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Making a case for stronger trade links, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said that Central Asian countries could unlock vast economic potential by connecting with the Chabahar port in Iran. 

Modi was speaking at the Plenary Session of the 21st Meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, being held in Tajikistan. 

“Central Asia’s vast economic potential has remained untapped because of radicalization and extremism," said the PM via a speech delivered via a video link. 

“If the region wants to benefit from fossil fuels or intra-SCO trade, we will need to lay more emphasis on connectivity," he added. 

Modi further urged the member nations to enhance regional connectivity by respecting the territorial integrity of nations.

“Connectivity projects must be consultative, transparent, and participatory to ensure mutual trust. It must respect the territorial integrity of all nations and SCO should form norms for connectivity projects based on these principles," he said. 

The Chabahar port, which took years to build, was supposed to open up an important route to connect Afghanistan to Central Asia while bypassing India’s main rival, Pakistan. 

With the Taliban in power, the port could face a more difficult operating environment although the militant group has said it wanted to continue economic and political ties with India.

Keeping Chabahar port going has been a concern for India as it faces competition from China for influence in the region. Beijing has invested heavily in the port of Gwadar in Pakistan, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the east across Iran’s border with Pakistan.

The Taliban declined to join talks with India, Iran and Uzbekistan on the Chabahar port and the North-South Transport Corridor, according to news reports, fueling some uncertainty over its future as Afghanistan is a crucial link in the 7,200-kilometer route. 

India has backed the North-South corridor, which includes highways and railways connecting Chabahar in Iran with Russia that will cut time taken by shipments between Europe and central Asian markets. Earlier this year, New Delhi proposed the India-Uzbekistan-Iran-Afghanistan Quadrilateral Working Group to discuss shared use of the Chabahar port.

These projects now face delays and may have a part to play in India missing its target to boost overall merchandise exports by $400 billion in the 2021-2022 calender year. India’s trade with the entire Central Asia region including Russia was just $16.1 billion in 2020, just 2% of ts its total annual volumes.

The SCO is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. It's the first SCO Summit being held in a hybrid format and the fourth Summit that India has participated as a full-fledged member of SCO.

The meeting is being chaired by Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon.

With inputs from agencies. 

 

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