India, Iran and Afghanistan are set to sign an agreement on developing Chabahar port and establishing a transit-transport corridor during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran next week, a deal that will make it easier for New Delhi to access markets as far afield as the Central Asian republics.
The agreement, to be signed in the presence of Modi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on May 23, is expected to be the centrepiece of the Indian Prime Minister’s two-day visit, sources said.
The establishment of a transit-transport corridor with Chabahar port in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province at its heart will allow Afghanistan to bypass Pakistan for trade with India. It will also allow India and Afghanistan to access new markets in the Central Asian republics.
The three countries have engaged in protracted negotiations on the Chabahar Agreement since 2003 but the venture was boosted by recent developments, including the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions on Tehran in January and New Delhi’s renewed focus on the port in southeast Iran.
The Afghan ambassador to India, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, had recently described the agreement as a “done deal”. The external affairs ministry said in a statement that the agreement “will be a strategic bulwark for greater flow of people and goods among the three countries as well as in the region”.
During a meeting in New Delhi last month, representatives of Afghanistan, India and Iran finalised and initialled the text of the agreement They also agreed to set up a sub-committee to frame transit, port, customs and consular protocols within six months.
Pakistan has been watching moves by the three countries to operationalise the Chabahar Agreement with a wary eye as it believes the project could impact its efforts to develop Gwadar port in the restive Balochistan province with Chinese assistance. Gwadar is also at the heart of the $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will run from the port to Xinjiang.
The Afghan side has already warned India and Iran to be prepared for a possible attack by Pakistan-backed elements on the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway – a crucial road built with Indian assistance to serve as a link to Chabahar – to send out a message that the project is unviable.
India has extended a $150-million line of credit for making jetties and berths at Chabahar and put in place other measures for the project, including the supply of steel rails worth $400 million and technical assistance for building a railway line connecting Chabahar and Zahedan, located near the Afghan border.