Chabahar port will be game changer for India trade, could rival China’s OBOR initiative
At the banquet hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind and attended by dignitaries led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday night, visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ended his speech by saying that Tehran was committed to suppling for all energy needs as well as transportation requirements of India.
Dr Rouhani’s speech indicated that Iran was going back to its time-tested friends such as India after a high from 2015 nuclear deal, which is now being questioned by US President Donald Trump.
The operationalisation of Chabahar port, 72 kilometers west of the Gwadar port developed by China, after Indian ratification of the International Road Transport (TIR) convention is going to be a game-changer in India-Afghanistan-Iran relations. In the next three years, India is committed to laying a 600-kilometre railroad from Chabahar port to Zahedan, which will provide seamless export of Indian goods and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan via the Zalranj-Delaram axis without interference from Pakistan.
Zalranj in Nirmuz is connected to Chabahar while Delaram in Farah province has access to the Herat-Kandahar highway in Afghanistan. That Pakistan will do its utmost to play spoilsport is evident from the fact that Taliban looted two of the 25 containers of wheat, sent to Afghanistan from Kandla port last October, near Mazar-e-Sharif.
The development of the Chabahar port with the trilateral trade and transit agreement between India-Iran-Afghanistan will also open the international north-south transport corridor all the way up to Central Asia, Russia and Europe.
In short, if India presses the accelerator and delivers on time, this route has the potential to rival the Chinese one-belt-one-road (OBOR) initiative. Time is of the essence as it took 15 years for India and Iran to operationalise the Chabahar port after it was first proposed during the National Democratic Alliance regime under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. While New Delhi put the project on the backburner due to its impact on international sanctions against Tehran at that time, the latter also proceeded slowly based on its own priorities.
During President Rouhani’s visit, there were positive developments towards India having a stake in the Farzad B gas field in the Persian Gulf. With the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline not working out due to Islamabad’s intransigent attitude, the other option is to have a deep-sea pipeline via Chabahar or Bandar Abbas to Kandla port in Maharashtra to extract natural gas from Iran. Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s presence at the banquet signalled the importance of Iran in the Indian energy security calculus.
From the Indian perspective, apart from Chabahar and the trade corridor, the Iran visit is also a part of New Delhi’s efforts towards bridging the Shia-Sunni divide in West Asia. Before he hosted President Rouhani, Modi cemented ties with UAE and Oman. India’s ties with West Asia will further be boosted when King Abdullah of Jordan arrives in New Delhi on February 28.