0821 GMT February 21, 2019
While the first phase of Shahid Beheshti Port in the port city of Chabahar, southeastern Iran, will be inaugurated tomorrow, India is showing greater interest than Iran in seeing the port fully developed as soon as possible as it is of critical importance to the South Asian state.
The event, to be attended by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, marks the beginning of a new chapter in the economic development of Iran, India, Afghanistan and Central Asian states as it will be an important step towards the implementation of the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200-km-long multimode network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.
Once the corridor is fully implemented, all the countries along it will benefit substantially as INSTC’s main objective is to increase trade connectivity between cities such as Mumbai (India), Moscow (Russia), Baku (Azerbaijan) and Tehran, Bandar Abbas, Astrakhan and Bandar Anzali (all in Iran).
The development of Chabahar Port plays a critical role in the implementation of the INSTC which, upon completion, will bring prosperity to the states lying along it, particularly Iran and India.
The development of Chabahar Port, as INSTC’s missing link, and thus complete implementation of the corridor are important to Iran as they will help create ample job opportunities in the country, increase its transit revenues, develop the areas lying along the route of the corridor inside the Middle Eastern state and facilitate its international trade.
While the port’s development is important to Iran, it is definitely of critical importance to India as it will lead to a turning point in the South Asian state’s foreign trade, providing it with easier and cheaper access to the markets of Afghanistan as well as the Persian Gulf littoral and the Central Asian states.
Earlier, Chairman of Trade Promotion Council of India (TPCI) Mohit Singla told Iran Daily that the Indian government is very keen to help Iran further develop Chabahar, as the Middle Eastern state, particularly the port, are the gateway to the markets of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Persian Gulf littoral states.
Describing the development of Chabahar as part and parcel of the INSTC’s implementation, the director of India’s National Maritime Organization (NMF), Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, earlier said the port will allow Iran, India and the Central Asian republics, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, to develop in terms of both their northern movement as well as their southern movement.
Chauhan stressed that the port’s speedy development will help Iran and India broaden the reach of their activities in the northern area of both countries and, in addition, would provide them with greater east-west access.
Commenting on the same issue, the secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Sanjaya Baru, told Iran Daily that “for centuries, India had very strong links with Iran and the Central Asian countries. Through this region, we also had trade relations all the way to Eastern Europe. However, due to India’s strained relations with Pakistan, the link has been cut.”
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 which, coupled with their other political differences and conflicts, has led to the latter restricting the former’s land access to Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf littoral, Central Asian as well as a number of European states through its territory.
At present, Baru added, since land-based connections between India and Iran have been severed, they have become dependent on sea for the continuation and strengthening of their trade and political relations.
He added India needs Chabahar Port to have easier access to the Iranian market as well as those of other regional states. “The port can act as a gateway for Indian exports and imports to and from Iran, the Central Asian countries and Eastern Europe.”
Speaking to Iran Daily, Captain Gurpreet S. Khurana, NMF’s executive director, said once Chabahar Port is ready, that will be a very great trade route for India.
The extreme importance of Chabahar Port lies in the fact that it provides India with land access to Afghanistan, Khurana stressed.
“Pakistan has denied India’s trade access to Afghanistan. I have always said that India is like an island due to the geopolitical and geophysical barriers it is faced with.”
India, Khurana said, needs to have access to Afghanistan and, beyond that, to Central Asian states to meet its energy needs, sell its products and help its economy as well as those of the countries with which it is engaged in trade.
In similar comments on the port and its importance for India, the president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) of South Asia, S. Venkat Narayan, said no country in the world can replace Iran for India in terms of trade as the two countries are linked by Chabahar Port.
India and its people are grateful to Iran for giving the country the opportunity to use the port and develop a portion of it, as the port will be of great assistance in the speedy development of India’s economic sector and increased exports.
He also regretted that Pakistan is not currently allowing India to use its territory to send goods via Wagah border, lying on the old Grand Trunk Road between Lahore in Punjab, Pakistan, and Amritsar in India, to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
FCC president noted that India can send goods, such as wheat and pharmaceuticals, by sea to Chabahar Port and from there to Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.
Once Chabahar Port is fully developed, trade between India and Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asian states will become greatly facilitated, he pointed out.
What is happening without it?
In the absence of the port, Indian vessels have to travel a long way to the Persian Gulf and Bandar Abbas in the southern Iranian province of Hormuzgan to be able to send their products to regional markets and, particularly, Afghanistan via land.
Commenting on this, Chauhan said in August this year and April, 2014, Indian containers, as a trial run, set out from Mumbai, a densely-populated city on India’s west coast, for Bandar Abbas in the southern Iranian province of Hormuzgan to deliver the country’s products; therefrom, across to, first, the Iranian capital of Tehran and, next, Amirabad Port in the northern Iranian province of Mazandaran and Baku in one case, and the central Iranian province of Isfahan in the other.
In similar remarks, Khurana said some time ago, India dispatched the first wheat consignment from Mumbai all the way through Bandar Abbas to the INSTC.
India is assisting Iran in developing the port. Both countries have heavily invested in the project as acknowledged by Baru.
On Iran’s contribution to the development of the port, Khurana noted that India is getting a very good support from Iran in the project to accelerate the development of Chabahar Port.
The Indian official expressed satisfaction that currently, the Japanese are also coming in to participate in the project, adding, India may have some required expertise but it may be lacking something else.
Thus, he said, with the Japanese and their technology in, it will be very great.
Impacts on mutual relations
The development of the port will have positive impacts on the two countries’ mutual ties.
On this, Khurana said there is a convergence between Iran and India both in terms of a buyer-seller relationship of energy resources, and the development of Chabahar Port in south Iran.
Narayan also expressed optimism that Chabahar Port would be a game changer in relations between India and Iran.
He added that India and Iran are almost neighbors, adding that with the connectivity the speedy development of Chabahar Port will provide the two states, it would be a lot cheaper for New Delhi to purchase oil from Iran.
Baru also said the port will further facilitate trade between India and Iran and their connectivity through sea.
Speed it up
Indian officials, however, are not utterly content with the current progress of the project to develop the port.
Commenting on this, Chauhan requested that Iran do its best to achieve greater progress in the development of the port as rapidly as possible.
Khurana, however, blamed the slow pace to be the two countries’ only shortcoming in the development of Chabahar and hoped that it would progress faster.