India holds talks over next steps on link to Afghanistan
New Delhi: India, Iran and Afghanistan on Sunday discussed the next steps for the full implementation of a connectivity agreement that aims to give landlocked Afghanistan an option to bypass Pakistan and use a route through Iran for trade and commerce.
The discussions came on a day when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated the first phase of the strategic Chabahar port located in the Sistan-Balochistan province of Iran. The port, on Iran’s southern coast, lies outside the Persian Gulf and is easily accessed from India’s western coast. It is also considered by India as a gateway for trade with the landlocked Central Asian Republics, besides Afghanistan.
In October, India had sent its first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan by sea through the Chabahar port, marking the opening of the new route.
India and Iran signed an agreement in May 2016 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran under which India is to equip and operate two berths in the first phase of the Chabahar port with capital investment of $85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of $22.95 million on a 10-year lease.
According to the Indian foreign ministry, minister of state for shipping Pon Radhakrishnan represented India at the inauguration of the first phase of the Chabahar port project, known as the Shahid Beheshti port.
Later, Radhakrishnan, along with ministers from Afghanistan and Iran, discussed issues related to the full operationalisation of the Chabahar port, a statement from India’s foreign ministry said. Iran was led by the minister of roads and urban development Abbas Ahmed Akhoundi while Afghanistan was led by minister of commerce and industries Humayoon Rasaw, the statement said.
“Towards this endeavor, it was decided to finalize protocols related to transport and transit, ports, customs procedures and consular affairs. It was also decided to convene an expert level meeting of senior officials of the three countries at the earliest,” the statement said.
“Reiterating the importance of Chabahar as a hub for regional economic connectivity and their commitment to work towards this objective, the ministers commended the joint efforts of the three countries in the recent successful transit of wheat from India to Afghanistan through Chabahar. It was also reiterated to organize a connectivity event involving all stakeholders at Chabahar at the earliest so as to increase awareness about the new opportunities offered by Chabahar port,” it added.
There was also agreement on the need for an integrated development of connectivity infrastructure including ports, road and rail networks that “would open up greater opportunities for regional market access and contribute towards the economic integration and benefit of the three countries and the region,” the statement added.
Ahead of the inauguration of the port, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday met her Iranian counterpart Javed Zarif in Tehran during which the implementation of the Chabahar port project was discussed. Swaraj made a stopover at Tehran on her return from the Russian city of Sochi where she attended the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).