India seeks Afghanistan help for port project in Iran

India is keen to rope in Afghanistan to develop infrastructure in and around the strategically important Chabahar Port in south east Iran to establish an alternative trade route to resource rich Central Asia. 

Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai will meet his Afghan and Iranian counterparts in Tehran on Sunday to discuss the project that would give India link to Afghanistan and landlocked countries in Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. New Delhi is likely to propose a trilateral working group to discuss commercial viability of the project.

“The idea is to take forward a kind of general discussion as to what we need to do about Chabahar, what is our common interest in the development of the infrastructure, the port, developing the use of Chabahar and the related infrastructure as an alternative route into Afghanistan which we certainly regard as being of very great significance. So, we will discuss it,” Mathai told journalists on Saturday.

Iran wants India to join the project, which includes building a container terminal at Chabahar Free Port on the coast of Gulf of Oman and Chabahar-Faraz-Bam railway project to get access to Afghanistan and Central Asian countries. India, however, has so far been cagey about getting involved in such a huge project in Iran, to avoid the US and the EU crticism.

Afghanistan too has been cautious about joining India in a project in Iran, because Washington is not comfortable with Tehran raising its clout in the region. The US, however, has its own plan – New Silk Road – for turning Afghanistan into a trade link between South and Central Asia.  

Mathai on Saturday said that Iran’s offer to India to join the project had raised “a number of very interesting possibilities in terms of the reconstruction at the industrial developments in Afghanistan”.

“Afghanistan certainly also finds it of interest being an alternative route into their country from which they can get vital supplies. So, I think this is a common interest, and we are going to look at it,” he said.

The Ministry of External Affairs had commissioned a study through the Indian Port Association to assess commercial viability of the project and suggest ways to move forward.

Mathai is likely to discuss the report of the IPA with his counterparts at the trilateral meet in Tehran on Sunday.  

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