What has happened?
- Iran has said that it is ready to sign a long-term contract with India on developing the Chabahar port in order to realise its true potential in the coming years.
- Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Rostam Qasemi expressed Tehran’s intention during his meeting with visiting India’s Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Sarbananda Sonowal in Tehran earlier this week.
- Qasemi described India as an ‘important and big country’ that can play an essential role in the transit of goods in the region.
- He also hoped that the relations between the two countries regarding investment in Chabahar port will materialise.
- Sonowal referred to the cultural, historical and civilisational commonalities between Iran and India and reiterated the role played by Chabahar port, India’s first overseas port project,
- As a trade multiplier as it can reduce the route, cost and time of transporting goods in the region significantly.
- During the Chabahar visit, Mr. Sonowal reviewed the progress in the work on the terminal (Shahid Beheshti) and handed over six mobile harbour cranes “to improve efficiency” and “invigorate the potential of Chabahar” in the loading and unloading operations at the port.
What is India’s vision for Chabahar?
- When the first agreement for Chabahar was signed by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003, the plan had a three-fold objective:
- To build India’s first offshore port and to project Indian infrastructure prowess in the Gulf;
- To circumvent trade through Pakistan, given the tense ties with India’s neighbour and build a long term, sustainable sea trade route; and
- To find an alternative land route to Afghanistan, which India had rebuilt ties with after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001.
- Subsequently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government constructed the Zaranj -Delaram Highway in Afghanistan’s South,
- Which would help connect the trade route from the border of Iran to the main trade routes to Herat and Kabul, handing it over to the Karzai government in 2009.
- In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Tehran and signed the agreement to develop Chabahar port, as well as the trilateral agreement for trade through Chabahar with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani.
The 4th objective
- Since the India Ports Global Chabahar Free Zone (IPGCFZ) authority took over the operations of the port in 2018, it has handled 215 vessels and four million tons of bulk and general cargo.
- In the last few years, a fourth strategic objective for the Chabahar route has appeared, with China’s Belt and Road Initiative making inroads in the region.
- The government hopes to provide Central Asia with an alternate route to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Iran for future trade.
Roadblocks in realising Chabahar objectives?
- Since the beginning, the development of the Shahid Beheshti terminal in Chabahar as well as surrounding infrastructure has hit geopolitical road-block after road-block;
- The biggest issue has been over Iran’s relationship with western countries, especially the United States.
- In years when western sanctions against Iran increased, the Chabahar project has been put on the back-burner, while in the years when nuclear talks that resulted in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of ction (JCPOA) in 2015 came into being, the Chabahar port has been easier to work on.
- Despite the fact that the U.S. made a special “carve-out” on sanctions for Chabahar, on the ground, it has been difficult to source equipment for the port construction from infrastructure companies,
- That continue to fear secondary sanctions, as well as to engage shipping and insurance companies for trade through Chabahar.
Ties with Afghanistan
- The Modi government also snapped ties with Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August 2021, which put an end to the humanitarian aid of wheat and pulses that was being sent to Kabul via Chabahar.
- When India restarted wheat aid to Afghanistan this year, it negotiated with Pakistan to use the land route instead.
- With the government now reopening the Indian Embassy in Kabul, and establishing ties with the Taliban government,
- It is possible that the Chabahar route will once again be employed, another reason for the recent flurry of activity at the Iranian port terminal that India has pinned so many hopes on.
- A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on recognition of Certificates of Competency in Unlimited Voyages,
- Aimed at smoothening the movement of seafarers from both countries was signed during Sonowal’s visit.
Q) Which one of the following is the deepest sea-port of India?