India set to sign transit deal with Af, Iran

A proposed trilateral transit trade agreement among New Delhi, Kabul and Tehran may soon turn into a reality, providing India an alternative access to Afghanistan and the resource-rich Central Asia through Chabahar Port on the south-eastern coast of Iran.

As an interim deal between Iran and “P5 plus One (US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany)” late last month raised hopes for a thaw between Washington and Tehran, New Delhi and Kabul now seem to have shed inhibitions and are set to ink the trilateral transit trade agreement.

“We look forward to signing the trilateral transit trade agreement with India and Iran soon to fully utilise the Chabahar Port to further connect the whole region,” said Shaida M Abdali, Kabul’s envoy to New Delhi. He also said a draft of the proposed agreement was now being vetted by the governments of the three countries. Earlier this year, New Delhi had pledged $100 million to develop infrastructure projects in and around the strategically important port in Iran. 

India’s move to get involved in building infrastructure around Chabahar Port in Iran came close on the heels of China’s Overseas Port Holding Company’s acquisition of management of a commercial port in Gwadar on the south-western coast of Pakistan.

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy has since then been using Gwadar Port, which New Delhi perceives as yet another strategic asset China acquired to encircle India.

Iran has been prodding India to join the project, which include building a container terminal at Chabahar Free Port on the coast of the Gulf of Oman and the Chabahar-Faraz-Bam railway project to get access to Afghanistan and the central Asian countries bypassing Pakistan.

New Delhi, however, has so far been cagey about getting involved in such a huge project in Iran, keeping in view the hostility between Washington and Tehran over the controversial nuclear programme of Iran.
The interim deal “P5 plus One” inked with Iran in Geneva last month to curb a freeze on the nuclear programme of the Islamic republic prompted New Delhi to review its approach.

National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon had a meeting with senior government officials late last month.

He is understood to have instructed them to speedily move towards implementation of the infrastructure projects in and around Chabahar Port as well as to deepen economic engagements with Iran.

Government sources told Deccan Herald that New Delhi intended to “actively pursue” the proposed ventures around Chabahar Port as sanctions by the United Nations, US and the European Union on Iran did not directly affect the port-related projects.

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