New Delhi: Afghanistan is keen to promote an alternative trade route to India that bypasses Pakistan. The proposed route will pass through Iran, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian sea, said a Delhi-based diplomat from the war-torn nation.
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This route will connect Iran’s Chabahar port with Kandla in Gujarat. Once it is fully operational, experts say, it could also give India an easier access to energy-rich Central Asian nations.
To begin with, Afghanistan plans to transport 250,000 tonnes of free wheat, which India had promised that country, through this route, according to A. Munir Khan, commercial counsellor at the Afghanistan embassy in Delhi.
India had announced free wheat for Afghanistan during its President Hamid Karzai’s visit to New Delhi in January. It had earlier said the wheat would be delivered at Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border.
“The Wagah option is not workable as there are no proper storage facilities. Also, one railway wagon will be able to carry only 15 tonnes of wheat...transporting all this wheat will be difficult and time-consuming. Comparatively, one shipment can carry 25,000 tonnes, with the shipment cost at around $135 per tonne,” Khan noted. “The Chabahar port is fully operational and the Kandla port is nearest to it (from India), involving a travel time of only one week.”
Khan said the wheat, after it is shipped from Kandla to the Chabahar port, will be transported through Iranian roads to the Zaranj-Delaram highway in his country. The 218km road link connecting Delaram with Zaranj, which is adjacent to Iran’s border, was built by India; the work on it was completed recently.
By using this route Afghanistan will effectively stop the passage of goods through Pakistan, thereby nullifying Islamabad’s ban on any exports to that country from India through the Wagah border.
A high-profile delegation from Afghanistan will visit India shortly to work out the modalities of this arrangement, he added.
A senior official at India’s ministry of commerce and industry, who didn’t want to be identified, said: “The proposal is at a discussion stage within the government. The file is pending with the ministry of external affairs.”
No trade: The Wagah border. Pakistan does not allow India to export to Afghanistan through this point. Rahul Chandran / Mint
Questions emailed to the press counsellor at the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi remained unanswered.
The Chabahar port is expected to play a crucial role in India’s quest for energy security as it would give it access to the oil and gas resources in West Asia and Central Asia. While Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have considerable hydrocarbon reserves, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have large hydropower potential.
“We have to engage and do what we can in Afghanistan, given the limitations we have... While this is a viable economic route for us, for using it to access Central Asia, there is a problem on account of security risks,” said Meena Singh Roy, research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Analysis, a New Delhi-based think tank.
Asit Ranjan Mishra contributed to this story.