India to pitch for Chahbahar port at investors’ summit

An Afghanistan-India-Iran pact offers possibilities for India to trade with the resource-rich but landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia via Iran


A file photo of Chahbahar port. Photo: AFP
A file photo of Chahbahar port. Photo: AFP

New Delhi: India is expected to host a conference in the next two months to make global investors aware of the potential economic importance of the Chahbahar port in Iran.

This was one of the decisions taken last week at a trilateral meet of officials from India, Iran and Afghanistan in New Delhi. The meeting was hosted by transport minister Nitin Gadkari and attended by his counterparts Abbas Akhoundi of Iran and Mohamadullah Batash of Afghanistan.

The meeting followed India, Iran and Afghanistan signing a key connectivity pact aimed at opening up an alternative route to world markets for Afghanistan other than relying on Pakistan.

Kabul at present is almost solely dependent on Pakistan’s Karachi port for exports.

The trilateral pact also offers possibilities for India to trade with the resource-rich but landlocked Afghanistan and central Asian countries through Iran than depending on Pakistan.

Currently, trade is restricted as tensions between India and Pakistan mean Indian goods cannot move overland to Afghanistan through Pakistan. The pact was signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Iran in May.

“The main aim of the conference that India could host is to sensitize the countries in the region of the investment potential in Chahbahar as well as the free trade zone (FTZ) coming up next to the port,” an Indian official privy to the decisions taken at last week’s meeting said on Sunday.

Given that some of the global sanctions on Iran have been lifted post a landmark pact between the US and Iran over its nuclear programme, countries in the region and beyond will be less reticent to come forward and look at investment opportunities in the FTZ, the official cited above said.

Shaida Abdali, Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, told reporters on Friday that last week’s meeting was aimed at sorting out some “technical issues” relating to the project. It was decided that these issues would be sorted out by a team of officials from all three countries within a month.

“All pending issues will be resolved so that we three can together go to the (investors’) conference and can lay out plans (for Chahbahar project), all rules and obligations,” he said. “(Then) the procedures for the others to invest in this port will be clear and we are fully ready to absorb the foreign investments in the port projects,” Abdali added.

The move by India, Iran and Afghanistan to move quickly on Chahbahar comes after Kabul last month threatened to shut the Afghan transit route for Pakistani exports to central Asia if Islamabad does not allow Afghan traders to use Lahore’s Wagah border for trade with India, according to a Pakistan Express Tribune newspaper report.

The comments came after Pakistan refused to allow India to send 170,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan.

On Friday, Abdali also spoke of plans to create an “air corridor” between India and Afghanistan for aircraft ferrying Afghan produce like fruits.

“We are certainly looking at making this formal—an air corridor between our businesses and India,” he said, adding Ghani had targeted boosting trade between India and Afghanistan to $10 billion in the coming decade.

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