India starts sending wheat to Af via Iran's Chabahar Port

India starts sending wheat to Af via Iran's Chabahar Port

NEW DELHI: India on Sunday started exporting wheat to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port in Iran - bypassing Pakistan, which has been blocking connectivity initiatives between South and Central Asia.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was joined by her Afghan and Iranian counterparts Salahuddin Rabbani and Javad Zarif through a joint video conference, to ceremonially flag off the first shipment.

"The shipment is part of a commitment made by the Government of India to supply 1.1 million tonnes of wheat for the people of Afghanistan on a grant basis," the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stated.

This is the first shipment that would be going to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port after New Delhi, Kabul and Tehran inked a Trilateral Agreement on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Iran in May 2016.

Six more shipments will be sent over the next few months, said Raveesh Kumar, MEA spokesperson.

Sushma, Rabbani and Zarif also reaffirmed their commitment to continue their cooperation "for the benefit and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan and the region".

New Delhi noted that the shipment of wheat was a landmark moment as it would pave the way for operationalisation of the Chabahar Port as "an alternate, reliable and robust connectivity" between India and Afghanistan.

It would open up new opportunities for trade and transit from and to Afghanistan and enhance trade and commerce between the three countries and the wider region, noted Kumar.

Sushma reiterated India's continued commitment to support reconstruction, capacity building and socio-economic development of Afghanistan, including under the framework of the New Development Partnership that she had jointly announced with Rabbani last month during the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Council meeting.

She also renewed commitment to work closely with regional and international partners to bring peace, security, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan.

The route Chabahar Port is intended to improve landlocked Afghanistan's trade connectivity with India and other countries in South and South-East Asia.

It will also help India to access the markets of Central Asia and Europe through Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

Islamabad at present allows trucks from Afghanistan to carry goods through Pakistan only up to Wagah (a check-point on the Pakistani side on the border), and not up to Attari (a check-point on the Indian side of the 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.

During his visit to New Delhi last Tuesday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani warned that if Islamabad continued to deny entrepreneurs from his country access to India and rest of South Asia, his government, too, would retaliate and close transit for the traders of Pakistan through Afghanistan to Central Asia.

In June, India and Afghanistan launched a dedicated air freight corridor to boost bilateral commerce averting bottlenecks created by Pakistan on land connectivity between Central and South Asia.

Strategic utility

The Chabahar port, located in the Sistan-Baluchistan Province on the south-eastern coast, is a port of great strategic utility for India.

It lies outside the Persian Gulf and can be accessed from India's western coast.

Also, India, Afghanistan and Iran recently inked a trilateral transport and transit deal, which would allow Indian exporters utilise Chabahar Port and access markets in Afghanistan through Zahedan.

New Delhi last year agreed to provide provision and operationalisation of credit of $ 150 million from EXIM Bank for development of Chabahar Port.

India will equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port Phase-I with a capital investment of $ 85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of $ 22.95 million on a 10-year lease.

DH News Service

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