India, Afghanistan move ahead on Chabahar Port

India, Afghanistan move ahead on Chabahar Port

The move comes despite the United States' move to re-impose sanctions on Iran

Chabahar Port. (AFP file photo)

Notwithstanding United States' move to re-impose sanctions on Iran, New Delhi and Kabul have agreed to start fully utilizing the sea-land route through Chabahar Port of the West Asian nation to transport cargo between India and Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

Senior officials of India, Afghanistan and Iran met in Tehran and held the first meeting of the trilateral coordination council for implementation of the Chabahar Agreement – a pact signed by the three nations in May 2016 to facilitate transit and transport through the port on the south-eastern coast of the West Asian Islamic Republic.

TS Tirumurti, Secretary (Economic Relations) at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi, represented the Government of India in the meeting. Kabul and Tehran were represented by respective Deputy Ministers of Transport of the Afghan and Iranian governments.

A press release issued by the MEA in New Delhi stated that the three sides had held a detailed discussion on full operationalisation of the 2016 trilateral agreement for transit and transport through the Chabahar Port. “All sides shared the view that full operationalisation of trilateral Chabahar initiative will promote connectivity and economic development of Afghanistan and the region,” the MEA stated.

The Chabahar Port is expected to open up “greater opportunities” for the promotion of trade and commerce from the ports along the western coast of India to Iran, Afghanistan and beyond, bypassing Pakistan, which has been blocking connectivity initiatives between South and Central Asia.

New Delhi has been involved in the development of Chabahar Port with a commitment to invest $ 500 million. The Port and Maritime Organization of Iran earlier this year leased out to India Ports Global Limited a part of Phase 1 of the port (a.k.a. Shahid Beheshti Port) for 18 months.

The recent move by US President Donald Trump's administration to re-impose sanctions on Iran, however, cast a shadow on India's investments in Iran, including that for developing the Chabahar Port.

The US started the process of reimposing sanctions on Iran after the Trump administration announced in May its decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal Tehran inked with the US, four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Germany and the European Union.

The Trump administration has since been nudging India to cut down crude oil import from Iran by November 4 – the day the US will re-impose sanctions on energy exports from the Islamic Republic.

New Delhi has been in discussion with Washington D.C. to seek a waiver from US sanctions, not only for its crude oil import from Iran but also for its investments in Chabahar Port.

While the US took a hard-line approach on the issue of India's oil import from Iran, senior officials of Trump Administration indicated that Washington D.C. might favourably consider New Delhi's plea for waiver for its investment for development of Chabahar Port, as it would establish a sea-land connectivity between Central Asia and South Asia through Afghanistan.

India in October 2017 started exporting wheat to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port.

Islamabad at present allows trucks from Afghanistan to carry goods through Pakistan only up to Wagah (a check-point on the Pakistani side of Pakistan-India border), and not up to Attari (a check-point on the Indian side of the India-Pakistan border). The goods have to be unloaded from trucks coming from Afghanistan in Wagah and loaded again on other vehicles to be brought to Attari and finally into India. The Afghan trucks then return empty to Afghanistan, as they are not allowed to carry goods from India.

Islamabad has repeatedly rejected calls by New Delhi and Kabul to allow hassle-free two-way trade between Afghanistan and India through Pakistan.

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