Why Chabahar port is a win-win for India
Indian firm India Ports Global Limited took over operations at the Shaheed Behesti port in Chabahar on Monday. The representatives of India, Iran and Afghanistan met and finalised the routes for trade and transit corridors between the three countries. An event has been planned on February 26, 2019 to promote and popularise the potential of Chabahar. These are significant developments for three reasons.
First, Chabahar provides the only viable route for trade between India and Afghanistan. Pakistan denies the use of its territory by Indian trucks bound to Afghanistan. New Delhi and Kabul have explored the option of air corridors but that is too expensive compared to the maritime route. The availability of Chabahar also provides Afghanistan with an alternative to Karachi for its trade with other countries. This will translate to reduced Afghan dependence on Pakistan and, hence, less Pakistani leverage over the domestic politics in Afghanistan. Even Pakistan-friendly regimes in Kabul in future can take advantage of the Chabahar route.
Second, the Indian takeover of the operations in Chabahar follows re-imposition of sanctions on Iran by the US after the latter decided to pull out from the multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (also known as the Iran nuclear deal). The US recognised the importance of Chabahar and exempted Indian firms involved in the port from sanctions. Moreover, India was also one of the eight countries to receive temporary relief on oil imports from Iran. Tehran should acknowledge that it was India’s participation that has earned Chabahar this relief. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif had once invited China and Pakistan to invest in Chabahar. The invitation was also a message to New Delhi. The involvement of those countries, however, would have certainly exacerbated the problems for Iran as is evident from the ratcheting US-China trade and sanctions war.
Third, Chabahar also provides a link to the planned International North-South Transport Corridor. This way it also loops in Russia and countries in Central Asia and Europe as beneficiaries. By generating economic returns, it might help in reducing the political divergence on Afghanistan that has, of late, emerged between India on the one hand and Iran and Russia on the other. Chabahar is a rare example of a project in the region which is a win-win for all stakeholders.