Economy, Domestic Economy

Chabahar Port Expansion Project Makes Headway

Chabahar Port Expansion Project Makes Headway
Chabahar Port Expansion Project Makes Headway

India’s Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is planning to visit Tehran this month as part of New Delhi’s move to renew bilateral ties amid efforts at rapprochement with Iran by world powers.

Jaishankar is finalizing his trip after Indian Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari visited Tehran last month to sign a memorandum of understanding on Chabahar Port expansion project. His trip will be followed by that of Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj for the Non-Aligned Movement ministerial meeting, wrote the Indian daily Economic Times.

According to New Delhi, Jaishankar’s visit will focus on cementing trade ties hampered by sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran over its nuclear program.

The foreign secretary is expected to discuss connectivity projects such as that linking Chabahar Port to Afghanistan border and North-South Transportation Corridor that will pass through Iran.

The Indian government is keen to bolster ties with Iran because it is India’s gateway to Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia and Eurasia, besides being a source of hydrocarbons. Oil imports from Iran saw a sharp decline after the sanctions.

While President Hassan Rouhani had sent his special envoy for this year’s Vibrant Gujarat Summit, Gadkari was the first senior Indian official to visit Tehran under the Narendra Modi government.

Indian officials say New Delhi wants to be well positioned to take advantage when sanctions on Iran are lifted. Bilateral cooperation could get a further boost after both India and Iran attain membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Experts say it is important for India to act fast because China has already made a big move to invest in Iran, including part of Chabahar project. Although India-Iran relations remained steady over the past decade, trade ties could not make further headway due to the sanctions.

India expects the strategic Chabahar Port, which will give sea-land access to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan, to become operational by December 2016. India intends to lease two berths at Chabahar for 10 years.

Access to Afghanistan’s Garland Highway can be made from Chabahar Port using the Iranian road network and Zaranj-Delaram road, constructed by India in 2009. This will give road access to four of the major cities in Afghanistan - Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. The port will also be used to ship crude oil and urea, saving transportation costs and reducing freight time from India to Central Asia and the Persian Gulf by about a third.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured Afghan President Ashraf Ghani of India’s commitment to building the port.