Chahabar Port: why India is out of Iran?

Chabahar port is a part of the regional economic strategy of India. Since the end of the Cold War, Chabahar port is a component of India's Grand Strategy. After 1991, the core objective of Indian Foreign Policy was to seek foreign support for the economic development of India, engage with middle and great powers, normalise India's engagement in the neighbourhood and raise India's profile in the external neighbourhood (this is the point where Iran's Chabahar port comes into play) and finally to improve India's international standing. 

chahabar Port : why India is out of Iran?

The idea of Chabahar port came up in 2003 when Iranian President Khatami visited India a deal was signed between the two states. For India, Chabahar port remains the most important tools that can alter the hostile regional geography that India has inherited post-partition of India and Pakistan. Post-1947, the partition has deprived India of physical access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. India and Iran developed an interest in 1996 when both opposed Taliban and supported the Northern Alliance. 

Post-2001, India and Iran continued to cement their bilateral relations to reach out to Central Asia and Afghanistan, while the US encouraged India to reach Central Asia via Pakistan. As Pakistan continued to deny India overland transit access to Central Asia and Afghanistan, India decided to make a move with Iran. The significance of Chabahar port for India has gained higher importance after the Chinese announced the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the Belt and Road initiative, Chabahar port allows India to bypass the geographical limitations imposed by the partition. 

Ashgabat Agreement

In 2016, India-Afghanistan and Iran concluded the trilateral transit and transport corridor treaty. Under the treaty, India has committed 500 million dollars to develop Chabahar port and establish railway line infrastructure. The treaty will allow India to access Central Asia and will give a boost to the idea of regional connectivity. Iran also favours India's inclusion into the Ashgabat Agreement. Under the Ashgabat Agreement (concluded in 2016 between Iran, Turkmenistan, Oman and Uzbekistan), the Persian Gulf will be connected to Central Asia through a direct corridor. Chabahar port for India is not just about access to energy markets of Central Asia but also access to fast-growing economies of the Eurasian region and a gambit against history. India may witness some challenges in the endeavour of developing the Chabahar port. 

Firstly, Kaine to convince private players to use Iran as a transit route to reach Central Asia than China, which is the presently used route. Secondly, to access the future markets of Central Asia and the Eurasian region, Indian exports need to become more competitive. 

Chabahar is Iran's only oceanic port and has two separate ports Shahid kalamkari and Shahid Beheshti with five berths. In 2003, India and Iran agreed on Chabahar and India decided to develop Shanid Beheshti but it slowed down due to sanctions. In 2016, India decided to refurbish Shahid Beheshti and reconstructed a 600 m long container-handling facility. The 2016 agreement allows Indian ports global (a joint venture of JNPT and Kandla Port Trust) to develop two berths. India is also constructing a railway line to connect Chabahar and Zahedan and on Iran Afghan border. This helped India to bypass Helmand Province of Afghanistan that is a hotbed of Taliban. If berths are developed, the trading capacity will rise from 2.5 million tonnes to 8 million tonnes and will give India access to Eurasia and Afghanistan. 

To develop Chabahar, India Ports Global has got 500 million dollars from India. It has to establish the container terminals at Chabahar Port. The pioneers in the construction are Swiss firm Liebherr and Finland Konecranes. Due to Trump's withdrawal from JCPOA, India Ports Global has not been able to proceed to take help. In 2016, a deadline of 18 months was set up but the uncertainty prevails today. James M. Dorsey is of the view that the US seems to work with Saudi and UAE to destabilise Iran and check Qatar and this would affect Chabahar and India. However, in February 2018, a part of the Chabahar has become operational.

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