How Chabahar Port could bring India and its partners a new spring

How Chabahar Port could bring India and its partners a new spring

Context

Chabahar Port, inaugurated on Sunday, has been jointly developed by India, Iran and Afghanistan. The port, noted by both Al Biruni and Alexander the Great, could be a game-changer for its developers now

Chabahar

Modern Chabahar came into being in the 1970s. It became strategically important when Tehran realised its value and in the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war, it was developed as a strategic-economic port

  • “Chabahar” literally means a place where all four seasons of the year are like spring

What has happened?

The first phase of the port project was inaugurated, which is expected to increase its capacity by over three times

  • 1st phase completed: While the first phase of Chabahar has been completed, India, Iran and Afghanistan are committed to developing the port into a massive project that can handle a cargo of 80 million tonnes — the existing capacity is just 2.5 million tonnes

Background

  • It began in 2002: The story of India’s involvement in the development of Chabahar Port began when Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s National Security Advisor under President Syed Mohammad Khatami, held discussions with his Indian counterpart, Brajesh Mishra, in 2002
  • Agreed upon in 2003: A few months later, in January 2003, when Iran’s President Khatami visited India as the chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations, he and then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee signed on an ambitious roadmap of strategic cooperation. Among the key projects agreed on was Chabahar, which held the potential to link the South Asian subcontinent to the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe
    • New Delhi declaration: In the New Delhi Declaration they signed, the two leaders recognised that their “growing strategic convergence needs to be underpinned with a strong economic relationship”. In boosting the economic content of ties, the focus was on building transport corridors and deepening energy cooperation

Need for Chabahar

Backdrop: This strategic-economic cooperation between India and Iran took place in the backdrop of both countries being against the Taliban regime

  • To add to that, India’s ambition of reaching Afghanistan — since Pakistan had blocked land transit and access through its territory — fuelled the need for developing the strategic project of Chabahar

Why did Delhi abandon its push for Chabahar?

The then US administration under George Bush declared Iran as one of the “axis of evil” — along with Iraq and North Korea which pushed New Delhi to abandon its strategic relationship with Tehran. Chabahar became an unintended casualty

Gathering Momentum in 2015

While there was a glacial pace in developing the Chabahar project, it gathered momentum in 2015 as the Iran-P-5+1 talks bore fruition and geopolitics took a new direction

  • About three weeks after Iran and world powers announced the framework deal on April 2, 2015, committing themselves to finalising a comprehensive deal by June-end, on April 27-29, 2015, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited India — and stressed the importance of the Chabahar Port
  • Vow to work together: Afghan president and Indian PM vowed to work closely with Iran to make the Chabahar Port a reality and develop it as a viable gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia. They agreed that routes beyond the existing ones would provide a major impetus to Afghanistan’s economic reconstruction efforts. That set the ball rolling
  • Over the next year, coordination between the three countries led to the signing of the trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan in May 2016 and in the year and a half since, the Indian shipping ministry has worked at a brisk pace towards developing the project

India determined on Chabahar

  • What has complicated matters in 2017 has been the new US administration’s attitude towards Iran. New Delhi has been cautious but it appears determined to stay the course since it believes the benefits of the Chabahar project are clear
  • Countering China’s aggressive push on OBOR: Delhi’s approach also stems from the fact that China is aggressively pursuing its own Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project —many in Delhi view this as one of India’s projects to counter Xi’s BRI

How to make Chabahar commercially and strategically viable?

To make it a commercially and strategically viable option, Indian policymakers will have integrate Chabahar project with its larger connectivity project — the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC)

  • INSTC: The INSTC, initiated in 2000 by Russia, India and Iran, is a multi-modal transportation route linking the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran, and onward to northern Europe via St Petersburg in Russia
    • The INSTC envisages the movement of goods from Mumbai, India to Bandar Abbas, Iran, by sea, from Bandar Abbas to Bandar-e-Anzali, an Iranian port on the Caspian Sea, by road, from Bandar-e-Anzali to Astrakhan, a Caspian port in the Russian Federation, by ship across the Caspian Sea, and thereafter into the Russian Federation and further into Europe by Russian Railways
    • Significance: INSTC and Chabahar Port will complement each other for optimizing Indian connectivity with Russia and Eurasia. The multiple transport corridors intersecting the region can be easily accessed from the south. According to some estimates, the Chabahar route plus INSTC could boost trade to a total of US$ 170 billion from India to Eurasia (60.6 billion in export and 107.4 billion in import

 

INSTC

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