India Pushing Hard for Chabahar Port in Iran

Published: 07th May 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th May 2015 11:28 PM   |  A+A-

Encouraged by the prospect of a deal between world powers and Teheran by June 30 on Iran’s nuclear programme, after which sanctions could be eased, India did well recently to send a delegation to Iran to scout for trade, energy and infrastructure deals. It must now push ahead with plans to build a port at Chabahar in southeast Iran. India and Iran agreed in 2003 to develop a port at Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran’s border with Pakistan, but the venture has made little progress because of Western sanctions on Iran. The port will be in India’s national interest as it would cut transport costs and freight time to Central Asia and the Gulf by about a third. The port is also central to India’s efforts to circumvent Pakistan and open up a route to landlocked Afghanistan where it has developed close security ties and economic interests. India has already spent about $100 million to construct a 10-mile road in western Afghanistan to link up with Chabahar port.

Chabahar is just along the coast from Gwadar port in Pakistan that is being developed with China’s help. So there is a strategic element for the Indian side. Last week prime minister Modi had assured Afghan President Ashraf Ghani of India’s commitment to building the port when Ghani came on an official visit to India. Iran has also proposed a free-trade agreement with India. Rupee-denominated trade with Iran, started in 2012 because of complications arising from sanctions, has almost doubled Indian exports to Teheran in the past two years to $4 billion.

Shipping minister Nitin Gadkari will shortly dash to Iran to sign a memorandum of understanding for development of Chabahar port to ward off any second thoughts on Iran’s part. The United States cautioned India and others last week against strengthening ties with Iran ahead of a final agreement. But India told the US that New Delhi could not ignore national interest and noted a report that a US energy delegation was visiting Iran. These are occasions when alacrity pays and it is heartening that the Modi government is dealing with this with a sense of urgency.


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