India, Afghanistan discuss Chabahar Port’s role in bolstering trade, economic ties

August 12, 2018

TEHRAN - The first phase of the Chabahar Port was inaugurated in December last year, which has opened a new strategic transit route between India, Iran and Afghanistan. While there are still some unresolved issues related to the development of the port, which is situated in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province, it is expected to make headway soon.

During the second meeting of India-Afghanistan Joint Working Group on Development Cooperation (JWG-DC) in Kabul on Thursday, the officials from India and Afghanistan underscored the importance of access through Chabahar Port for strengthening trade and economic relations between them, said a statement issued by the Afghan government.

The officials discussed the viability of the strategic port in Iran as a route for trade and commerce, citing the timely delivery of goods from India in the drought-hit areas of Afghanistan this year.

A statement issued by India’s External Affairs Ministry said the Afghan side highly appreciated India's timely assistance of 170,000 tonnes of wheat and 2,000 tonnes of pulses this year through Chabahar Port when large parts of the country were suffering from drought.

While India and Iran are signatories to the Chabahar Port development project, a second agreement on connectivity was also signed by India, Iran and Afghanistan, which allows Afghanistan to use the port to ship its goods to markets like India, thereby reducing its dependence on Pakistan and its Karachi port.

In an interview with Tehran Times, senior Afghan analyst and former presidential spokesperson, Aimal Faizi said the port is crucial for Afghanistan and the region. “It has opened a very strategic trade route for Afghanistan, a close neighbor Iran, whose stability and economic prosperity will have a direct impact on Tehran's long-term security,” he said.

Pakistani officials have proposed connecting Gwadar and Chabahar ports. Sumitha Kutty, an Indian analyst, told Tehran Times that chances are high that trade between Iran and Pakistan may be furthered via the Chabahar port or related infrastructure such as the adjoining free-trade zone.

“India currently has a ten-year operating lease with potential for renewal and it does not (as yet) have special say in whose goods transit through, once the upgraded port is up and running. It should therefore be expected that both China and Pakistan – given the strong presence of the former and that Iran shares its borders with the latter – will inevitably use this port as well,” she said.

According to observers, Chabahar Port is turning into a success story for India-Iran relations and the regional integration. The project has moved slowly because of the U.S. sanctions on Iran but reports say the U.S. government is unlikely to pressurize India to stop development work on the project.

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