back in 2003 that India had agreed to complete the Chabahar Project, but continued to drag feet citing American pressures and the illegal US sanctions against Iran.
US pressures are still there, and are not expected to ease, if not increase, in view of the quixotic Donald Trump seated in the White House. Under the circumstances, it is up to India to decide, as an independent sovereign state, to proceed with its age-old relations with Iran for the benefit of its own economy, instead of bowing to the dictates from Washington.
Iran, for its part, is providing all needed facilities for both India’s public and private sectors, with guarantees of ensured benefits for their investments. As a matter of fact, the Islamic Republic of Iran provides the safest and surest route to facilitate trade between India and landlocked Central Asia, with its excellent relations with the countries to its north, west, and east, in addition to the stability of the country.
This is indeed an excellent opportunity for not just India, but other countries such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and even Oman and East African states, to establish lucrative commercial ties with Central Asia and Russia, through Iran’s Chabahar.
On completion, the Chabahar-Hajigak railway has potential for several times more trade via connectivity to the 7,200-km-long multi-mode International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) with links to Europe and Turkey, the Trans-Siberian Highway across Russia, and the planned Herat to Mazar-e Sharif railway providing access to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Moreover, Chabahar which is located on the Makran coast of Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan Province, on the Gulf of Oman, is outside the Strait of Hormuz and the crowded Persian Gulf waterway. It is worth noting that it has direct access to the Indian Ocean, and has been termed the "Golden Gate” to Afghanistan and the land-locked countries of Central Asia.
In view of these undeniable realities, the sooner Chabahar is completed the better for all those involved, as well as those nations with eyes on increasing trade and commercial ties.